On arguing with God

File:Leloir - Jacob Wrestling with the Angel.jpg

Jacob wrestling with the Angel” – as a result of which his name got changed to Israel

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The Daily Office Old Testament reading for Monday, May 12, 2014, is Exodus 32:1-20.

That’s where Moses went up on Mount Sinai to get the Ten Commandments.   Meanwhile – back at the base camp – the Children of Israel turned to worshiping a Golden Calf instead of the real God.  The One who delivered them out of slavery. (Which could be a metaphor or something…)

But back on the mountain-top, God – being God – knows what’s going on behind Moses’ back.

So naturally He gets very angry about it.  In the Good News Translation of 32:10, God said to Moses:  “Now, don’t try to stop me. I am angry with them, and I am going to destroy them.  Then I will make you and your descendants into a great nation.” (Emphasis added.)

So God made up His mind to destroy the Israelites.  The same ones He’d gone to all the trouble of delivering out of the aforementioned slavery, which should have been the end of it.  (To a “strict constructionist” anyway.)   God had spoken, He’d made a decision, and God – being God – was neither arbitrary nor capricious, and so was unlikely to change His mind.  But wait!!

Moses pleaded with the Lord his God and said, “Lord, why should you be so angry with your people…  Why should the Egyptians be able to say that you led your people out of Egypt, planning to kill them in the mountains and destroy them completely?  Stop being angry; change your mind…  So the Lord changed his mind and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

Now about that word “pleaded.”  That’s from the Good News Translation.  The New Living Translation said Moses “tried to pacify God.”  The International Standard Bible said that Moses “implored the Lord.”   But most translations, including the King James Bible – the one that God uses – used the word besought: “Moses besought the LORD his God, and said, LORD, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people?”

Besought is a “past tense and a past participle of beseech.”  And beseech in turn means “to ask someone for something in an urgent and sincere way.”

So in plain words, Moses argued with God.  And that’s a concept that many – including most Fundamentalist or conservative Christians – would find highly incongruous.

That is, in asking God to change His mind, Moses gave “reasons or cite[d] evidence in support of an idea, action, or theory, typically with the aim of persuading others to share one’s view.” (Which by the way is something that lawyers do.)   See for example Isaiah 50:8, in the New Jerusalem Bible, “Let us appear in court together,” and Job 23:4, in the New International Version, “I would state my case before Him [God] and fill my mouth with arguments.”

And this wasn’t the only time a father of the church argued with God.  Take Sodom and Gomorrah…  “Please!”   That is, see: Genesis 18:16-33.  That’s where Abraham pleaded with God not to destroy Sodom.  (And quite frankly, he was kind of a pain about, haggling with God not to destroy the city if there were 50 good people in it, down to as few as five good people…) 

I.e., that passage tells of Abraham “arguing” that God shouldn’t destroy Sodom if there were even 50 people in the city who weren’t total dirt-bags.  Then Abraham went down to 45, then to 40, then to 30, and so on – in a manner that was, frankly, quite annoying – until he got God to agree that if even 10 people in the city weren’t total dirt-bags, he wouldn’t destroy the city.

And finally, there’s the ultimate case of “contending with God,” the story of Jacob becoming Israel.   See the full story at Genesis 32:22-32, or you could check Wikipedia, which noted:  “The account includes the renaming of Jacob as ‘Israel,’ literally ‘He who struggles with God.'”

The point of all this is that maybe – just maybe – we today are supposed to “argue with God,” or “wrestle with God,” or even “wrestle with the idea of God.”  Maybe, just maybe, that’s how we get spiritually stronger, by “resistance training” rather than passively accepting anything and everything in the Bible, without question or questioning.

So what kind of Christian would you rather be?

Someone who wrestles with God and keeps getting stronger, spiritually.  Or rather someone whose method of Bible study is either “weak and ineffectual” or “plain and unadventurous?”


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The upper image, courtesy of Wikipedia, is Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, by Alexander Louis Leloir (1865).  Leloir (1843-1884), was a a French painter specializing in genre and history paintings. His younger brother was painter and playwright Maurice Leloir.

See the full Daily Office readings at The Lectionary – Satucket.com.

Re: Job 23:4.  But see also Job 40:2, “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!”  So there’s definitely a limit to how feisty you can get when arguing with God, but note that after his long “arm-wrestling with God,” Job ended up better off: “the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.” (42:10)

“Sodom and Gomorrah…  ‘Please!'”  An allusion to an old Henny Youngman joke.

As to resistance training, see the Wikipedia article on strength training:  “Progressive resistance training dates back at least to Ancient Greece, when legend has it that wrestler Milo of Croton trained by carrying a newborn calf on his back every day until it was fully grown.”

The bottom image is courtesy of Caspar Milquetoast – Wikipedia:

Caspar Milquetoast was a comic strip character created by H. T. Webster…  Because of the popularity of Webster’s character, the term milquetoast came into general usage in American English to mean “weak and ineffectual” or “plain and unadventurous.”  When the term is used to describe a person, it typically indicates someone of an unusually meek, bland, soft or submissive nature, who is easily overlooked, written off, and who may also appear overly sensitive, timid, indecisive or cowardly.


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