Most people hate arguments. I do. Though she may think otherwise, I especially hate arguments with Kristie, my wife. “I got into an argument today . . .” is usually not the first line of a happy story. But I am going to urge you to argue with God. No, I don’t mean an antagonistic venture where the emotions are fierce and the tension is high. What I mean is that I want you to present your case to God about things. Actually, it is God who wants you to make this case. An argument here means that you are coming to God, expressing your desire, and explaining why you think he should respond according to your desires.
I often encourage people to argue with God. I don’t think many of us do it enough. Of course, when we think “argument,” we think of uncomfortable conversations that usually don’t go anywhere, because we are too emotionally invested to see things clearly. We think in terms of those encounters that create tension and drive wedges between the people involved. This is not the type of argument I am talking about here, though some of these elements are definitely present.
Whatever arguments bring about, at least they cause people to think more deeply about the subject about which they are arguing. We should not ever get into arguments casually. Right now, my wife is arguing that I should get her a new car. This is not a fun argument for me. I finally got her Expedition paid off; I was so excited to not have to worry about making payments on it anymore. When she approached me with talk of a new car, I wanted to hear reasoning that went beyond, “Your sister just got a new car and it is so pretty,” or “I am just sick of my old car.” Since this post is not about whether or not to get my wife a new car, let’s just say her reasoning was not too bad, especially when she tossed in the coup de grace, “You just got a new car.” The point is that arguments get us more fully engaged in the subject beyond the casual mindlessness of blindly groping for what we want.
I think God wants us to argue with him in this way. He is not looking for rebellious “know-it-alls” who think they know more than him. He is not looking for someone to correct his thinking on any subject. He is looking for people who are so engaged in prayer and conversation with him that they can actually make a good sustainable argument for their requests.
Think about it. There are some great arguments with God in the Scriptures. One of the most famous comes between God and Moses. God is about to destroy Israel and reinvent his covenant purpose through Moses as he sees the Israelites worshiping a golden calf. He tells Moses to get out of his way: “Leave me alone so that my anger can burn against them and I can destroy them, and I will make from you a great nation” (Ex 32:10). This passage might be theologically confusing, if we did not see God’s bigger purpose of causing Moses to engage with him at a deeper level. Moses presents an argument for why God should not destroy them. And in Exodus 32:11-14, we see that Moses changes God’s mind. It was not as if he “beat” God, or showed himself to be the wisest man on the mountain that day. He did not bring to the table anything that God did not already know. He, with a little instigation from God, thought deeply about the issue and made a good argument. God loves good arguments.
We see Abraham do the same thing in Genesis 18:23-32, as he argues God into a deal about the destruction of Sodom. There is so much we learn about God’s mercy from this engagement. I am glad God pushed Abraham into such a situation, and I am glad Abraham argued with God.
Also, we see a rather odd encounter between Jacob and God, where he gets into an actual wrestling match with God (Gen. 22:34). I don’t claim to understand the mystery of this battle, but it seems to represent the arguments we have with God which involve making a passionate case for our requests. Jacob actually wrestles with God, making the argument by virtue of his determination to receive a blessing.
In the cases of Moses, Abraham, and Jacob, I don’t think we need to say that God did not know what he was doing, or needed outside wisdom to make the right decision. He knew exactly what he was going to do. The situation is the same with us. Can we change God’s mind with a well-reasoned argument as to why our request is legitimate? Yes and no. No, in the sense that we can not alter God’s true intentions. Yes, in the sense that our arguments are often the means by which God accomplishes his purposes, and brings us into deeper understanding of those purposes.
Set all of this theology stuff aside for a moment. The point is very simple: God wants you to be so engaged in your prayer life that you are able to make an argument for your requests. It is as if God is asking you “Why?” to the things you pray for. “Why do you want me to heal you?” “Why do you want to get this job?” “Why do you want another child?” A well-reasoned argument does not guarantee that you will move God’s hand, but God does love for you to be so engaged with him that you actually make a case for your requests.