I suspect there are times when we all wish God was more like a genie in a bottle, granting our every wish: helping us to pass a test when we didn’t study; giving us the words when we have writer’s block; healing us when the cancer returns; rewarding us when we’re up for a promotion or a raise.
At other times we try to make deals with God. A cartoon a few years ago showed a man playing poker, pushing money into the pot. A bubble above his head showed that he was silently praying, “Lord, if you just let me win this hand, I promise I’ll never gamble again.” Perhaps we think of religion itself as a kind of bargain with God. We attend church, pray, go the extra mile, live an upright life and so on, and, in return, we want God to make sure that things go well for us.
Most often we think this way when something bad happens. We say things like, “If God was really a loving God (or really existed, or really cared about me or was really powerful), God would not have let that happen to me.” What we’re really saying is, “I had a deal with God. I kept my side of the bargain, but God didn’t.”
When we say it right out like that, we can see the problem with it, but it’s easy to fall into that kind of expectation. In fact, there’s even a Bible verse that seems to lend itself to such an approach. In Matthew 7:7, Jesus says, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. In context the verse is not meant as a guarantee that no matter what you ask for you will get, but it could read that way.
The fact is the Bible takes a dim view of this business of trying to manipulate God. Do not put the LORD your God to the test (Deut. 6:16). Jesus cites this same text when tempted in the wilderness (Matt. 4:7). Our reading from Acts gives another example.
- Acts 8:9 - 25