Archived Sections, From the Editor

Let's Make a Deal!

God is not in the bargaining business

When she wrote her classic treatment of human grieving, “On Death and Dying,” Elizabeth Kübler-Ross listed five stages of grief. One which has always fascinated me is “bargaining.” We realize time is running out. We can’t stop what appears to be inevitable. So we play “Let’s make a deal” with the Almighty.
“Lord, if only you spare me this fate, I’ll do anything you say. I’ll give up smoking. I’ll stop yelling at my wife (or nagging my husband). I’ll go to church every single Sunday for the rest of my life. (We probably shouldn’t be promising that last one. The unforeseeable gets in the way sometimes, and then guilt skyrockets.)
I was reminded of the classic bargaining-with-God technique when listening to the wrenching stories coming out of Greensburg, Kansas, a town of 1,200 — with a current population of 0, following its unlucky encounter with a high plains twister.
One woman, in an interview broadcast nationally, said, “When I was in the middle of all that wind, I said to God, ‘Lord, if you just save my life, I’ll … I’ll … I’ll stop whining!’”
Maybe for her that promise represented a major concession.
Obviously God spared her, because we heard her tell about it.
But others died in the Greensburg tornado. Surely they were praying for deliverance too. Is God fickle? Does God only hear the prayers of certain people? Do only certain prayers get answered? Does bargaining work — but only for some?
I’m inclined to believe that bargaining with God never works. This woman was fortunate, but there’s no reason to believe God made a deal with her. (Although, if she’s since given up whining, God probably won’t complain about that.)
But why do we need to bargain with God in the first place? God has already saved our lives. Those of us who are baptized and who haven’t turned our backs on God already have our names written in the Book of Life.
Our prayer shouldn’t be, “God, if you save my life, I’ll … ,” but rather, “because you’ve saved my life, I’ll …” Because God has saved our lives, we are free to thank, praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true!