Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Not Why, But Why Not

“…but Abraham stood yet before the LORD.” (Genesis 18:22b)

         It’s never right to question God, but He’s always ready to be reasoned with. In fact, He invites it (Isa. 1:18a). His motives are always unquestionable, but His methods are up for discussion.

         In this episode from the life of the Patriarch, Abraham, he is willing to voice aloud to God what he believes in his heart. Simply this: God is running the risk of besmirching his own reputation by destroying the righteous with the wicked (v. 23). Now let’s face it; even thought God did grant Abraham’s request, if He had chosen to destroy wicked and righteous together in one fell swoop, we can be sure it would have been the right thing to do. After all, He has done it. Abraham’s argument to God may or may not have been undeniable, but one thing he said cannot be disputed: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (v. 25).

         On another occasion, when God had decided to be done with His complaining people, Moses appealed to the integrity of His name to restrain His hand of judgment (Num. 14). In this case, as in Abraham’s, the request was legitimate, because it went beyond just personal desire to the ultimate glory of God. And Moses could have cited Abraham’s experience. But again, had God wiped those people off the face of the earth, neither you nor I could have faulted Him.

         But what about personal desires? Are they too selfish to voice? When King David begged God for the life of his child, he could not appeal to God’s integrity, nor his own, for that matter. But He could appeal to God’s love and mercy; and the fact that his request was not granted does not impugn either. The child would be safe in the arms of God, and when you and I read that a man after God’s own heart does not enjoy the privilege of unpunished sin, we’re not as quick to indulge in it ourselves. The fact that David did not question God when he realized his request was not granted, tells me two things.

One, it’s never wrong to ask, even if our appeal is only personal. God delights to please His children, and the only appeal He refuses is the one that will not end up working for our good or His glory. I agree with whoever said, “I have lived long enough to be thankful for unanswered prayer.”
Two, when David was questioned about his submission to the news of his child’s death, he told them he reasoned that there was a good chance God would answer his prayer, so he prayed; but when his prayer was denied, he could console himself with the knowledge that God knew best and, in any case, he would be reunited with that child one day. And only after he submitted to the will of God was he able to comfort the child’s mother (v. 24).

Here’s the crux of what I’ve been saying. Instead of coming to God and saying, “Why is this happening?” it makes more (Biblical) sense to say, “Why shouldn’t something else be happening?” Especially when God would seem to be more glorified, or we have similar examples in the Bible. I’d hate to think the reason my request was denied was because I was too timid to voice it. I want my appeals to God to be legitimate, to the best of my knowledge, so that I can come to God and reason.

The other side of the coin is the little phrase I was careful to insert in my previous sentence: “…to the best of my knowledge.” I don’t know the whole story, and neither do you. We like to say, “God knows the end from the beginning,” but it’s easier to believe He knows the beginning better than the end. That He’s kind of taken His eye off the ball, so to speak, letting things get out of hand. Not true. He is all-knowing…and all-caring. I love that God wants to hear what I want, and wants to hear me make my case; but I love even more that mine will not be the last word. If I thought God was morally obligated to grant every request of mine, I wouldn’t want to pray again.

So pray! Pray to God because you can. Pray fervently and intelligently, but humbly, like C.S. Lewis, who prayed, he said, because he had to, because he couldn’t help himself. But, no, on second thought, pray like you, in your own words. As J.I. Packer has said, “Pray as you can, not as you can’t.” Tell God what you really think, because He already knows. Reason with Him; haggle, if you will. Be like Abraham: “[stand] yet before the LORD.” You might just win the argument.

But before you say, “Amen,” say, “Thy will be done”…if you mean it.

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