Jacob’s Wound / God’s Wounding

Bill McDonald’s Website Newsletter

March 2024 Newsletter – Volume 24, No 4 (my #209)

Jacob’s Wound / God’s Wounding

One of my favorite counseling stories from the Old Testament is the account of Jacob wrestling with God “by the ford of the river Jabbok.” (Book of Genesis, Chapter 32:22-32). The larger account is full of metaphorical elements which can be of use in counseling sessions. But here, I want to focus on only one.

“Then someone (God/angel/man) wrestled with him until daybreak, who seeing he could not master him, struck him on the hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was dislocated as he wrestled with him.” v26   

“That is why to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh sinew which is at the hip socket: because he had struck Jacob at the hip socket on the thigh sinew. v32 1

Then, shortly after my love affair with this story began, someone commented, “Everyone in the Old Testament who contends with God gets wounded.”  Moses had a speech defect.  Joseph had the jealousy of his brothers, and David couldn’t resist Bathsheba.2  The commentator offered a lengthy list – which I wish I now had in hand.

But in my view of the world (spiritual and psychological), many can rarely avoid the necessity of ‘wrestling with God.’  So often, we make it into either a moral or legal issue – and the wound is easily construed as punishment. The old term for a prison is “penitentiary.”

A Fault?

Was God punishing Jacob by wounding him?  It would be easy in our moral and legal world to answer Yes. But in the spiritual world, not necessarily.  Back to the Genesis account:  “…Seeing that he could not master him, struck him on the hip socket… “v 26. “…Since you have shown your strength against God and men, and have prevailed.” v 30.  These are not words of fault – but more a mark of masterful accomplishment. As if Jacob won “prevailed” – and God left him with a specific physical marking. Strange the ways of God!  And Jacob was warmly welcomed instead of killed by his brother Esau.

Wounds & Scars

In the secular realm, wounds and scars are easily considered impediments, in a sense impeding life flow, or at least worldly success. Jacob limped away. A wounded soldier will probably be limited or incapable of continuing full duty.

There’s an old spiritual reality or truth that from our wounds come healing gifts for others. Our wounds and scars become sources of blessing for the world. (The semantic energy of blessing seems to favor something moving outward from ourselves toward an other or others.

In my own profession, there’s a “Silver Rule of therapy”- which asserts that a therapist can take a client (or patient) only as far as they have proceeded in their own therapeutic (life) journey.  (Personally, I’m not sure if that’s good news or bad news, but I’ve witnessed it both ways a number of times, including myself.)

Many come to work with me carrying wounds and scars – things have gone “wrong”, don’t work anymore, life has been ‘crossed’. We can judge these circumstances in terms of good and bad. But they seem from a spiritual perspective as “ways” of God to share the deeper mysteries of who (he) is.

My therapist trainer years ago told of a couple who came to her, claiming (bragging) that they never fought. She responded that she’d have to charge them double, for the extra amount of work they would need.

Let me take a side step into another realm – clerical celibacy.  I recall, some years ago, a conversation about the matter with a local Catholic priest. He explained that his celibacy was a charism, a spiritual gift, or extraordinary power given by the Holy Spirit. From that I began to view it not as a psychological matter, but a spiritual gift. Psychologically, it’s a wounding – a denial of a natural and desirable (even ecstatic) human experience. And yet it’s for the sake of the (higher) healing gifts of men and women under the Church’s  “Holy Orders.” Needless to say, the aberration of this understanding in the Church alone has led to incalculable abuse and suffering, especially of the vulnerable among us.

Another side-step. The Summer before my High School senior year, I was a summer exchange student, living with a German family in Bavaria. The father had a prominent scar on one cheek, which I once questioned. He spoke little English, so his only answer was a single word “ooniversitay” – and offered no further explanation. A year or two after my return, I saw an Italian “shockumentary” movie called “Mondo Cane” (A Dog’s Life – 1962) – which, in one sequence, I witnessed a university fraternity initiation, involving a deep ritual razor slice into the initiate’s cheek – resulting in the very scar I lived with that earlier Summer. I was somewhat offended by the artificiality of the ritual – but then, I wasn’t a fraternity type myself in college. Subsequently, when I consider that my German summer was only 13 years after the 1945 defeat of Germany, perhaps the scar did carry some redeeming virtue for this ex-Nazi serviceman.

Writing this Newsletter on Easter afternoon, and having just completed the ritual ordeal of a Christin Holy Week – I’ve pondered the Passion and Crucifixion of Christ as God’s own wounding/scarring of himself to accomplish the Great Easter Blessing for the world.

Perhaps, when we wrestle with God, we will (and maybe, of course) carry painful wounds and scars, (maybe even fatal – for death itself is a life-wound).

Perhaps, in the divine economy of the Almighty One, this is (his) way of keeping us connected with (his) larger plan for (his) creation without infringing on our own freedom and integrity. 3

Maybe we could

Pay Attention


1 The New Jerusalem Bible, Doubleday 1985 – long and still my favorite for its semantic pedigree and style (and great notes).   

   Also, it is not uncommon at that time in Hebrew literary history for God to appear to humankind as an angel.

2  I just came across an online article “The Bathsheba Syndrome: The Ethical Failure of Successful Leaders”- (https://www.jstor.org/stable/25072398) – postulating a secular extension of my own hypotheses.

3 Just as a parting thought to my legalistsic/dualistic thinking Christian friends – one of the deeper mature understandings of Easter, is that we don’t need to be “saved” in order to be fully included in the Easter “Resurrection.”  (There’s a deep wound for many – ruining many sermons)  Sorry guys!  Live with it.

(This is my Easter gift to those friends and clients who suffer “imposter syndrome.”)


My initial plans were to conclude with sharing some private examples of personal wounds. But greater wisdom whispered that would be more self-indulgence, less than useful, and to best keep those matters private.   WKM