I realized, as I lay in bed at 2:30 a.m., my head splitting, wondering if I needed to take my feverish wife to the hospital, that I haggle with God. I don’t know if God haggles back. This makes me a bad Presbyterian, that I don’t hurry past those passages in the Bible about Moses convincing God not to slaughter everyone, or Hezekiah weeping until God agreed to let him live longer, with my highlighter poised to illuminate any verse that appears to imply predestination.
I don’t know if God haggles back because I never live the counterfactual. Last night, for example, I was praying that we didn’t both have meningitis (because this is what I do, I take the symptoms and attach them in my mind to the worst possible disease, and then I get a stomachache worrying about it). I was also praying that the children, especially the baby, wouldn’t get sick. Then I remembered how I’ve often prayed if someone has to get sick (because in my mind bad things are hot potatoes in God’s hands, and they have to be dropped on someone, somewhere), that it be me and not our children.
So there we lay, sick, all of our children sound asleep and healthy, and it struck me that maybe the haggling had worked. Then I thought that can’t be right, because I’m a Presbyterian, after all, and if Presbyterians are nothing else, we are absolutely right about all the small and large points of theology, which is why it will be especially surprising when most of us are on the back row in Heaven, having been so excited about our theology that we forgot to evangelize and give up our wealth to the poor. And that will be really awkward for some Presbyterians I know, let me tell you, though not for me, because I know that in my case just to get past the gates will require a great deal of
luck providential blessing, and quite possibly a clerical error predestined divine intervention.
But the point is that as I lay there in misery and fear, I realized that I only ever thank God when things are really good. This seems akin to only thanking your wife for the meal she cooked when it’s a nine-course French dinner. Not, of course, that I think of God as a woman, because as a good Presbyterian I know that God is a white Republican man who opposes immigration and will condemn you to the lowest plane of Hell if you vote for Hillary. But don’t let that defeat the analogy; I think you see my point: I don’t often thank God, not really, for most things that are blessings. This is because I am caught up in my personal vision of extreme satisfaction and comfort.
How humbling, then, to read this by Oswald Chambers after my healthy and happy children dragged my carcass out of bed this morning:
We utilize God for the sake of getting peace and joy, that is, we do not want to realize Jesus Christ, but only our enjoyment of him.
I suppose God doesn’t need to haggle. I suppose I take that view when I center myself in the universe, with him as my recalcitrant Sugar Daddy. What a miserable universe it would be, if that were all it amounted to.
We finally fell asleep for a little while, somewhere around 4 a.m. We’re both still miserable, but the children all seem fine, so we’ll go ahead and count it all joy, as the good book says, the sickness and the health, and remember that other glorious passage in the Bible, the one we often overlook: It came to pass. . .