4 People Who Successfully Argued With God

A few dramatic prayers with dramatic results.

As humans, we tend to pray most when we really need something from God. We pray before tests, job interviews or jumping out of an airplane. Our prayers are most often directed to God in times of desperate need. The rest of the time, we figure He’ll take care of the rest. But a big question that comes from prayer is that if God knows everything that will happen, why do we pray? What good does prayer actually do?

In many ways this is a question that has sparked some of the biggest divisions in Christian theology. Humans often want to know why God does what He does in our lives.

I think that is a question which we cannot completely answer with the limited knowledge we have, but through the Scriptures we do see many cases where prayer influences God’s decision (or appears to anyway). Maybe we can learn from them. I’ve found at least four cases where this has happened:

1. Moses and the Golden Calf (Exodus 32:9-14)

through the Scriptures we do see many cases where prayer influences God’s decision (or appears to anyway).

When Israel was camped outside Mt. Sinai, Moses went up the mountain to deliver God’s law to the people. This is when the famed “Ten Commandments” were created by God’s own hand. Moses was taking a lot of time to come down from the mountain and this made the Israelites start to get antsy and doubt that the God of Moses was actually the God they should be worshiping. So, they prompted Moses’ brother Aaron to construct a golden calf idol. They gathered all of their golden wares, melted them down and created an immobile, mute false god, then they convinced themselves that this was the god that brought them out of Egypt.

When this happened, God took notice and became very angry at the Israelites. The Lord told Moses to leave and attend to them while he contemplated destroying them. Moses pleaded with God to spare them and to remember Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. His argument compelled God not to destroy the Israelites. Moses still flew off the handle when he reached the camp, but at least no one was consumed by holy fire.

2. Abraham Pleads for Sodom (Genesis 18:16-32)

Abraham had a lot of moments with God that tested his willingness to follow the Lord, but each time, God was faithful. One such test came after Abraham learned from three angelic visitors that his wife, Sarah was to have a son. One of the visitors (whom some scholars think to be Christ because He claims to speak as God) informs Abraham that his nephew Lot’s hometowns of Sodom and Gomorrah would be destroyed. Abraham bargains with God and asks that if a certain amount of people were found to be righteous, would God spare them? Abraham keeps bargaining with God until the number went from 50 righteous people to 10. This back and forth arguing between Abraham and God saved Lot’s family.

3. Mary Asks Jesus to Perform a Miracle in the Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-12)

If anyone has the right to argue with God, it’s his mother. Jesus was invited to a wedding and so He arrived in Cana with His whole gang. His mom was there and knowing his power, she told him there was no more wine. Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon surmises that the reason Mary concerned Jesus about this was because of the extra people who had come to the wedding and caused a shortage in party supplies ... people like Jesus’ disciples. Mary was in some ways possibly “saving face.”

Jesus didn’t think that this was to be the start of his ministry, but He decided to honor Mary’s request. Mary told the servants to do whatever He told them. They filled the containers to the brim with water and before long the jars were instead filled with top-notch, fine wine. Thanks to Jesus and Mary’s insistence, a party was allowed to rock on.

4. Hezekiah pleads with God to add years to his life (2 Kings 20:1-11)

King Hezekiah was a great king and had done much to turn back the heart of Israel to God after his father, King Ahaz, had let idolatry and sin run amok. He started to strengthen Israel’s military, but he also had some counselors who wanted to utilize an attack by Assyria for their own gain. The Assyrians were defeated, but not without great loss. King Hezekiah either was oblivious to his advisors’ bad decisions or he chose not to see it, but after the losses, things turned sour.

Hezekiah fell ill and he was then visited by the prophet Isaiah, who let Hezekiah know that he would soon die and that he needed to get his house in order. Hezekiah wept and prayed to God asking him to let him live. The Lord heard Hezekiah’s prayer and allowed him to live 15 years longer.

There are a couple conclusions we may draw from these stories.

First, we may see that prayer is more than just a perfunctory act. To put it simply, in some way we may not completely understand, prayer works. We know that God does care about our needs and as Christ says in Matthew 7:7, we should ask God and trust that what we ask for will be given. It’s true that sometimes God says no, but He still wants us to come to Him and interact with Him.

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maybe it’s not so much that God’s mind was changed, but rather that God knew what He wanted to do in the end.

Second, since God knows the outcome of every decision we make and every prayer we pray, then maybe it’s not so much that God’s mind was changed, but rather that God knew what He wanted to do in the end. He allows us to contradict Him, even argue with Him and intercede for people we care about. He let Moses and Abraham dispute with Him to show His graciousness.

Ultimately, we don’t know why God seems to change His mind, but what this does show is that He interacts with us on our level, not as some entirely separate, detached deity. Like Jacob, we are wrestling with God (Genesis 32:22-32) because that’s what He wants us to do.

We should pray expecting God to change our circumstances, but let’s also remember that we are bit players in a much, much larger story. God is weaving a beautiful tapestry in this universe and every blessing or tragedy from God is meant to bring every thread of His work together in perfect harmony.

Top Comments

Zachary K. Perkins

28

Zachary K. Perkins replied to Stefan Stackhouse's comment

I don't entirely disagree with what you're saying. I see that Abraham's conversation with God was more of a conversation than an argument. However, the traditional Jewish commentary on this passage tells it as Abraham pleading with God. Abraham didn't necessarily win the pleading, because Sodom wasn't saved, but we know his goal was to save Lot's family which God did decide to do. Is it a "successful" argument? Not necessarily. It successfully allowed Abraham to see God's justice, yes.

8 Comments

Stefan Stackhouse

84

Stefan Stackhouse commented…

NO, NO, NO! Abraham did NOT change God's mind. God ended up doing exactly what He said He would do - destroy Sodom - and exactly what He had been planning to do all along. It wasn't GOD's mind that was changed, but ABRAHAM's. Abraham feared that God was being unjust, and also feared for Lot and his family. The result of the exchange between Abraham and God is that Abraham went away convinced that God would be just and not unjust, and that Lot and his family would not be wiped out unjustly along with the rest of the Sodomites. God did spare Lot, but in a different way than Abraham anticipated or imagined (although God had planned it from the very start).

The purpose of prayer isn't to change God's mind (which really can't be done), but rather to change ourselves. God is sovereign and already knows both what we want and need and what He is going to do. It is only our own attitudes and actions that are in question, and prayer is a force God uses in a powerful way to change us.

Zachary K. Perkins

28

Zachary K. Perkins replied to Stefan Stackhouse's comment

I don't entirely disagree with what you're saying. I see that Abraham's conversation with God was more of a conversation than an argument. However, the traditional Jewish commentary on this passage tells it as Abraham pleading with God. Abraham didn't necessarily win the pleading, because Sodom wasn't saved, but we know his goal was to save Lot's family which God did decide to do. Is it a "successful" argument? Not necessarily. It successfully allowed Abraham to see God's justice, yes.

Tania Harris

38

Tania Harris commented…

Hi Zachary,
Great article! I think your perspective is helpful as we grapple with how God works in our lives.

A thought to add to yours; perhaps these kind of conversations also teach us that God is more relational than transactional. The adage 'prayer works' is empty of this thought - like saying to a couple when they marry - 'communication works' - as if our partner was a machine and this was the formula for operating it. Perhaps if we see God as less of a robotic force than a dynamic person, it would be a more effective way to relate to him in prayer. We could imagine him talking it over with us, considering our perspective and even changing his 'mind' (but not his nature), as if we were the friends Jesus described us as being - a friendship defined by the things he tells with us about what he is doing (John 15:15). Your thoughts?

Zachary K. Perkins

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Zachary K. Perkins replied to Tania Harris's comment

I agree! I think sovereignty is a difficult topic which is largely a mystery to us. As Gregory of Nyssa said “Concepts create idols; only wonder understands anything.” When we build our idea of God around concepts like sovereignty, we tend to change God's character and slowly create an idol. I believe God is a God who wants us to wrestle with Him. He wants us to plead, beg, ask, and struggle because like the parable of the Persistent Widow, our judge is attentive to our needs. It's a mystery we can't fully grasp, but it's one that makes the Judeo-Christian God unique. Our God is love and that love is woven into our lives in a way where prayer makes a difference. How or why...I dunno.

Steffan Bard

2

Steffan Bard replied to Zachary K. Perkins's comment

I'm eagerly waiting more angry young Calvinists to flip metaphorical tables in their comments on here.

I love that Gregory of Nyssa quote though. And you're so right about concepts (esp. theological ones) creating idols. One of my good friends like to say, "Statements divide people, questions unite." Similar idea.

Tania Harris

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Tania Harris replied to Steffan Bard's comment

Yes Zachary, and pleading, begging, asking and struggling must be done to have effect, otherwise it's non-sensical... :-)

Anderverhaal

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Anderverhaal commented…

You're taking about one of my greatest struggles with God. Am I some sort of robot who is radio controlled by him? With God doing everything and me doing nothing, it seems so. Then even prayer is empty, because the only one who doesn't know what will happen, is me. It doesn't change the future. Even when I pray for God to change my circumstances, it's already pre determined.

As the examples above show, the future is a bit fluid. God can change his mind, even when it changes the course of history, like with Hizkia. It probably doesn't change God's plan with this world, but it can change the way it will happen.

That's what I think at the moment. But what I think can still change ;-)

Brianne Bouska

1

Brianne Bouska commented…

Excellent article. Thank you.

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