Changing God’s mind
Genesis 18: 20-33. Matthew 15: 21-28.
The next question I am going to ask is going to open up a real can of worms...
Have you ever thought of changing God’s mind?
I doubt if many of us have even thought about it.
There is the presumption, I think, that God’s mind can’t be changed.
There may even be the presumption that God’s mind shouldn't change.
Surely part of being God is being all knowing, all-wise.
And if you are all knowing and all wise surely you have thought of all the possibilities and all the ramifications of every action you are about to make and come to the conclusion that the action that you are about to make, the decision that you have made, is the best one to make.
Not only that, but as God you are eternal, you have had all time to make that decision, to think things through.
Let’s imagine that I am God.
As God I go into the bank because I have thought about getting a Fixed Rate ISA. Now in this decision I have had thousands of years, I have had many millennium, to think about which type of Fixed Rate ISA to get. And I have used all my eternal; knowledge and eternal wisdom to come to my conclusion.
And I get to the counter and the wee lassie at the other end of the counter that looks like she has just left school says, ‘Are you sure that is what you want?’
If you were God how insulted would you be at that statement?
You have put all that effort to make a decision and she is questioning it...
What is worse; imagine she says, ‘I think a Stocks and Shares ISA would be better for you just now.’
And imagine you reply, ‘I hadn’t thought about that. You might be right.’
What would the customers behind you think?
‘Some God he is. Had all that time to think about it and he still gets it wrong.’
And there lies the problem we have.
We desperately want God to change his mind.
We desperately want God to intervene in our life differently.
Our mum has dementia, well that must be the way it was meant to be, yet we pray to God to make her better...to change his mind.
We discover we have cancer, well that must be the way God meant it to be, yet we pray to God to make us better.
We see a child lying in a hospital bed in a war zone, dying from burns from an illegal chemical bomb, her lungs are burning up from the inside and she hasn’t long to live. And we pray to God to make a difference, to change his mind.
But our lives are lifelines set in stone that can’t be changed.
A straight line from birth to death that God has seen before we were born, and it is set, it can’t be changed, can’t be altered.
Every word that is spoken, every action that is done...before time was created we had our path set for us.
And if God is God, we need to believe that God had a purpose, that it makes sense at some level.
It is not a comforting belief to think that God can change his mind, because that would imply that God makes mistakes.
So we live with this terrible dilemma.
Our lives are known from before we are born.
All the bad things that happen, we have to believe that God has a purpose and a meaning for it because he is the all knowing, all wise, God,
Surely God doesn’t make mistakes.
But if God can change his mind, then maybe he does get things wrong, maybe God does make mistakes.
What a mess.
We have a pastoral care team.
It’s at its early stages.
But I am absolutely sure that at some point one of them will be asked, ‘How could God do this?’
My first baptism died months later of cancer. I had to face that question from her parents.
‘How could God do this? How could God allow this?’
What was the purpose of her life, her death?
Surely there was a reason, don’t tell me that God got it wrong, that this was a mistake.
Because if God could have changed his mind and let her live, then why didn’t he?
The idea that God makes mistakes is so horrific that it kind of forces us to believe that he doesn’t, so God can’t change his mind.
It is easier to believe that it is just our ignorance that we can’t see the greater good.
And yet, and yet...we have today's readings.
God is looking over the land of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Evil lands that God has decided he will destroy rather than let their evil spread.
And as he is contemplating this Abraham is beside him.
Abraham is involved because he has a nephew called Lot, and Lot’s family, that live in Sodom.
Abraham may have fallen out with his nephew over land in the past but he doesn't want to see his nephew destroyed. So Abraham tries to negotiate with God to save Sodom.
‘What if there are 50 souls in Sodom that are innocent, surely it would be worth saving Sodom for the sake of those 50 souls?’
‘If you are willing to save Sodom for 50 souls, why not 45. that is only 5 less.’
‘Or what about 40 or 30 or 20?’
And each time God seems to change his mind.
Or the second reading...
A Canaanite woman comes to Jesus to seek a healing for her daughter.
Jesus makes it very clear he is not interested in helping her.
The woman and her daughter are not part of his plans.
Jesus isn’t even pleasant to her when he turns her down.
The woman and her race of people are dogs not fit to be cared about.
But even dogs get the scraps from the masters table.
And Jesus changes his mind, or appears to anyway.
So can we change God’s mind?
Does God make mistakes?
I think these passages are very deliberate.
You see I think we make the mistake of believing that the Bible was written by people a long time ago who aren’t as clever or sophisticated as we are.
We believe that the Bible might not have much to teach us because they lived a long time ago and they don't know what we have to cope with.
Our world is very different from their world and they could never comprehend our world, so we can't learn much from them.
And I think we are so wrong.
Their world was different, their world was harder.
Child mortality was greater.
Every pregnancy was a potential death sentence for the mother and baby.
You could die from infections that we get standard inoculations for.
Empires, civilizations could be destroyed by famine or drought. Whole cities wiped out by Tsunami’s or volcanoes.
Life was far more fragile than we would ever understand.
There was a traditional children's prayer...
Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.
Children recited that prayer because it gave them comfort, it gave the parents comfort; that no matter what happened in their sleep, if they died then they would be with God and safe...that was how insecure life was, that that prayer gave comfort.
If my daughter Cairy found me teaching my two year old granddaughter Jessica that prayer she would go nuts and say I was frightening her daughter.
The people of the Bible knew the insecurity of life far more than us.
What is more they knew all the theories of God being beyond and outside our time; that our life was a thread through time that was set before we were born.
They knew theories of God being all powerful and all knowing.
And that people were going about saying that everything had meaning and purpose because God gave it meaning and purpose.
We could take our comfort in knowing that God was in charge of it all and God had a purpose.
These writers knew all that stuff, and yet they still put these passages in.
And I suspect it was because they had a different idea about God, about life.
What if time isn’t set?
What if life is messy?
More importantly, what if God isn't aloof and above us all.
What if God wants to talk to us, be in dialogue with us, be with us in this messy journey and helping where he can?
What if, when God can’t help the way we want, then he wants us to know that he doesn't abandon us, but wants to walk with us?
What would that God be like?
Maybe he would sit with his friend Abraham and comfort him as they thought of how messy families were. Of his frustration with his nephew Lot who could have lived with the support and love of his extended family, but decided to go off and make a mess of his life, and even then not come back seeking help.
Maybe that God would assure a stranger from a strange land that she and her family were still in the care and sight of God’s love. She may feel that he wasn't interested but the truth was he always wanted to show he cared.
I’ll be honest.
Questions like the one we are facing today.
I don’t know the answers.
Half the time when I think about them I am not even too sure what I want the answer to be.
Half the time I don't understand how God works, the other half of the time I am pretending to myself that I do understand how God works.
So I cling on to the few truths that I can believe in.
I believe that life is messy.
No matter how much we try to control it, no matter how much we try to protect ourselves, and those we love from it, life always ends up messy.
And I believe that in that messiness God has a choice to be with us or not.
And for some reason, that I can only be thankful for, God has chosen that he wants to walk with us through the messiness.
That he is quite happy to get his hands dirty for our sake.
That he will hold our hand when we need it, wipe away the tears when we allow him, laugh with us when we are up for it, point out lessons we can learn when we are ready for it.
Maybe that's the true comfort of today's readings.
We think the world is ordered and structured and God wants order and structure and everything to be perfect. And in that perfection there is no place for mistakes and wrongs and all the things that make our life messy.
We think we should hide our messiness from God because maybe he would see we aren’t worthy of his love.
And maybe today's readings are trying to tell us something different...that in his love, it is when our lives are at their messiest, that God is with us the most.