Ever since I participated in debate competitions in high school and maybe before, I have relished the occasional thrill of winning an argument against a smart opponent. Forgive me for bragging, but I can rightfully boast some pretty impressive victories, especially my many victories against the smartest opponent of all: God. That sounds pretty amazing, I know, but I’ve discovered that it’s relatively easy to win arguments against Him. In fact, I won several in a row in the past few weeks.
The key to winning the argument is first listening so you can know what to argue against. Prayer is a great way to get started. Pray and seek for guidance in some aspect of your life. Humbly sense that guidance. Feel free to write it down. And then, think carefully of all the reasons why it is ridiculous and doesn’t apply to you. Strong logical skills are a plus here if you want a decisive victory. Provide your reasons, dismiss His suggestion, and voila, you are likely to win because I’ve found that He often doesn’t do much of a rebuttal.
God, in fact, is a terrible debater. No offense, but it’s true. In debate, after one side critiques your proposal, it’s important to carefully respond to and rebut each argument they have raised. God, I’m sad to say, is rather weak in this regard. Although He’s the Ultimate in intelligence, His mastery of debate techniques seems to pale in comparison with the skills most of us mortals have.
For example, two months ago, in praying for guidance on the things I needed to do, I had a distinct impression: go to the Shanghai office of Woori Bank (a Korean bank that was said to be a relatively safe place to park some money in a world where many banks are now close to insolvency) and take out the money I had there in an unusual US dollar account. It wasn’t much, but wasn’t trivial. I actually wrote that down on my to-do list for that week. I would write it down again for two or three more weeks after that. I came close to going right before our recent trip to Vietnam, but fortunately was able to come up with some very logical reasons about why there was no need to do that. It would be 6 months before I left China and had plenty of time, and the time I took to do that in January would be time I couldn’t do some important things for my work, my callings, whatever. It just made no sense, and I provided persuasive reasons why I could delay that prompting. No rebuttal. God walked away. Bingo, I won! Such an easy victory. (I say that with all due respect.)
I had similar victories as I was packing and preparing for our short trip to Vietnam almost a month ago. I was repeatedly prompted to bring my journal, to bring a backup hard disk, to bring extra cash, to bring a an unnecessarily large supply of medication, and most strangely of all, to bring some of my collection of magic tricks that I use daily when I am around my grandchildren. My arguments were to the point and overwhelmingly persuasive: “There’s no way I’m going to be doing magic tricks for Vietnamese kids. There’s no need for extra cash in Vietnam and it could be stolen. I need to travel light, so my heavy journal will be a burden that I can deal with after my short trip. And bringing my backup disk puts me at risk of having it and my computer stolen while traveling — a disaster.” God just didn’t have any reply to such persuasiveness. Victory, victory, victory! So sweet.
On the other hand, now that the Corona virus has swept across China and made it impossible or unwise to return home to Shanghai after my short trip to Vietnam, causing my wife and I to flee to the US as “medical refugees,” where we are now hanging out with family, I can somewhat admit that some of those illogical suggestions might have been slightly useful after all. Since I may not be able to return to China before my visa expires, I may not ever see that money at Woori Bank. I called them yesterday and they explained that for my protection, the only way they will ever let me access the US dollars in my account is to show up at their office in Shanghai with my passport (and visa, of course). The good news, though, is that if I die and my wife can provide proper documentation and evidence of death, she may have a chance of getting some of it if she also goes to China. The helpful employee I reached was chuckling over my situation and the impact of China’s and the bank’s regulations. Hilarious, I know! My other bank accounts have ATM cards that allow me to withdraw money here in the US, but not that special US dollar account with the appropriately named Woori Bank.
The journal, with some precious accounts, would have been nice. The medication would have been useful but I found some more in Vietnam. The hard disk would have been helpful, but I bought another. The magic tricks, well, surprisingly, they would really come in handy now that I am staying much of the time with a family of six grandchildren who are magic addicts and visiting another grandchild in Minnesota tonight who also loves magic. So, grudgingly, I can sort of see some point to some of my Opponent’s suggestions, but that doesn’t change the fact that I absolutely won the argument — and lost some valuable resources and time, while gaining some unnecessary worries.
I guess winning arguments is not always the best policy when dealing with God. Yes, I’ll acknowledge His awesome intelligence, but wish He were a more vigorous debater so it wouldn’t always be so easy for me to win.
Mercifully, we may have found a way to retrieve the journal and some other much-needed items. I’ll report on that story in a few days, which abounds in examples of the great kindness of some foreign and local friends in China who made that possible as an answer to prayer (it was also a rare example of me finally not arguing when there was a good argument to be made against an implausible suggestion). God may not be the best debater by human standards, but He often helps us find second chances or new paths forward after we make major blunders in our lives (sometimes as a result of a very persuasive win in our debates with God). Keep seeking Him and listening to His guidance, in whatever situation you are in. He may have some interesting things for your to-do list, whether it’s something small that might help you to bless your neighbor, relieve someone in distress, solve major problems in your life, or prepare to flee your home on your own journey to somewhere unexpected.
23 thoughts on “How to Win an Argument with God: A Lesson Sponsored by the Corona Virus”
In Judaism there’s a long and distinguished literary tradition about arguing with God, starting with Abraham challenging God about the destruction of Sodom and asking “Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked? … That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
Then there’s the Book of Job, plus modern classics like Elie Wiesel’s The Trial of God and its film adaptation God on Trial.
All highly recommended!
We are all constantly not doing something our sixth sense or intuition tells us to. Not infrequently, we write one down and then put it off. When it bites us in the bud, we beat ourselves up over it, forgetting the thousands of times putting off a thought saved us time and energy. Publication basis.
The reason to not ignore a thought and not put something off is knowing how we will beat ourselves up if things go wrong. Sure a stitch in time can save 9, but 9 times out of 10 it doesn't – making stitches a zero-sum game. It is about how we will be disappointed in ourselves while suturing the 9 that 1 time out of 10.
I think this is a great story. Although I have been guilty of doing the same thing more than once, I needed this reminder to not arrogantly goof up again. Thank you for sharing and being so vulnerable.
The art of debating is lost.
Civility is gone.
Verbal attack and vile name calling is the fallback action for those who know their position/view point is weak and that true facts destroy their argument.
Name calling and personal attacks is what so called scholars in the LDS church do…. frequently….and the church members look bad because of it.
They use personal attacks because they Lost the argument and know it… and can't stand to be wrong….they believe they are the more righteous in their small narrow minds.
False Christians. Anything bad that befalls them is deserved.
This is simply silly.
If your god wanted you to be able to avoid the corona virus why didn't he simply give you that revelation? Clearly and effectively so you could make intelligent choices. Why the sideway urge to take cash, etc? Why not the American currency? Why not a prompt to leave China period rather than a side trip that's now extended?
Why did only you get this "argument"? How many Americans and other nationals are stuck inside the contagion zone? Why didn't your god give the appropriate "argument" to the seller in the market who caused the initial infections?
Why does your god need to be so oblique, spotty and discriminatory?
To "Simply Silly" Anon, I can relate. Many of us are shocked that God doesn't do things our way. Some conclude that He either must not exist or is simply incompetent based on His failure to accept our arguments and comply with our logical demands. Incredibly, so far He has still failed to stop all disease, eliminate death now (not in the distant future!), eradicate student loans, ensure high wages for all, prevent climate change, stop tooth decay, provide us with more sustainable packaging materials, reduce traffic jams, redistribute wealth in our direction, and ensure that all students have above-average grades.
It takes little more than a third-grade education to recognize the absurdity of God not doing things our way. Instead, it seems that He only occasionally works miracles and often rather minor ones, healing a few random people long ago in Israel, for example, instead of providing cures for all globally. So unfair!
Believers may opine that His purpose is not to make us as comfortable as possible on earth, but to send us here briefly to learn, grow, face trials, get a body, choose good over evil, etc., however brief the journey. For those who view God as a loving parent, some will say that the purpose of parenting is not to spoil kids with all the toys and treats they want now nor to ensure they never have to struggle, study, face consequences, or experience grief and pain, but rather to help them grow, mature, make decisions and realize their own potential, even if it means being sent away from home and facing painful trials, even the risk of failure.
Believers will say that each of us are on a unique journey through mortality and that God is there with great love for us and sometimes inspiration, regardless of where our journey takes us or even if we make choices that take us far from His intended path. Some will die or suffer today by His will, others by their errors or the sins of someone else. Some will be guided to avoid a crisis such as a war or a pandemic, while others will be needed to stand in the heat of battle and play a painful role. Some He may try to guide one way or the other, but they may not listen. But many will testify that even in their darkest hours, they found His love and sometimes even tender mercies.
Your arguments against His tiny blessings to some make a lot of sense. What He seems to do with us can be described as "silly" or absurd. Since He's not much of a debater, you may even persuade Him to step down and let you show us how to run this troubled cosmos. But be careful — the hours are long and the job is thankless, for no matter what you do, there will be people arguing that you must not exist or are incompetent. Tough job! But I'm sure you'll manage.
In my case, I could join you in complaining about God allowing harmful viruses to spread at all. I can complain about why millions are trapped in Wuhan and so many are dying. The complaints are many. Answers are few. But whether one is trapped in a prison, a locked-down city raging with disease, or forced to leave home in an unprepared manner, when we turn to Him for guidance, there are blessings that await in our ongoing journey. There may be comfort and peace in times of trial. There may be the "tender mercies" like Nephi experienced on his painful 8-year trek through Arabia that helped shape and prepare him for great things. For some of us, there may be a second chance to get a valuable record that a stubborn soul should have brought. My journey has been a mix of trouble and joy, with many tender mercies but very few of the big miracles that you and I may have wanted or demanded. But while His ways are not my ways, I'm gradually learning that for wise and eternal purposes, it's best for me to not criticize His ways and to endure in faith and patience. I fail frequently and am tempted to rail and moan, but am gradually learning that His ways are worth accepting and His gentle, personal whisperings are worth listening to when they come.
Jeff, you write that God’s purpose is not to make us as comfortable as possible on earth, but to send us here briefly to learn, grow, face trials, get a body, choose good over evil, etc.
But even if that is so, it doesn’t address Anon 7:33’s last question. Giving people random, highly oblique hints that are really only recognizable as such after the fact doesn’t really serve the purpose you described above. It doesn’t help them choose good over evil, or grow, or learn to endure, etc. Life itself teaches us those things perfectly well without any supernatural nudges.
Maybe such hints serve some other purpose? Or maybe, as seems far more likely to me, they’re not divine at all but originate in our own minds?
Giving people hints about things they should do does not help them in their journey? Can you explain your position? I'm sorry if I misunderstand.
If a bishop is prompted to take some cash to a family who has no known problems at the time, only to find that they are hungry because of a huge financial setback (this is based on a true story I am close to), is that of no value in helping the bishop further his ministry and to help the family know of God's love for them? If a parent gets a random oblique hint about to bring a flashlight on a trip they are about to make because they will have car trouble with an easy fix of only a flashlight were available (this is based on a true story), and if they would lose miss valuable opportunities that would have helped their children without the flashlight, is the attempt to nudge the family of no value? Such promptings can build faith, teach us to listen, help us be where we are needed to serve others, and show us abundant tender mercies from the Lord even when we are in frustrating circumstances even with the tender mercies.
If a busy mom is prompted several times to bake some chocolate chip cookies (of all things!) on a very busy day, only to finally yield, make the cookies, and then feel prompted to awkwardly take them to a relative stranger down the street, is this really of no value? It seemed that way to her, as I recount the true story in my post, "Yes, Cookies Can Matter," until one year later, when the recipient of the cookies explained in a church service what had happened that day. God did not miraculously fix her job, her car, her marriage, and all the other burdens she was carrying, burdens so great that she fell to her knees in tears and told God, perhaps somewhat irrationally, "Lord, I just need a plate of chocolate chip cookies." One hour later, there was a knock at the door and one more batch of tender mercies were delivered that definitely strengthened that woman in her journey. The problems weren't all solved, but the courage to go on was given and God's love was felt. If you feel these kind of things are of no help, I'd like to encourage you to read the Book of Mormon more carefully and come to understand a little more just how real God's love is, in spite of the pains we face here in mortality.
Jeff, I didn’t say such hints had no value at all. I said they didn’t serve the specific purposes you laid out for our mortal probation. Of course people benefit from little kindnesses, and from making adequate preparations for a journey, etc.
One of the fundamental ways we learn is by overcoming difficulties. Another is by making mistakes. I’m not sure exactly how this squares with random little hints that help us avoid difficulties and mistakes.
Can you entertain at least the possibility that these “hints” actually originate in you own mind, and that you then, driven perhaps by your desire to affirm the reality of your otherwise aloof God, interpret them as little miracles?
They aren't miracles, they are "tender mercies.™"
Just as people are no longer “members” or “non-members,” or “temple recommend holders,” but they are “on the covenant path. ™”
Yes, OK. Some things that work out well for us can be misinterpreted as blessings that God really might not have intended. Out of every 37 players trying their hand at roulette, there might be one who feels miraculously blessed — for that spin, anyway. Further, we humans tend to ignore our mistakes and find justification for all our random errors. We can certainly spin events our own way. And when it comes to receiving revelation, there is a constant struggle in wondering whether something is the whispering of the still, small voice of God or just a random thought.
However, in my experience, I've seen over and over that when in prayer and contemplation I feel I should do something, and maybe get that impression more than once, it would have been better to have heeded that prompting (and when heeded, I've often been surprised at how unexpectedly helpful it was). As one of my daughters-in-law explained to me, she has learned that when she finds herself arguing with a prompting, that's an indication that it's probably not her idea, not her will, but something else, and she, too, has learned that it's often best to treat those suggestions with more open-mindedness that we tend to give them. She's had many such experiences and has really been an inspiration to me about the importance of listening to the Spirit, in spite of the fair concern that it's just a random thought.
There may be things I am grateful for that actually weren't part of God's will and design. Random stuff happens, good and bad. But I'd rather live being grateful for too much than ignoring the hand of God and failing to thank Him for kind blessings given. We are all debtors to God, and I feel it's better if our sloppy mortal accounting shows the balance too high in His favor rather than erroneously erasing our many real debts.
How about you? I believe you have described yourself as an atheist, but can you be open to the idea that God has richly blessed you in many ways that you may have overlooked? The basics of life, liberty, education, health, etc., along with amazing gifts such as hearing, speech, taste, vision, etc., are blessings worthy of immense gratitude and contemplation and wonder (just look at how ATP synthase works, for example!), and there may be thousands of other kindnesses He has sent your way to help you learn and grow. Why not take more time to contemplate the possibility that His love and presence is real, that he knows and loves you, and seeks to guide you to greater things as you listen to His voice?
Sorry, Anon@5:26. Nobody should be able to trademark the term "tender mercies" in this context, anyway, because that's a well known term used in the Book of Mormon. Nephi uses it to describe how the hand of God and His kindness were evident even in the midst of a difficult journey filled with pain. Being able to see God's kindness even in the midst of grueling trials is an ability we should all seek to develop as we simultaneously seek to know and follow Him.
When the church creates a webpage dedicated to defining what a “tender mercy” is, I think it’s verging on TM status. It’s not merely “ a well known term used in the Book of Mormon.” It’s definitely a Mormon catchphrase:
Jeff, you ask, How about you? … [C]an you be open to the idea that God has richly blessed you in many ways that you may have overlooked? The basics of life, liberty, education, health, etc.?
Sure, I can, and I have, considered that possibility. (I was raised religious, though in my religion I was taught not to think about God in terms of my own petty fortunes. See the Book of Job, or Isaiah, neither of which you seem to understand in the least.) It just makes so much more sense to attribute my good fortune to luck, and to the groundwork laid by others who came before me, and other such prosaic things. At least that way I don’t have to think of God as so scattershot in his blessings as to help one person find their car keys but allow another to be born with cystic fibrosis.
I understand the argument that God does not generally intervene in human affairs because we’re here to learn by means of solving our own problems. I don’t agree with that theory, but it’s at least consistent with life as we know it — and it doesn’t commit us to believing in an essentially capricious, morally obtuse God who willy-nilly eases the already rosy lives of the fortunate while ignoring the cries of the truly wretched. It just makes no sense, Jeff, and you don’t do any credit at all to your God by believing him capable of such capriciousness.
Have you ever considered the possibility that the prompting you feel come not from God, but from the Devil? And that they’re designed to make people like me reject God as capricious? Maybe Satan is just slyly using you!
OK, I'd like to know more what you think the real message of Job and Isaiah is. To me, I can't help but notice that both books seem to underscore God's ultimate compassion for mankind and his care for us — not just at the collective level of a group or nation, but at the level of the individual. Though our individual pains may be great for a while, in the end, God is there to teach us, aid us, and bless us through our trials and certainly after our mortal trials.
Job in particular seems to underscore the important truth that even though good people may be called upon to face great trials and hardships in mortality, even death (actually, always death), God is there and will bless us in the end if we remain faithful and true. He may bless us here in mortality in spite of the pain, and in the end, redeems us and offers us eternal life, if we will accept Him and His grace.
Job, as I'm sure you know, involves some of the most beautiful but difficult poetry of the Bible. One recent resource that helps bring the power of Job's poetry to light is Scott B. Noegel's detailed work, Janus Parallelism in the Book of Job, which I reviewed for The Interpreter. Noegel shows that numerous passages employ sophisticated wordplays in which one word does double duty with two intended meanings, one looking to the previous stich and one looking to the stich that follows. This (not to mention all the other poetical tools and unusual vocabulary) makes it exceptionally difficult to translate accurately (without footnotes, anyway).
(A brief overview of Job from my perspective follows — of course I recognize you know the book, probably in several languages.) Job begins with a story showing God was personally aware of Job and pleased with his goodness. Satan argued that Job was only good because he benefited from God's blessings. Take those away and see how if there was any substance to that faith. The challenge is accepted and Job, not knowing why or realizing that a divinely appointed trial is underway, loses all and suffers greatly. The story topples the misguided theological view (like that of too many evangelists these days) that being righteous ensures temporal blessings like wealth and health, and if someone suffers, there must be some kind of retribution for sin. Job's friends suggest he's at fault and being punished, but Job knows that is unfair, though he has no answer as to why he suffers so much. He is tried to the core, and though he complains, he does not reject God or depart from the ways of righteousness.
In the end God speaks and silences not only His critics but also Job's complaints. And in the wordplays of this book, especially in the Janus parallelisms and surrounding text, God gets the upperhand with the most brilliant puns. In Job 42, Job is praised, accepted, and blessed, while his friends are criticized.
I love Job for the hope it gives us, as individuals, in spite of our personal trials. Whether it's cancer, financial setbacks, violence that we or family members face, the ravaging of disease, an onslaught of Bolsheviks, fire that wipes out your home and neighborhood, the invasion of another nation that claims the right to bomb its opponents anywhere, there are many ways any of us may suffer in this life, but Job and Isaiah teach us to be true to God, to recognize that He may have a purpose in what He allows us to face, and that in the end, He is able to redeem us, resurrect us, and wipe away all our tears (Isaiah 25:8).
After Job's trial and encounter with God, what he lost is restored twofold. He gets twice of everything, except for family members, which are restored in the same number, possibly – and speculatively – suggesting an awareness of the eternal nature of the family (i.e., they, too, were doubled if that eternal perspective is added). Along the way, we learn these valuable truths:
Job 14:14 If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come.
And after listing many of his losses and woes, Job shares his eternal perspective in Job 19:
25 For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:
26 And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:
27 Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.
Resurrection and eternal life is part of the hope that answers the problem of pain and suffering. God is not capricious, as we can especially appreciate in light of modern revelations on the work that is done for the dead, for He offers a way for all to choose Him and have all the greatest joy He has to offer in eternity, if we will. Even those who never had the chance to hear of Him and of the Gospel of Jesus Christ will be ministered to and be given a chance to receive what they would have if they had been born in more favorable circumstance. He is ultimately just and merciful, in spite of the diversity of our brief, temporary circumstances. Job teaches us that suffering does not override God's love for us, nor His mercy, nor the eternal hope that we have after this brief trial. Good people like Job, and like some of the poor I know in rural China, may suffer more than most of us could bear, and yet remain strong enough to continue choosing goodness and love. They are not forgotten, but loved by God. Though our circumstances are diverse, God declares that all are alike to Him (2 Nephi 26:33) and can be redeemed and have eternal life. And as Isaiah teaches, Christ, who has already borne and tasted all our pain (Isaiah 53), is there to not only cleanse us, redeem us, and resurrect us (Isaiah 26:19), but to also wipe away all our tears (Is. 25:8). He is the Messiah and the source of all the hope and justice that will make all the anguish and uncertainty of this brief trial more than worth it and remove all questions about the justice and love of God.
You ask if Satan may have wanted to help me better serve my family and others in the US by bringing along some important items to prepare for my unplanned exodus. Is your point that one minor helpful thing happening to one person is an offense to all who don't get that as well, an injustice that denies the reality of God, because He must not exist unless temporal blessings are redistributed uniformly to all? Or that God must do things according to some collectivist manifesto so that all pains or blessings are meted out in the same way, at the same time, to everyone? To understand Job is to understand the fallacy of condemning God for the diversity we face in mortality — the diversity in genes, financial situation, social status, nationality, education, health, climate, political environment, etc. Some of the diversity comes from the terrible gift of moral agency that God gives us, allowing some to choose things that hurt us. Some of it comes from random chance. But regardless, He loves us all, will resurrect us all, will provide a way for all to have an opportunity to be judged fairly and to learn of Him and be able to choose Him or choose our own wisdom. May we be smart enough to patiently endure now and choose Him rather than to deny Him and His grace.
As we all suspected, Jeff is not a true believer, he is just playing a silly debate game relishing thrills of imagined victories. It was just refreshing to see him confess it. I bet he imagines he drew the more difficult position to defend
The more difficult position to defend? Do you mean the position that a sane, competent God must be a collectivist in all things here in mortality? Not sure which of the several arguments running here you refer to. Also not even sure what point you even trying to make. What exactly am I confessing?
The distinction between a trade mark and a popular, widely used term is that trademarks seek to obtain exclusive rights to exclude others from using the mark. The Church would love for the whole world to talk about God's love, His mercy, and His occasional small acts that help us on our path — His tender mercies, as Nephi refers to it in the Book of Mormon. Y'all are free to use that term and celebrate God's kindness all you want. No Church lawyers will send you a cease and desist notice. Use all you want!
“The essential function of a trademark is to exclusively identify the commercial source or origin of products or services, so a trademark, properly called, indicates source or serves as a badge of origin. In other words, trademarks serve to identify a particular business as the source of goods or services.”
So all the pontifications are entirely free but the actual gold is verboten even for the faithful to be so much as aware of lest they stop making the church even richer. Have Mormons even heard of the Midas Touch?
Jeff, you write that the Book of Job suggests God “may have a purpose in what He allows us to face.” Oh, very much so! But what is that purpose? As the story makes abundantly clear, in Job’s particular case that purpose has nothing to do with helping Job to grow or learn. It’s to win a debate with Satan.
Note that when God deigns to respond to Job, he says nothing at all about why such a good man has been allowed to suffer.* If this teaches us anything, it’s to not be as sure as you seem to be that God arranges everything for our own good. God kept Job in the dark on this point; how can we be sure God would not do the same to us?
It’s in light of all this that I have to read your suggestion that the Book of Job teaches us about “God's ultimate compassion.”
Sorry, but abusing a person for one’s own purposes is not compassion. And the twofold restoration you mention in support of your claim is not motivated by God’s compassion for Job. It’s motivated by God’s appreciation of Job’s fealty to God.
This is compassion: “Oh, you poor, suffering soul, let me help alleviate your suffering.”
This is not compassion: “Wow, I stood aside and let someone torture the bleep outta this guy, and yet he still honors me! I’ll give him a reward.”
I understand how hard it can be to resist the temptation to read one’s preconceived ideas about God into the Book of Job. It’s also hard for many readers to shake their belief that all of scripture must be harmonious in its representation of God (and of Satan). But if one really hopes to appreciate this masterpiece, one has to read it on its own challenging terms.
*Given the horrible truth, how could he? Imagine God being wholly truthful with Job and saying, “Well, um, actually, I got into a little tiff with someone up here in heaven, and, um, in order to win my point I gave the guy permission to torture you and kill all your children.”