Originally published in Issue #3 on April 16, 2021
In a weekly Bible study, we have been working through the Gospel of Matthew. We recently studied Matthew 26 and the Garden of Gethsemane. As I studied through, I noticed something I hadn’t put together before: it is perfectly within our rights to question God. In Matthew 26:36-39, we see Jesus question the Father’s plan. He asks, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me…”
This is not the first time we’ve seen humans question the plans of God. In Genesis 18:22-33, Abraham asks God to spare the city of Sodom so that his nephew Lot and Lot’s family would not be caught up in the city’s destruction. The conversation starts like this:
Then Abraham drew near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake. (vv. 23-26)
Most of us know the story. Abraham “bargains” with God until God agrees that if he finds even ten righteous people in the whole city, he will not destroy it.
One more. In Exodus, Moses returns from Mount Sinai after meeting with God to bring his people God’s commandments. He finds that the Israelites built a golden cow to worship. Both Moses and God are enraged at this, and God tells Moses that he will destroy the Israelite people and build a new covenant people through Moses (Exodus 32:11-14). Moses says:
Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” And the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people. (vv. 12-14)
“Can God change his mind?” This question has been asked for millennia. But the scriptures witness that God is perfect, and perfectly knows all things, including our hearts and the future (Job 37:16, 1 John 3:20, Matthew 6:8, etc.). I believe that in these Old Testament passages, God is inviting his people to participate with him in working out their lives and rule of the world. He knows what the humans will freely say and how he will respond, but that act of free participation and relationship is important for God and us.
So is it a sin to question God? No! Here we have three clear examples of “heroes of the faith” who questioned God. Two of them resulted in a different outcome than if they had not asked, and one (Jesus) resulted in a “no” from God. What is a sin is to reject God’s answer. If our perfectly good God chooses not to change course, his ways are better than ours. Question God and ask for change, but submit to his answer. After all, the entire prayer from Jesus was this: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” We must be prepared to make the same prayer.