Israel and Sisyphus

One of my favorite Myths is that of Sisyphus. When I first read the tale I had what I think is a very American reaction, to view him as noble. It passed over my head that he was supposed to be the villain, of sorts. All I saw was daring, cunning, and an unwillingness to bow. I thought his hubris an honorable trait.

But as I studied the myth I realized that the narrator condemned him. His just due was Tartarus, one of the damned, and he is the image of frustrated toil. Like Icarus who flew higher than he should, Sisyphus struggled with the gods.

Struggled. He struggled. I think my problem then is that I believe men should struggle with God as Israel struggled with God. There is a truth to the tale of Sisyphus, the bill comes due, and no amount of cunning will ever permanently forestall your fate. Sisyphus ran from the gods, evaded them, and in so doing heaped further judgment upon himself. Jacob, when asked, admitted who he was.

Israel wrestled with God for God’s blessing; Sisyphus maneuvered his way around the gods to avoid them. Both were cunning, tricksters, conmen. But one of them fought God to his benefit, and the other faced the gods to his damnation. Israel differs from Sisyphus in this respect, the respect he had for God even while contending with Him.

We can contend with God, don’t forget the price of so doing was lameness to Israel, without the foolishness of the atheist. And perhaps we will find, as we wrestle with God, his mercy and kindness are deeper than we first thought, his sight farther than ours, and his intent for us a far greater blessing than the one we searched for.

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