“God, if You…then I’ll…”: Why You Can’t Barter with God

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-4PB57C2aQNg/UlHY3QU1v6I/AAAAAAAAAKA/pmbQX6QFT1k/s1600/no+deal.jpgWe’ve all heard it, and most of us have either thought it or even prayed it. “God, if You [do this thing I currently want], then I’ll [do something I probably should do but haven’t].” We find ourselves in a situation we don’t like or lacking something we crave, yet we feel incapable of attaining our desire. Thus, we turn to someone we believe is capable of accomplishing what we want and hope God will show us favor.

But we understand how life works. People don’t just give away favors. They want something in return. So we begin to barter with others when we are seeking their favors. We started doing this when we were young (e.g., trading your sandwich for your friend’s crackers). The other person has something we want—either an item (good) or the ability to accomplish something (service)—so we offer him something we think he wants. In our society the most common bartering item is money—you give me something and I give you money in exchange. But we occasionally offer other goods or services (e.g., housing and food in exchange for childcare; use of vehicles in exchange for professional work, etc.). In each situation, the offer is successful only if both parties have something the other lacks or needs.

But there’s a problem when we try to barter with God. He doesn’t lack or need anything! The truth that God does not need anything is part of a larger truth of God’s self-sufficiency or aseity. This means that God’s existence comes from Himself, thus He is not dependent on anyone or anything else. We as humans derive our existence from God and live continually in dependence on Him (Col 1:17), but God exists in Himself and needs nothing (Exod 3:14; Acts 17:24-25).

Most pagan gods respond to the barter system. You offer sacrifices to a god, and he responds to help you in the way that he can. Thus, you worship the god of travel, and he in return gives you safe travel; you bring a sacrifice to the god of fertility, and he makes you fruitful; or you give to the god of war to make your army successful.

The Christian God is nothing like these pagan gods, which means we have nothing to offer God that would make Him respond by giving us a favor.

  • “God, if you give me this raise than I’ll give you 15% of it.” God is not sitting in heaven wondering how he will be able to finance His work and hoping someone steps up to foot the bill. The whole world is His! (Ps 50:9-12)
  • “God, if you heal me of this sickness, I’ll go to church every Sunday.” God does not struggle through the week waiting for Sunday to come and hoping more people show up this time to lift His spirits. God takes pleasure in true worship, but He does not need it.
  • “God, if you get me out of this difficult situation, then I’ll [stop doing something wrong or start doing something right].” God is not fretting over whether or not people do what is wrong or right. He has commanded us to do right and will justly punish us for doing wrong (either we bear the punishment or Christ does). So God is pleased with our obedience, but does not need it.

Why does it matter whether or not we can barter with God? Because if we can’t barter with Him, that means we have to accept His terms. We can’t entice Him with our offers. We can only accept His offers. He is not impressed by our promises of service or obedience and will not respond to them. But He, of His own will, determined to offer us a relationship with Him as a gift on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ. We must submit ourselves fully to Him, offering our lives to Jesus as Lord. And He promises to give us eternal life—a relationship with Him.

God is the one who establishes what He will do and what we will do, and we either accept or reject those terms. But we can’t try to change the terms to something we prefer—you can’t barter with God.

This entry was posted in Practical Theology, Theology and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 thoughts on ““God, if You…then I’ll…”: Why You Can’t Barter with God

  1. Bill Toothman says:

    Very good article which goes against much of the popular teaching and philosophy today. You do not barter with God, you simply surrender.

  2. DC says:

    All true doctrine. Though it also speaks to our God’s grace that in our weakness, He still entertains some of our attempts to barter with Him. There are countless Christians who would say their life changed at the moment they bartered and God went along with it. While all the things stated in this article are true, I think we would do well to not limit what we think God can or will do. We must walk according to our faith. We cannot really criticize those who are weak in the faith to act likewise as we all grow from step 1. God says in Malachi 3 “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” In a way God is telling the people to barter with Him. Because that’s really what we do when we barter – we put Him to the test. “If you do x, then I will x.” While God does not need us to do anything, He still wants us, and often it seems His plan is to draw the weak and heavy laden by entertaining their crawling attempts to connect with Him.

  3. BE says:

    DC,

    The grace and mercy of our God is astounding. The very fact that He makes agreements with us is a testament to that mercy and grace. However, I’m not sure it’s best to view the interactions you mention as bartering. The biblical example you gave from Malachi is the exact opposite of bartering. The people do not say “God, if you bless us we will bring the tithes.” Rather, God again sets the terms, and the people have no room in which they can renegotiate but can only accept or reject the offer. (And it is always foolish to reject God’s offers.)

    God does respond to our feeble actions, but only because He has committed Himself to respond. Thus, He will draw nigh to us when we draw nigh to Him, but only because He has said that He would. God is always the one who sets the terms, and we do not entice Him with our offers.

    Ben

  4. DC says:

    While I understand the attempt to exalt God’s sovereignty (as we all should), we should not do so to the extent that we forget that within the mystery of His sovereignty He often humbles Himself to win the creation He loves. It does not diminish His sovereignty or stain His repute in any regard to say that sometimes He does go along with our feeble, crippled cries. It’s apples and oranges really. THAT deals with His imminence. The fact that a transcendent and Holy Creator would ever even consider the will of man, whom He created, and whom floundered from the beginning even within a perfect environment, does not repudiate His sovereign will, but rather gives testimony to His abundant love. And in regards to Malachi, you are right, and I was going to write “it’s like bartering in reverse” but I felt it would not get the perspective across. It is bartering, but in reverse. He’s telling the people the outcome ahead of time if they were to do so with their actions. This situation and bartering both operate within a action-result matrix. Exactly the same? Not necessarily, but my point was not to draw an exact parallel, but to present a passage that primarily shows God’s heart towards His people. He wants us to test Him, in a way, because He has so much in store for His people that, in a sense, He’s itching to open the doors of heaven for us, if we’d only turn to Him! Sometimes, not all times, He does so in response to a barter. Not because He’s somehow denying Himself in the process, but because He loves us relentlessly and unashamedly. Apples and Oranges. We need to realize that not everything in the Bible is about God’s Sovereignty. He has far more dimensions than that and if we get caught up on one we miss His wholeness. We spend countless hours trying to figure out how His sovereignty works in each situation, when we really should humble ourselves and not presume that we can create a “sovereignty box” that all situations can be logically explained away within without question, and see God as the infinitely multi-dimensional I AM that He is. But in short, I agree with what is said within the article, however I think there is a tone out there surrounding the subject that comes from a limited perspective of God’s heart and will. Limited by an over-focus on one part of Him and a lack of focus on other parts of Him. We worship the I AM. We ought to consider all of Him! If He is sovereign, we cannot presume we understand all of what He will and will not do! I’m not saying that we should all go out and start bartering with God, because the whole premise of my point is that bartering is a sign of weakness and immaturity (and we would do well to realize that some are weak and immature, just like our children – naturally. Though some unnaturally). The point is, God does respond to us. To our barters. Not all the time for all people, but He does. Not because of His sovereignty (though I could argue that direction as well since we are talking about a person who is undivided, but is is more appropriate to emphasize the oranges) but because of His great love and compassion.

  5. BE says:

    DC,

    Thanks for your thoughts. I just want to point out that this post is not primarily about God’s sovereignty but about His aseity. The fact that He is self-existent and depends on nothing means we cannot entice Him with our offers. His sovereignty does come in when we recognize He has the power to set the terms of any agreement and the power to fulfill them, but that was not my main point.

    Ben