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Message for Sunday 28 July 2019: “God is Open”

Have you challenged God? This topic is awkward but it is also biblical. Today’s message about bargaining with God and changing the Almighty’s mind is strange but also helpful for your spiritual growth.

There’s a prime example about trying to change God’s mind found in one of today’s lectionary readings (Genesis 18:20-32). God sought to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, the twin cities near Israel’s Dead Sea. When Abraham learned of God’s decision, he was alarmed. Abraham was rightly shocked by the threat of wanton destruction, with innocent people being killed. Abraham’s bold sense of justice challenged God’s wrath.

Many folks are taught to never argue with or challenge God, whose supremacy to think and do anything is enshrined in theological armor. God alone is accorded the right to make the harshest moral judgments which, when God makes them, supposedly cannot be challenged or deemed inappropriate. Given these longstanding assumptions, is it therefore impossible to hold God accountable? Abraham thought otherwise.

What’s the difference between being disrespectful toward God and trying to change God’s mind? The ancient Jewish celebrity Abraham was a privileged patriarch, yet he may have still risked being struck dead by challenging God. What about us common mortals not among the favored few? Do we dare question God or is that 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 gross injustices so common in human history. We can sympathize with Abraham over his expectation for God to be more just, to sort out the good people from the bad during the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The problem of terrible things happening to innocents is a persistent issue without easy answers. However, Abraham’s process of calm, rational dialogue with God prevailed. Abraham was effective in his approach, in part because he didn’t shout insults at God or deride the Almighty’s judgment.

Consider the unselfish manner which Abraham intervened on behalf of innocent people. There’s something to learn in this before we start arguing with God about lesser matters, such as wanting to win the super lotto jackpot. It’s weird to praise Abraham for having his courage to challenge God, whose final deal was such that God agreed to not destroy the condemned cities as long as there were ten righteous people there. Sadly, even this low standard could not be met and the cities were annihilated. What about the babies, the infants, the children? We’re left with more questions than answers in Abraham’s imperfect solution. Nonetheless, Abraham’s relatives (Lot’s family) escaped Sodom and Gomorrah, after which fiery stones buried all those left behind.

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. Moses realized the public relations disaster of a God who would kill all his followers and thereby become a laughable failure.

The examples of Abraham and Moses illustrate how people of faith can 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 you may gain insight along with whatever it is you’re asking God for. The Almighty’s patience may even grant us the privilege of challenging divine decisions 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 provides powerful encouragement about asking, knocking and receiving. “ ‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened’ “ (Luke 11:9-10). These verses transcend mere arguing with God and involve petitioning the Almighty 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 (Luke 11:8).

Are you happy with the way you speak to God and do you believe you’re getting the most out of your relationship? Is your style of relating to God shallow and timid or deep and bold? Perhaps the issues reviewed today can inspire you to a more effective interaction with God. Grab the initiative and don’t let fear determine who and what you are in the shadow of God’s awesomeness. 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 a leap of faith and stretch yourself in new ways. God is open to petition and change—are you?

–Reverend Larry Hoxey

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