Manipulating God


Recently, I read the first three books in a series called Chronicles of the Kings, written by Lynn Austen.  These books fictionalize, with mostly historical accuracy, the life of Hezekiah, the king of Judah, whose story is told in the Bible in 2 Kings 18-20, Isaiah 36-39, and 2 Chronicles 29-32.  (My favorite book of the series was the second one, Song of Redemption, pictured above.)

In addition to being good reads, these books opened my eyes to a couple of different things that I had never seen before, or hadn’t really thought of. 

Have you ever really considered the act of idolatry?  Idolatry was a rampant problem in Judah when Hezekiah became king, and he enacted sweeping reforms to try to change it.  For the most part, he succeeded in tamping down the public worship of these idols.  But privately, people still worshipped what they wanted to worship.

If you’re a Christian, I’m sure at some point you’ve heard a preacher talk about our modern-day idols, and anything we put before God can become an idol.  But have you ever considered that some Christians’ view of God Himself is a form of idolatry?

In the first book of the series, Gods and Kings, the people of Judah are worshipping Molech, and sacrifice their children to it in the hopes Molech will save them from destruction.  In Song of Redemption and again in the third book, Strength of His Hand, one of the characters prays to Asherah, the goddess of fertility, in the hopes of becoming pregnant. 

History is replete with examples of people praying to gods of the rain, gods of the wind, gods of the sea, gods of this and that, in the hopes that they will answer and do what the person praying wants them to do. 

Many times, we, too, pray to God, in the hopes that He will do what we want Him to do.  We beg, cajole, plead, promise sacrifices, and do all manner of ridiculousness, hoping that He’ll answer “Yes.”  We do everything in our power to manipulate Him into doing what we want, even trying to use our own goodness as a reason why He should answer yes. 

Charles Stanley, in his book, Handle with Prayer, says this:  “We try to manipulate God by our humanistic ‘if then’ philosophy.  If we live good, clean lives, then God must (we believe) grant our hearts’ desires.  But such attempts to manipulate God defeat the whole purpose of Christianity, which is to glorify Him through our submissive obedience to His desires.”

I’ll never forget one of the relatives of a coal miner who was trapped far beneath the earth in the 2006 Sago, West Virginia tragedy.  Everyone had prayed and prayed for a miracle, and misinformation led them to believe they had received it.  But when confirmation came that there was no miracle, and only one miner had survived, this relative said something to the effect of, “We had our miracle and it was taken away from us.  Right now, I don’t even think there is a God.” 

How often have we done the same thing in moments of tragedy and crisis?  We praise Him for being faithful when things go right, and wonder where He is and if He exists or if maybe He’s actually evil, when things don’t go the way we want them to go. 

By our actions we tell Him, “As long as You do what I want You to do, then I will worship You.  But when You stop, then I stop.”  How is that any different than treating Him like an idol?  After all, there are more than just political and economic reasons as to why no one worships Poseidon anymore.  One too many times, he didn’t answer the way everyone thought he should.  Ergo, he must not exist.  And we do the same with our God.

I would venture to say that most of the atheists and agnostics that I know come to their set of (non)beliefs in one of these ways:  (1) They were not raised to believe in God; or (2) They were raised to believe, but at some point became disillusioned because of unanswered prayers and began to doubt His existence/goodness.  There are a couple of other categories, but these are the top two by far. 

It is human nature, after the fall, to want to be in control.  Humans ate of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, and we know the difference (at least we think so), and we think we know enough to be able to ascribe the correct label, either “good” or “evil”, to everything in life.  And so we pray accordingly, asking that God make sure and do all the things we label “good” and allow none of the things we label “evil”.  When He doesn’t, if we are humanistic-minded, then He has outlived His usefullness to us, and is no better than the idols worshipped in the days of old.

This way of thinking is idolatry.  We are not allowing God to be God, but instead making Him into something other than God, an idol of sorts, so that we can manipulate Him to fulfill our will.

The whole purpose of Christianity is glorifying Him through submission.  It doesn’t glorify God to doubt His existence or His goodness when things don’t go our way.  It doesn’t glorify Him to get angry at Him when He doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want Him to.

Charles Stanley goes on to say in Handle with Prayer, “Our response to God’s answers reveals one of two things about us.  It will reveal either a rebellious spirit or a submissive spirit. By accepting God’s answer, despite the fact that we may not understand, we express a submissive spirit.  But by refusing His first answer and trying to get our way by manipulation, we express a rebellious spirit. If we refuse Gods’ answers when they don’t fit in with our plans, then we are trying to use God for our purposes.” (Emphasis added.)

I write all this, mostly because I know that at some point (rather soon, probably), I will need to come back and re-read it.  It’s our inclination to not submit, to think we know best, and to get angry when that “best” isn’t what happens.  It’s in our nature to think that we know how to correctly label something “good” or “evil”, when we didn’t get any powers of omniscience or omnipresence or that whole “existing outside of time and space” thing along with the forbidden fruit. 

But our natural state is not glorifying to Him.  Submitting our ways, our desires, and our will to His is the only way to know Him and to bring glory to Him, and the only way to be used by Him in great and amazing ways.  So I say, “Not my will, but thine be done.”

2 Responses to “Manipulating God”
  1. Ali says:

    This is so good! Food for thought, too…I will definitely remember it when I’m disappointed or even praying. I have (by His grace) moved beyond bargaining. Now submitting without kicking and screaming to painful situations is still a work in progress!

  2. Thanks for the reminder!

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