Have you bargained with God? This topic is awkward but it can also be productive. Today’s message about trying to change God’s mind is a bit strange, but with God’s blessing and open-mindedness we can stimulate spiritual growth.
There’s a prime biblical example about trying to change God’s mind from one of the lectionary readings, an Old Testament example from Genesis (18:20-32). Here, God sought to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, the twin cities near the present-day Dead Sea in Israel. When Abraham learned of God’s decision, he was alarmed about righteous people being killed along with the evil. Abraham’s bold sense of justice challenged God, whose anger against the guilty persons might have also killed the innocent.
Many folks are taught to never argue with or challenge God, who alone is reserved with the right to make the harshest moral judgments. So, what’s the difference between being disrespectful toward God and trying to change God’s mind? Sure, the ancient Jewish celebrity Abraham was a privileged patriarch, yet he may have still risked being struck dead by angering God. What about us common mortals not among the favored few? Do we dare question God or is this privilege reserved for only those closest to the Almighty?
Abraham asked God a provocative yet productive question: “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” (Gen 18:23). We may ask the same question as we look upon evil and injustice. We can sympathize with Abraham about his expectation for God to sort out the good people from the bad. The problem of terrible things happening to righteous people is a persistent issue without easy answers. However, Abraham’s process of calm, rational dialogue with God won the day. He didn’t call God bad names or shout insults.
Consider Abraham’s unselfish manner with which he intervened on behalf of others. There’s something to learn in this before we start arguing with God about winning the super lotto jackpot. It’s weird to praise Abraham for having the hutzpah to challenge God, whose final deal with his Lord was such that God agreed to not destroy the cities as long as there were ten righteous people there. Really? Only ten? What about the babies, the infants, the children? We’re left with more questions than answers. Nonetheless, Abraham’s relatives (Lot’s family) escaped Sodom and Gomorrah, after which fiery stones annihilated everything.
Have you had a good argument with God? If you dispute God then you’re also in good company with Moses, who changed God’s mind about destroying all the Jews in the desert after they left Egypt (Exodus 32:7-14). Moses agreed that the people had made horrible choices, such as creating and worshipping a calf idol, but to kill everyone would damage God’s reputation (what kind of God would kill all his followers and thereby become a laughable failure?). The admittedly rare examples of Abraham and Moses illustrate that we can theoretically argue with God and even change God’s mind. Whether God is truly persuaded by our logic is not certain. Yet, in having a serious, respectful conversation with God we may at least gain insight into our motivations. God may even want us to pose challenges as a way of strengthening and demonstrating our faith.
We now turn oh-so briefly to the New Testament (Luke 11:1-13), where Jesus gives us powerful encouragement about asking, knocking and receiving. This isn’t the same as arguing with God, but it is similar in that we’re talking with God and yearning for a desired outcome. Jesus tells us that even when we ask for something at an inconvenient time, we may get what we ask if for no other reason than our persistence. How much more, Jesus says, will the God of love provide us fulfillment if we ask sincerely.
Are you happy with the way you speak to God and do you believe you’re getting the most out of your relationship with God? Is your style of relating to God shallow and timid or deep and bold? Perhaps the issues we’ve reviewed today can inspire a more lively, three-dimensional interaction with our Maker. Grab the initiative and don’t let fear determine who and what you are. It may at first seem like an impossible stretch to approach God in a way you’re not used to. Perhaps God is waiting for you to take the next step in faith and stretch yourself so that you can grow in new ways.
–Reverend Larry Hoxey