I once asked if we can argue with God.
The response was immediate and definite, “You CAN’T argue with God!”
I disagree, with some qualifications. There are different ways and reasons for arguing that have to be kept in mind.
Does God allow us to question, challenge, resist, and complain to him— even argue with him?
I say he does.
Shakespeare writes of lawyers that they “strive mightily and dine together.” I'm not in the habit of defending lawyers, but Shakespeare has a point.
It’s possible to argue and remain friends. It’s also possible to argue and lose friends.
Arguments can be vicious, unreasoning confrontations to prove “I’m right and you’re wrong!” Arguments can also be reasoned discussions on matters of disagreement that lead to the discovery of truth. The first kind is destructive and harmful; the second can be constructive and wholesome.
Why and how we argue makes a lot of difference.
A man once told me that when he meets God, he will argue with him. That man’s flippant comment was meant to convince me that he was right, and God was wrong.
The text that came to mind was: “... so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable” (Romans 3:19).
That man was a ‘fool’ in the biblical sense— a morally deficient or reprobate person.
Now, what do you think of this text?
“Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD.
The word translated as “reason” is the Hebrew word yakach, which can also be rendered “to argue.” So, God invites: “Come now, let us argue together.”
The context in Isaiah 1:18-20 is a covenant lawsuit dispute between the LORD and the rebellious nation of Israel.
This is followed by the LORD’s ultimatum:
If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best of the land;
but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.
The invitation allows both God and Israel to state their cases. No doubt God’s desired outcome was that Israel would hear the fullness of God’s position, and the emptiness of their own, and respond in obedience to experience God’s best.
The point remains, God is open to arguing or disputing with humans.
There are instances in the Bible when people disagreed and argued with God— and they lived. In fact, it appears that God changed his mind in some of these incidents:
You can’t read the Psalms without encountering bold questions directed at God. These are the deep, honest questions of people in pain, confusion, abandonment, and loss.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (22:1)
“Has [the Lord's] steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” (77:7-9)
“O LORD, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me?” (88:14)
God wants us to ask questions that flow from deep emotions of anger, fear, despair, shame, and disorientation.
These emotions are not to be ignored, buried, or deflected. These questions are asked with honesty and courage and are directed at the God who hears, cares, and understands.
So, we can argue with God – and ask him tough questions. But there are boundaries.
If our argument or question is rooted in idolatry, or rebellion, or dismissal, it will be stopped cold— with finality, if not fatality.
The man who would argue, “I’m right, and you [God] are wrong!” has displaced God from his heart, and has substituted an idol in the place God rightfully claims.
In Psalm 2, “kings of the earth” challenge the LORD and his anointed one: “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” That type of argument or challenge is an expression of rebellion. The LORD responds with laughter, derision, and fury.
Then there are those who simply dismiss God. Psalms 14 and 53 are virtually identical. Both begin with the statement: “The fool says in his [or her] heart, ‘There is no God’.”
Check your motivation and attitude. Make sure you're not arguing from a position of idolatry, rebellion, or dismissal.
There are at least three benefits of honest dispute with the Lord.
First, arguing with God presumes that God is distinct from you. He is not an extension, or a projection, of you. The act of questioning or arguing with God acknowledges that God and you are two distinct and separate beings. You are not arguing with yourself.
Second, in this disagreement, you are brought face-to-face with your misconceptions of God, his purposes, and your circumstances. Time and again, these questions and disputes lead to a discovery of who God truly is, and his loving purposes for you.
Third, in the honesty and courage of deep questions directed at God, you are saying implicitly that you trust him to hear you, and respond. As Dan Allender puts it in Cry of the Soul,
“The irony of questioning God is that it honors Him: it turns our hearts away from ungodly despair toward a passionate desire to comprehend Him.”
1. If you begin questioning or arguing with God, take the time to search your heart for your motivation and attitude. Consider praying Psalm 139:23-24, and listening for the response.
2. As you question or argue, do so with the conscious realization that:
3. And when the questioning and arguing come to an end, take time to thank him, and recognize how you have grown toward him.
Let me know what you think.
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