Why would a perfect God allow imperfect people to influence His decisions? Surely He knows the best course of action, and surely He wants what is best for each of us. Why tarnish impeccable decisions by accommodating our preferences?
This question has been on my mind today as I pondered an unusual exchange between God and Abraham recorded in the book of Genesis. God informs Abraham that He is about to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham worries aloud that innocent lives may be lost, and he asks God to reconsider. If 50 righteous people can be found in those cities, will God call off the destruction? God agrees.
Immediately, Abraham begins to wonder if he should have been more ambitious. What about 45, he asks? Or 40? After six incremental requests, God agrees to spare the cities if there are only 10 righteous people in them. (See Genesis 18:17-33.)
Why would God participate in a conversation like that, in which one of His children bargains with Him for the safety of a city?
In the Book of Mormon, there are several prayers of a similar nature: audacious in content but deferential in delivery. The brother of Jared asks God to touch stones and make them shine, while clarifying that he only dares to do this because God has commanded him to pray (Ether 3:2-5). The prophet Nephi asks God to replace a war with a famine (Helaman 11:4), because God previously promised to do whatever Nephi requested (Helaman 10:5). An angel calls Alma to repentance because his father has prayed for him with much faith (Mosiah 27:14).
Why was God willing to grant these requests? Here are two ideas which might help:
- There isn’t always a single right answer. Our request may fall within a range of acceptable outcomes.
- God cannot fully accomplish His objectives without our engagement. Our prayers change us and help us to become more like Him.
Today I will pray in faith, knowing that God will hear and answer me. I will be grateful that He is willing to respond to me in spite of my imperfections, and I will strive for an appropriate blend of boldness and humility as I approach Him in prayer.
Thanks Paul. On the topic of bargaining…I was listening to a podcast the other day and the person speaking commented that bargaining was historically and continues to be the preferred method of transactions in the middle east. While bargaining may seem tiresome, and agonizing at times, to us…it is a way of establishing a fair price in a transaction. What if Abraham’s bargain with the Lord was a way to establish what was a “fair” number of righteous souls in S&G? I love how this story teaches us of God’s mercy and love for His children – thanks again for your thoughtful post!
I like your idea. If the conversation seems tedious and repetitive, it’s because we’re watching Abraham’s process or recognizing more and more the worth of a soul. God loves all of his children, and I think He was using this conversation to help Abraham learn to feel that love as well.