If God tells you to do something, would you snap to it? Jesus tells an interesting parable that might make you think differently. It’s found in Luke 11:5-8:
“Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.”
The words “don’t bother me” sound straightforward and unequivocal, but as the parable continues, we see the man ignoring his neighbor’s demand to go away. Instead of giving up, he keeps right on asking, eventually getting the help he needs. Jesus attributes this satisfaction to the man’s shameless audacity, and a few words later points out that if flawed human beings respond to such persistence, how much more would a loving, merciful God?
On its face this sounds like Jesus is giving us permission to refuse God’s no for an answer. While that might contradict our natural training and instincts, the Old Testament especially teems with examples of godly men and women who didn’t accept such initial pronouncements.
Abraham bargained with God over the fate of Sodom, getting him to agree that if ten righteous men were found, he wouldn’t destroy the city.
Two times Moses convinced God to stay his hand of destruction on Israel, once in spite of their rank idolatry with the golden calf, and the second time when they refuse to possess the Promised Land.
King Hezekiah, after receiving word of his terminal illness, begged God to extend his life. God changed his mind and granted the king’s request.
Then there is a curious wrestling match between a man named Jacob and someone who is at first an unknown being. (Genesis 32:22 – 32)
Jacob is alone in the wilderness, afraid to meet his brother Esau whom he had betrayed many years before and, as he learns, is closing in with a large armed troop. Out of nowhere Jacob is wrestled to the ground, and as the story unfolds it becomes evident that he’s struggling, not with his brother Esau, but with God himself.
That an all-powerful God voluntarily chooses to limit himself is a profound theological concept in its own right, one that is in fact central to understanding the plan of God. In this case he purposely encounters Jacob in this way to test the man’s tenacity and mettle in an all night athletic contest. Then, in another test of Jacob, the Being commands, “Let me go!”
But Jacob does not let him go. In effect he says, “No way. I’m not letting you go until you bless me.”
Traditional theology might lead us to believe that this act of disobedience would call forth sever divine retribution. But it does not. God so respects Jacob’s tenacity that he rewards Jacob with a blessing and a new name. No longer would he be called Jacob, which means “supplanter” or “deceiver”, but Israel (one who prevails with God).
The lesson is to keep on keeping on with God. Reason with him, ask him questions, refuse to let go even when all logic indicates you should give up. Do not give up. He will reward you for your persistence.
And do understand you can change God’s mind.