Bargaining with God by Greg Albrecht
Friends and Partner Letter from June 2014
The chief object of education is not to learn things; nay, the chief object of education is to unlearn things. – G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)
The first serious conversation most of us ever have with God is when we realize we are in a world of hurt. Our back is against the wall – we have painted ourselves into a corner and we desire to have a heart-to-heart talk with God so he will get us out of the mess we’re in. Typically, the first time we wanted God to really listen to us was also when we offered him a bargain.
Do you remember? Perhaps the first serious discussion you had with God was when you were in high school. You goofed off all year and didn’t study. Then, just before the big end-of-the year test you suddenly realized that if you failed, you would flunk this class, and you might not even graduate. The penny dropped. You could see that you would be shamed, Mom and Dad would be upset and Grandma and Grandpa would be humiliated. So, you got serious, prayed to God and offered him “such a deal.” If only he would “save” you, you promised to…
A comedian (ever notice how often comedians can get to the heart of a matter?) once said, “people are all upset and worried that the government is not allowing prayers in schools…Why are people so worried? As long as there are end-of-term and end-ofthe-year tests, there will be prayers in school.”
Or, perhaps the first time you had a serious conversation with God was when you first met the one you wanted to be the love of your life. This beautiful/handsome/charming person turned your knees into jelly. You couldn’t sleep – this person had turned your world upside down. You decided (at least your hormones decided) that this was the person you needed to marry. You needed to “have” this person. You told God that if he would just use his influence on this person you were “in love” with, and cause them to like you the way you liked them, then you would do whatever God wanted you to do.
Maybe the occasion of your first serious discussion with God was far more traumatic – perhaps a close relative received news that stage-four terminal cancer was consuming their body or possibly your first serious discussion with God was during a time of war when you realized your life was on the line and you prayed that famous fox-hole prayer: “God, if you’ll just get me out of this alive, I’ll do whatever you want. Let’s make a deal, God!”
Making deals with God is based on a totally distorted notion of who God is and how he operates. The god of bargains and deals is the god of Christ-less religion. The wheeler-dealer god of trading and haggling is always ready to make a deal based on counting up all of our good deeds and on that basis reward or punish us. But the one true God is not God who barters with his creation.
One lady said she was terribly disappointed with God for not answering her prayers, especially after, as she explained, “all I have done for him.” So, with apologies to G.K. Chesterton, I present the follow adaptation of his statement:
The first task in coming to know God is not to learn things about him: the first task which God will mercifully lead us to is unlearning misunderstandings we have about him.
Just because we like to “make deals” and “strike bargains” it doesn’t mean that God thinks and operates in a similar way. Much of coming to know God is coming to unlearn wrongheaded notions and misunderstandings about him and his nature. God doesn’t make deals.
There are many biblical examples of people attempting to bargain with God, but these examples are not prescriptive – they are merely examples of how people failed to comprehend the grace of our Lord. One well known example is the time when Abraham tried to negotiate with God about God’s intention to destroy the city of Sodom. Abraham asked God to spare Sodom if Abraham could find a certain number of righteous people in the city. Note – when we try to make a deal with God it’s almost always a numbers game.
You know the story: It seems like Abraham kept on “working” God until he got him down to the lowest possible number. But did God actually roll up his sleeves and bargain with Abraham, or did he politely listen as Abraham tried his best to wheel-anddeal? Is this example of Abraham supposed to help us know how to make deals with God? No, Genesis offers this story as an almost humorous example of how we humans often seriously misjudge God, thinking he is more like us than he actually is.
We can’t “work” God. We don’t fool him or trick him with our devious suggestions. We should be deeply thankful when we, by God’s grace, finally come to embrace and believe that God cannot be manipulated. Thank God that God is not at all like us!
There are biblical examples when God fulfilled requests of people who bargained with him, but it’s a huge mistake to think that God seemed to “play the game” they suggested because of what people promised to do for him. Who do we take God for anyway? Just another schmuck like us, who is interested in items we are selling in our spiritual garage sale?
Do we really think that God needs junk we have had in our attic or garage for 30 years? I mean, come on, do we really think we have anything to offer God that he desperately wants, and therefore he would be inclined to start bargaining with us?
• God’s grace is no bargain. God’s grace is a gift. God doesn’t do bargains nor does he make deals, because we have nothing of value to offer him that he does not already have.
• God doesn’t desire any material object or possession or any deed or work we can offer, but he does desire our trust and our love. To help us understand the relationship he offers at great cost to himself, he has revealed his love and his grace in and through Jesus Christ.
• God’s love is wild, free unrestrained love – far beyond any control we might attempt to exert on him. God lavishes his love and grace on you and me because of who he is, not because of anything you and I can ever do or offer him.
If you want a bargain, then you must settle for Christ-less, performance-based religion. Bargaining and trying to make a deal with God is what Christ-less religion is all about. Performancebased religion is about bartering with God – you know the drill, don’t you? Slaves of religion try to negotiate with the entity they think is God, and the prayer goes something like this:
“OK God, I will pray more, I will pay more, I will try harder and I will do better. I will stop doing bad things.”
“Then, here’s your end of the deal God. If I do all this stuff for you, then you will be fair. I don’t expect to win the lottery, but in return for what I do for you, here’s the deal: you should make sure I don’t have any serious health problems, no tragic accidents should happen to me or my family, no arrests or divorces and no
kids in trouble with the law.”
Christ-less religion teaches that the purpose of prayer is to change God’s mind and to get him to see it our way – to make a deal. But the purpose of prayer is to change us. God doesn’t need to change. God doesn’t do bargains. God doesn’t do religion!
Here’s a summary of the relationship God freely offers to you and me:
• Our relationship with God is all about God.
• Our relationship with God is offered to us on the basis of God’s goodness, not in any manner, shape or form on our goodness.
• Our relationship with God is faith alone, grace alone and Christ alone.
Your brother in Christ, Greg Albrecht