The last paragraph is what caught my attention, what with my recent thoughts on prayer starting with the Hoffman Essay (also reproduced here on this blog).
Conversations with God
I have had the wonderfully enriching opportunity over the years to engage in great conversations. I call these “great” conversations because they involved the exchange of ideas, a challenge for putting ideas into action, or strategic planning and envisioning of the future for a particular person, ministry, or for myself. I also call these conversations “great” because they were filled with honesty, authenticity, and debate all within a context of mutual respect and appreciation.
My current work at RZIM affords me the wonderful opportunity to engage in great conversations as a daily part of my ministry. Often, these conversations are conducted through the internet and email server; or they are conversations that take place casually, as colleagues come and go through my office. At other times, my conversations are with ideas presented to me in the pages of books, periodicals, and websites. No matter the media for conversation, it is a daily part of my life and ministry.
In recognizing the gift of conversation in my own life, I began to notice the conversations that took place in Scripture. Particularly, I began to examine the nature of conversation between God and various individuals. As I read these dialogues, I noticed a peculiar feature of these great conversations. For example, the first time we hear Abraham engage God in conversation, God has just promised to give him a great reward (Genesis 15:1). But Abraham responds with doubt. “O Lord God, what will you give me, since I am childless?” (Genesis 15:2). These are the very first recorded words of Abraham. As far as we are told from the biblical story, Abraham left his country and family of origin without question; he heard God’s great promise of a great nation and blessing without any question or doubt. Yet his first words question God.
Moses also questions God in his encounter with the Almighty.(1) Despite seeing a bush burning with fire but not consumed, despite seeing his shepherd’s staff transformed into a serpent, and despite seeing his hand become leprous and then healed of leprosy, Moses fires back question after question and challenge after challenge to the God revealed specially and uniquely to him: “I AM THAT I AM; I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE.” Moses appears not to recognize his conversation partner, the God of his father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, as he questions God repeatedly in their dramatic conversation: “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11). “Now they may say to me, ‘What is God’s name?’ What shall
I say to them?” (Exodus 3:13). “What if they will not believe me, or listen to what I say?” (Exodus 4:1). “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue” (Exodus 4:10). “Please Lord, send someone else to do it” (Exodus 4:13).
At this point in the conversation God becomes furious with Moses, and who can blame God? After all, God has pulled out all the miraculous stops in trying to convince Moses that God will be with him to help him accomplish the deliverance of the Israelites from bondage and slavery. Remarkably, God concedes to Moses, and appoints Aaron, the brother of Moses, as the mouthpiece for the reluctant prophet.
What amazes me about these dialogues is that they are included in Scripture at all! For on the surface, it appears that these are very bad conversations for God! If we simply evaluated them on contemporary conversational etiquette, or persuasive ability, neither party does very well. God isn’t very successful in terms of persuasion and his conversation partners are better at giving excuses than giving respect. But of course, there is more to the story. For I believe these conversations are recorded to demonstrate that even what we might consider “bad” conversation matters to God. As Abraham and Moses continue their conversations with God--as one offers up the child of promise for sacrifice, as the other negotiates with Pharaoh and then navigates the Israelites in the wilderness--we hear complaint, lament, question, and argumentation that we could hardly imagine, let alone speak before the Almighty. And yet, Abraham is called “the friend of God” (Isaiah 41:8) and Moses beholds the glory of God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 33:18-9). Yes, conversation matters to God--even conversation that questions and argues--for God values communion with God’s people. Indeed, Abraham and Moses, Job, the psalmists, and the prophets all provide us with rich and engaging narratives of authentic, challenging, questioning, and even argumentative conversation with God.
With these kinds of conversational examples, how have you been talking with God lately? Do you hold back aspects of your thoughts and feelings, afraid of causing offense, or do you engage God with your whole being, even those parts that question, argue, or doubt? Despite Moses’s questioning of God, the Scripture tells us that “The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend” (Exodus 33:11). Perhaps the way we talk with God illuminates our willingness to engage in great conversation. Indeed, perhaps the way we talk with God illuminates the depth of our friendship.
Margaret Manning is associate writer at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) See Exodus 3-4.