Fighting With God

You can’t love someone until you’ve had your first real fight.

When you first enter into a relationship with someone, it’s mutually beneficial. You both enjoy spending time with each other. You like how you make each other feel. As long as you agree on everything, it’s pretty smooth sailing.

But the first fight, that’s what determines a relationship. Because a fight may not be mutually beneficial.  To be in a fight and also in a relationship means that you’re having to deal with conflicting emotions. You have to be committed to the person, and yet deal with feelings like anger and disappointment. You have to compromise and make concessions, even when you feel like you shouldn’t have to give up anything.

I'm sure my wife identifies with this impulse, on occasion.
I’m sure my wife identifies with this impulse, on occasion.

Lots of dating couples don’t make it past the first fight.  The convenience of the relationship is gone, and so the relationship disappears too.

Other couples do their best not to fight, putting disagreements on hold or ignoring the issue, hoping it goes away.

But all couples, sooner or later, will fight. It’s how it works. It’s part of our nature to fight. And as long as the fighting is done fairly, it’s healthy. It’s a sign that there’s passion in the relationship. It’s a sign that the two people each maintain their own identity, while also committing to the other.

Most people accept this, and work to figure out the best ways to fight. As part of our pre-marital counseling, my wife and I discussed ways we would make sure our fights were healthy and fair in our relationship.  No, the fights aren’t fun. Yes, the fights sometimes hurt one or both of our feelings, but they do happen, and the fact that they happen is a good sign.

Fights happen in every relationship. Between parents and kids, husbands and wives, girlfriends and boyfriends, teachers and students, friends.

Between people and God.

God's probably not super threatened by your shaking fist, but if it makes you feel better...
God’s probably not super threatened by your shaking fist, but if it makes you feel better…

We’re not as quick to accept those fights, though.  After all, God is God. Chances are, if you and God disagree about something, God is right and you are wrong.

But what if that’s not necessarily true?

What if fighting is just as healthy and important in our relationship with God as it is in our relationship with other people?

In the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, there are several stories about people who actually fight with God.  There are stories about people who disagree with God and push against him and his decisions.

And some of them even win.

In Genesis 18, God tells Abraham he’s going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, and Abraham presses him on it: “Will you kill the righteous along with the wicked? Let’s say there are 50 people in the city who are righteous. Are you going to kill those 50 people, even though they’re righteous?”

Let’s examine this for a moment, because something very important is going on here – Abraham seems to be more concerned about protecting the righteous than God is. This is not just a theological exercise for Abraham. He is legitimately more concerned about Sodom and Gomorrah than God appears to be.

So God relents. “No. If there are 50 righteous people, I won’t destroy the city.”

But Abraham isn’t satisfied with that answer.

“Suppose, though, God, that we find 45 righteous people. Are you really still going to destroy the city because we fall five short?”

Again, God concedes. No. If there are even 45 righteous people in Sodom and Gomorrah, he won’t destroy the cities.

So Abraham keeps going, finally whittling the number all the way down to 10 people. With only 10 righteous people, God will spare both cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

God goes from promising the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah to saying he’d spare them if only 10 righteous people could be found. But he only makes those concessions because Abraham argues with him about it.

Maybe this is an example of an argument that Abraham both won and lost.
Maybe this is an example of an argument that Abraham both won and lost.

But Sodom and Gomorrah wound  up being destroyed anyway, right?  God must have known all along that there weren’t even 10 righteous people, or else he wouldn’t have promised to destroy them in the first place.

Maybe. But that sets a dangerous precedent. Now people will think that it’s okay to argue with God about these kinds of things. Now nobody will take God’s destruction at face value anymore. And they don’t.

In Exodus 32, the Israelites build a Golden Calf and begin to worship it.  This infuriates God and so he comes down and he tells Moses, “Leave me alone, because I am about to destroy the Israelites. I will consume them!”

Moses doesn’t care for that idea, though and so he argues with God. “Why are you going to kill your people? Why would you bring them out of Egypt just to destroy them?  You promised that you would protect these people, God, so you had better not kill them.”

Just as in the Abraham story, Moses appears to care more about the fate of the Israelites than God does. Moses appears to be more interested in God keeping his promise than God is.

And, just as in the Abraham story, God relents. He doesn’t destroy the people. He shows mercy. And it’s all because Moses fights with God and wins.

And these aren’t the only times people fight with God.

Jacob literally, physically fights with God. God even cheats and dislocates Jacob’s hip and Jacob is still able to overpower him (Genesis 32).

God tells Hezekiah that he’s going to die, and Hezekiah argues with him about it and God let’s him live an extra 15 years. (2 Kings 20).

In fact, God has such a reputation for being talked out of violence that Jonah doesn’t want to tell the Ninevites that God will destroy them, because he knows that God will change his mind at the first sign of repentance (Jonah 4).

Despite all of that, we seem to live in a time in which it’s considered unacceptable to fight with God.

Despite all of the Biblical evidence to the contrary, we seem to believe that God’s will is unchangeable, immutable, and not open for discussion.

But, even when it comes to relationship with God, I think what I said at the beginning of this post is right–You can’t truly love someone until you’ve fought with them. You can’t be in a real relationship with someone until you’ve experienced the tension of commitment and anger.  You can’t truly belong to God until you’re willing to press against him on some issues.

For too long, we’ve taught people to just accept that God is God and that’s just how it’s going to be. For too long, we’ve discouraged people from arguing with God simply because he’s God and we’re not.

So for too long, people have only had two options – Shut up, or leave. And unfortunately, many people have shut up when they shouldn’t have, and many people have left when they didn’t need to.

So let’s reintroduce a third option – Fight with God.

Is there something you read in the Bible that makes you uncomfortable about God?  Call him on it. Is there something the Church says about God that doesn’t strike you as befitting with his character? Say something!

More often than not, we probably won’t change his mind.  After all, he is God and he does have a better grasp on things than we do. More often than not though, rather than changing God’s mind, we might actually come to understand what he’s doing a little bit better.

You may never change God’s mind. You may never win a fight with God, but you will come to love him more through those fights.  You will come to understand him better by engaging him.

And just think, you may win.

You may talk God into answering that prayer.  You may talk God into healing that person. You just might influence God’s decision. But it can’t happen if we’re too afraid to approach him. That can’t happen if we can’t argue with God.

Just think how different the story would be if Moses hadn’t argued with God.  Just think of how different the world would be if God was never persuaded to change his mind.

God is God. He will always be God. We are called into submission to God, but that doesn’t mean we can’t fight. That doesn’t mean we don’t argue. That doesn’t mean we have to accept everything at face value. Submission doesn’t mean blind acceptance.

All healthy couples have fights. Our relationship with God is no different.

Let us not live in fear of what God will do if we object. Let us boldly seek to understand God, and to love him, even though that means we’ll fight. Even if it means we’ll get hurt sometimes. It’s better to love God and fight with him than to follow blindly and without passion.

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