Jacob-wrestles-Angel

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.


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    31 replies to "Arguing with God"

    • Make that Gen. 32: 24-32, for so-called “Wrestling Jacob”! THIS, is a most special affair for the “sons of Israel”, (verse 32).

      Thankfully too in our prayer life, since the Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Christ, we can pray “In Jesus Name”…the “one mediator” (1 Tim. 2: 5).

      “Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” ” (Gal. 4: 6)

      Part of the grace of our nature ‘In Christ’ as the “adoption as sons”! Thank God here biblical revelation and theology matters! 😉

    • jim

      I can’t help thinking Jacob looks alot like Conan , the barbarian….LOL…….I always go sideways in my prayer application thinking it’s more of an internal reward rather than external answer…do we change God’s mind or desire…not so sure!

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      Be a good steward and husband, and buy your wife a new car. Don’t argue. Mutual submission and that whole thing.

    • Bob Kundrat

      I like this. I’ve heard Greg Koukl state before that our prayers should follow the S-I-P method:

      We should pray Specifically.
      We should pray Intelligently.
      We should pray Persuasively.

      Maybe you should give her your newer car and take the Expedition! 🙂

    • jim

      re: Robert

      One would have to define “In Jesus name” these days. A lot of cults who pray in his name without believing in the true messiah.

    • Staircaseghost

      When you (plural you, throwing it out to the crowd) “argue” with God, do you get responses? Those lucky duckies in the Old Testament actually got literal, verbal replies.

      So is the suggestion here something like using “conversations” with God as a sort of imaginative visualisation tool for meditation? Like, when you are told to close your eyes and imagine laying on a beach, the cool water lapping at your toes, as a way of attaining a relaxed state?

    • JB Chappell

      I think one could argue that Abraham learned something from his argument with God – perhaps that arguing with God is futile. That’s the only story that seems consistent with the gist of the post. But what did Jacob learn? What did Moses learn?

      Seems to me that these stories would have been taken quite differently at the time. Consider also Jesus’ reference to the neighbor asking for bread – the thrust seems to be that if you’re annoying enough, God will give you what you want, so be persistent. No, there is no benefit acknowledged, other than receiving the bread.

      “He knew exactly what He was going to do”. I think you can make that argument with Abraham and Jacob. With Abraham, though, I think it’s a bit risky to portray God as being disingenuous. Regardless, the Exodus 32:14 passage definitely uses language that indicates the opposite of God knowing what He was going to do all along. Rather, it indicates quite directly that God changed His mind. And there are plenty of others. At they very least, they indicate that God changes, which is automatically problematic for many.

    • anonymous

      “God wants you to be so engaged in your prayer life”

      that’s for sure and surely He enjoys case-making dialogue (or maybe finds humorous).

      I think, though, for Jacob, when he realized that God could have won the struggle any time and that he gained a permanent limp for a promise already guaranteed, He may have trusted sooner.

      a sure way for desires answered – Delight yourself in the LORD And He will give you the desires of your heart. Ps 37: 4

      what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! Matt 7: 8-10

    • Dave Z

      TUaD is right, get her the car. No…wait…give her YOUR new car and pick up a nice Harley of some sort for yourself. Summer is coming, you can push the good gas mileage thing and all. Now’s the time!

    • JB Chappell

      Indeed, anthromorphism does abound in the Bible. But “change” is not necessarily anthromorphic, and “changes” vs. “changeless” are in opposition to each other, not the latter being a “fuller” revelation of the former. So appeals to progressive revelation do not fly here.

      And even if it did, what it would mean is that at one point people were WRONG about God, and this expression of their wrongness is recorded in scripture. And/or it would mean that because God has no problem revealing Himself in wrong ways, there is no reason to believe that the latest revelation is actually correct. All of which brings the sufficiency/inerrancy of scripture into question. Unless, of course, you prefer a definition of “inerrancy” or “sufficient” that is meaningless.

      And/or it would mean that at one point God had revealed Himself in a WRONG way, which means He is a liar… which brings His goodness into question. (Of course, Calvinism does that anyway).

      So pick your poison.

    • ruben

      I’m so glad that God hears us and gives ear to our requests, it’s good to hear this from time to time. More often I see my requests are being selfish things that go against God’s will, it is better to submit because it gives me deeper joy. In this frame of mind, there is no need to wrestle with God since I do my best to be in tune with His leading. But I think sometimes he leads us to places where He asks us to be strong and decide and ask..so thankful our God is not the predictable and detached God of Deism or the uber spiritual, metaphysical God of Gnosticism.

    • Flyaway

      I make my case to God and then I say, “Bring Glory to Yourself according to Your perfect will.”

    • jin

      One thing I am sure of is that God answers prayers according to His will. He gives us what we “need” and not what we “want”. Huge difference!

      I agree with Michael. Prayer is meant for us to understand God’s will and to use that understanding to change OURSELVES. We are to use prayer to harmonize our wants and needs according to God’s will. We do not pray to change God or change His mind or opinion. God knows ALL things and knew eons ago what you were going to pray for and He knew eons ago what you will need. Because God is a loving God, he waits patiently for us to understand His will and understand our shortcomings. We are to use prayer and relationship with Him to come to an eventual understanding of His will. Therefore, we are the ones that change and harmonize to God….NOT God to us.

      So I agree….we are to pray to our Father with all our needs and wants. But if those wants are not according to His will (which is 99% of the time), we are to come to an understanding with a humble heart and change OUR wants and needs accordingly.

    • JB Chappell

      Jin, how do you square this Matthew 7:7, Luke 11:5-10, Luke 18:1-8, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Hebrews 4:16, etc.? No doubt God’s will is to be done, but if God’s will cannot be changed (which is clearly not what some Biblical authors had in mind), then what is the point of approaching God with confidence? Why be so persistent? If “whatever happens” = God’s will, then what is the difference between praying and not praying?

      It seems insane to think that God tells us to pray for the sick, not because of any external effect it may have, but because it might teach the pray-er a lesson. Clearly, there is some open-endedness in mind here. It seems disingenuous of Jesus to say “Ask for anything in my name, and I will give it” – but then leave off the part of “Oh, except for 99% of the time, when it’s not God’s will.”

    • jin

      JB Chappell, When Jesus tells us to “Ask for anything in my name, and I will give it”, He does not mean a car, cash, career, …etc. Does He? If you study Jesus’ life, it was all about the Father’s will. Jesus lived to please the Father and to do the Father’s will. Even when Jesus healed and turned water into wine it was about achieving the Father’s will. Jesus never granted a request because He felt like it or because the people and His disciples were pestering Him with endless requests. Take John the Baptist death for example. Jesus let him die; not because John’s disciples did not ask enough, but because it was the will of the Father.
      Matthew 7:7, Luke, 1 Thessalonians, and Hebrews are about achieving the will of the Father. Matthew 7:12 sums it all up. Jesus concludes by saying that it is all about the “Law and the Prophets”.

      When your children ask for things, do you give them what they want just because of their persistence? No. Despite their persistence you give them things that are only good for them. And yet, do you tire of them for asking persistently even if it is for things that are bad for them. Because you love them, you want them to ask for things. You would indeed be sad if your kids didn’t even bother to ask. God is looking for this kind of loving relationship with us. This is His will. We are His children and as His children He wants us to rely on Him and ask for whatever we want. However, because He loves us we will only get those things that is in harmony with His will and His love for us. After all, the ultimate goal and result of Jesus’ death and our earthly life is to be redeemed to the Father.

    • jin

      Greg, Thank you for clarifying both positions and opinions. May I suggest that God works in both dynamics? Yes, God knows everything including the future. However, I submit that there is a huge difference between knowing the future and preordaining. Although God may know the future of all things, He does not use that knowledge because it would be simply unfair and unjust. It is not God’s character. He gives everyone a fair and just chance at redemption. If everything is foreordained and rendered certain already, then why all the fuss? We would just be robots in a play that God wrote.

      God created man to be part of a loving world where we choose to love Him. God wants a true heart that comes from a free willing spirit. This is the true love that God seeks. If your wife loved you because of your money, status, or some magical spell, would you be truly happy? I want my wife to love me despite my faults and from her own willingness. And I love her and God out of my free choice.

      On the other side of the dynamic, God ALWAYS uses man and works along side man to fulfill His will and purposes. Because God loves us, He does not force anything on us. He uses us despite all our faults and sins to fulfill His will and purposes. This is done so that our pea-sized brain can understand His love and ways. God does not change His mind, He merely changes His dealings with us to accommodate our weakened and fallen state. His will never changes (Malachi 3:6). God understands our shortcomings and like a loving father, He will merely alter the circumstances to work within those shortcomings. The ever amazing part of this is that our God of the universe, who can at any moment use His immense power to finish all things, has the patience and love to “come down” to our level and gently guide us towards Him. This is not changing of His mind, but rather a gentle guidance with a nudge here and there working alongside us.

    • JB Chappell

      Jin, Jesus doesn’t exactly elaborate on what He means by “anything”, now does He? So how do you know what He means, except by the word “anything”? If Jesus thought we could move mountains and kill trees, why wouldn’t He think that we could ask for other non-essentials?

      Of course Jesus’ life was about God’s will – that doesn’t mean His will doesn’t change. As Greg pointed out to you, that’s what I was after here. You noted the following:

      –“Jesus never granted a request because He felt like it or because the people and His disciples were pestering Him with endless requests.”–

      That sure doesn’t seem like what happens with the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15), does it not? What’s the point of His initial refusal? He calls the woman a “dog”, and then relents when the woman basically acknowledges this point. It’s a classic “argument” with God, with another questionable lesson if everything was foreordained.

      And of course, no, I do not give my children bad things merely because they are insistent. This is the trick-bag of prayer of course! It is explicitly stated in scripture that God both changes and that He does not; that He gives us what we want if we are persistent and have faith, and, well, that He does not. These are either contradictions, or there is an explanation that we are missing.

      Michael has attempted an explanation by filtering the “God changes His mind” passages through the lens of the “God never changes” passages, most likely rationalizing the complications as Greg does – by attributing the “change” passages to anthromorphic language. There are numerous problems with this, and I have already mentioned a few.

      You seem to suggest that God has self-limited His knowledge, but clearly that isn’t the case for some things – otherwise prophecy wouldn’t have existed. Also, there can be no difference between knowledge and foreordaining if one is a perfect being. If God cannot be wrong, then what He knows about the…

    • JB Chappell

      …future must occur – even if He (at some point) made self-limited Himself regarding this knowledge.

    • jin

      JB Chappell, I submit to you that when Jesus said “anything”, He inherently excluded things that were not part of the Father’s will. It is obvious that the “anything” does not include evil or bad things. Paul tells us to do everything for God’s glory and to do nothing out of selfish motives (Philippians 2:3). In reconciling the two, we can understand that the “anything” Jesus meant are things that are in harmony with the Father’s will.

      When Elijah told Elisha, “Ask. What may I do for you…” Elijah did not mean worldly things. And Elisha knew inherently that he was to ask for things according to God’s will (2 Kings 2:9). And in harmony with Jesus’ statements Elisha asked for the mountains to move by asking for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit.

      The story of the Canaanite woman was to emphasize her faith. Granting her request despite being a Gentile also emphasized Jesus’ love for everyone and the Father’s will to spread the gospel to the Gentiles. Again, all this is in accordance with God’s will and for His glory. If the Canaanite woman had asked for a bag of gold, would Jesus have granted it?

      And yes, God has self-limited His knowledge and power. All for us!! This is His true and enduring love for us. Jesus limited His power by coming down from His throne in Heaven to be “a little lesser than angels” to save us. God self-limits His knowledge of our sins because of His grace and mercy. Because of Jesus, our sins are erased from God’s memory and knowledge. All this is done because of God’s love for us.

      As for the little bits of prophecy that God reveals to us, it is given for our benefit and guidance. Again, it is God’s will for us to be reconciled with Him…out of our own free choice and will. He does not force us or compel us by telling us everything. God lovingly will nudge us and guide us fairly and justly so that we can freely choose Him over Satan and all his temptations.

    • jin

      One more thought….
      We must remember that Satan is always at the ready to blame God for being unjust and unfair. God must fulfill His will justly and fairly even to Satan. So that when the judgement day comes and God hands out the penalty, we, along with Satan, will come to realize and understand that God was and always will be fair and loving.

      God is bound by His own commandments of love. He can not fulfill His purpose of redemption without adhering to His own commandments. This is why there is free choice for all. This is why there is the illusion that God changes His mind.

    • Arguing With God

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    • Anonymous

      Thanks for the interesting post on prayer. I have many questions regarding exactly what prayer is. Is it something we do that changes things outside of us, or something that changes us? Other options? Wish you would do another post on this topic…

    • JB Chappell

      Jin, you say that ‘It is obvious that the “anything” does not include evil or bad things.’ Does that mean if we pray for little kids to be slaughtered by bears because they make fun of our hair, that God won’t grant that wish…?

    • jin

      JB Chappell, firstly, it is important to fully understand the context and the events of the story before applying it as a simple granting of a wish or prayer. It is very important to note that Elisha simply put a curse on the mocking children. The narrative does not tell us specifically what curse Elisha wished for. He simply put a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Therefore, God Himself decided on the type of curse and punishment that befitted the children’s folly.

      The children were mocking not only Elisha’s bald head, but also Elijah’s ascension which had happened just prior. The children were mocking, “Go up , thou bald head; go up, thou bald head” (2 Kings 2:23). They were mocking God and the work of God. It was an incredibly Satanic act especially after God had shown His miraculous power by taking Elijah directly.

      This incident is also used as an example and a lesson for all to show reverence and respect for God’s representatives. The Lord holds us accountable for the treatment we accord to His chosen ministers. The terrible judgement that befell the taunting youth show how awful it is to scorn holiness or to show disrespect for a messenger of God.

    • JB Chappell

      Jin, it seems pretty obvious that (one of) the lesson(s) here, and elsewhere, is that invoking the name of the Lord gets results. On a very strict reading, no, we don’t know exactly what kind of curse of Elisha pronounced. But we do know it was a curse. We already off to a bad start. Or do you condone cursing people?

      Furthermore, you’re interpretation is stretching it quite a bit. When you read “up from there” and “up on the way” in the same passage, do you also interpret that to mean “ascending”? I would hope not. It’s an obvious traveling catchphrase. Likewise, with the boys taunt. They’re essentially telling Elisha to get lost. Disrespectful? Yes. Satanic? No. There’s absolutely no reason to think that anyone other than Elisha would have known about Elijah’s ascension.

      I agree as to what the lesson is. Whether the punishment fits the offense is not really up to me. The point, however, is that you claimed God would not grant us asking for “bad” things. My response is that clearly God does grant things – in His name, no less – that, on the face of it, seem bad. If I went around killing trees for no reason, you wouldn’t think that was good, surely. Likewise, if I was pronouncing curses on children – even if they were disrespectful. But on your view – these things that would normally be considered “bad” are suddenly considered “good” because, after they happen, we consider them to be “God’s Will”. Why? Because, apparently, anything that happens is “God’s Will”.

      In any case, this is why you ruling out “bad” or “evil” things doesn’t make any sense. Do I think that God would condone a mass murder of innocent children? No. But, clearly that’s been “God’s Will” on at least a few occasions.

    • jin

      JB Chappell, I think in your argument you showed that you actually agree with me. “My response is that clearly God does grant things – in His name, no less – that, on the face of it, seems bad”. In your statement here, you agree that on the “face of it” it seems bad. This is exactly my point. Since we are mere humans, we do not have the endless wisdom nor the ability to see the future like God. What seems like granting of a bad thing is merely the face of it. God only grants things that will ultimately fulfill His will.

      Yes, mass murder of innocent children is horrible. However, we must remember that God must be just and fair to all….including the horrible sinners who mass murder innocent children. God is love and full of mercy and grace. His grace abounds because sin abounds. Mass murdering of children, while despicable, can be a means for God to use to save that much more lives in the future. You must understand that God does not force His will on us. If we decide to willfully sin against Him, He will sorrowfully let us be. God will be patient and merciful ever awaiting our repentance.

      Of course there will come a time when the “iniquity will be full” and judgement will be handed down like the antediluvians, Canaanites, and the people of Sodom. But notice how God let these people be and live in their sins. God did not force them to change or force them to be sinful. It was their own choice.

    • JB Chappell

      Greg, I note that you did not address that “change” is not necessarily anthromorphic, nor that “changing” vs. “changeless” are opposites, not one being a progressive view of the other. Instead, you’ve done a (failed) end-around, by stating that (supposedly) the “changing” verses are man’s perception and the “changeless” verses are God’s revelation. The problems with this are numerous. At least some are:

      1. God identifies Himself as changing His mind – see Jeremiah 18:5-10. Thus, this is revelation. Unless you want to claim that these are man’s perception of God’s Words. (but wouldn’t that always be the case?)

      2. You’ve offered no basis for those passages that describe God as changeless vs. changing on which we could determine whether it was a perception or revelation. If a prophet says “God never changes”, why is that revelation (other than the fact you agree with it?), as opposed to another prophet’s message that God changes His mind being just perception? You’re merely begging the question here. Take your LET THERE BE LIGHT example, for instance. What’s to prevent me from simply saying “Oh, that was just man’s perception”?

      3. If one is to appeal to progressive revelation, then what we’d expect is a general trend moving from a revelation of God as changing, to a revelation of God as unchanging (nevermind the dishonesty). But that is not what we see. Instead, what we see is both ideas present early on, and both ideas present later on.

    • JB Chappell

      For that matter, Greg, if God is irrational/EXTRA-rational, why can’t God be BOTH changing AND changeless! See, He’s God and I’m not, so who are we to claim these are incompatible ideas? Man is free! God is sovereign! Nothing conflicts, because nothing has to make sense.

    • JB Chappell

      Yes, Jin, I agree that “on the face of it” many things that God does (or at least that people says He does) look absolutely terrible – evil, in fact. I agree that we cannot *logically* rule out some greater good that could possibly be achieved by these terrible events (although just how reasonable this might be is another issue altogether). That was my point – you were saying that Jesus was ruling out asking for bad/evil things. But what you’re actually saying is that we shouldn’t ask for things that – on the face of it – seem bad or evil. If you agree that God can work through terrible things, then there is no reason not to ask for them. If you agree that invoking the Lord’s name to do (on the face of it!) terrible things will still get results, then there is no reason to do so. These were my points.

    • jin

      JB Chappell, All I can say in response to your last post is that God looks at our hearts. I am sure you are aware of this. Whether you ask for good things, bad things, or “seemingly” bad things, God knows what your motive is and knows your intentions. So sure, go ahead and ask God for whatever you wish. I am sure God is more than willing to listen to you. But, remember that He will look deep into your heart and will know what your true intentions are. And I am pretty sure that God will grant only those things that which will benefit you at the end of the day. Despite our sinful nature, God still loves us and will use every opportunity to guide us towards Him and His will.

      Take the story of King Saul as a prime example. The Israelites had asked for a human king to lead them. This was not the will of God and God was actually very displeased with this request. They had already an all-powerful God as their leader and yet, they asked for a human to lead them. However, God granted their wish by giving them King Saul. Why? Not because God changed His will, but because that was the only way the Israelites would learn. Because they were such “stiff-necked” people, the Israelites had to learn the hard way. God granted this request ultimately for the benefit of His people. Like a “tough love” father, He had to let the Israelites learn it the hard way on their own. And lovingly, God used this circumstance to gently guide them back to Him by giving them David, “a man after His own heart”. Alas, even David and Solomon failed at times.

      This is our God; ever loving, patient, and merciful. We may ask good things, bad things, or seemingly bad things from Him, but He will only answer for our ultimate benefit. Prayer itself and the answering of prayers lead us closer to Him. That is His ultimate goal for us and it should be ours too.

    • JB Chappell

      Greg, if we are constrained by the parameters of His Word, and His Word indicates that He is both changing and changeless, then what’s the problem in conceding that He’s both? Again, we don’t have to worry about outright logical contradictions because God is EXTRA-rational!

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