'You wash the dishes and I'll clean the kitchen' is a bargain struck regularly in our household and it works pretty well. But, despite what he may sometimes think, my husband is not God and bargaining with God is seldom so simple.
I see the trouble with bargaining with God as twofold:
1. How can you be sure that God has agreed to the bargain
2. You have placed both yourself and God under an obligation. Is that wise?
Abraham boldly bargains
In Genesis chapter 18 Abraham bargains with God regarding the destruction of Sodom. God allows himself to be persuaded to agree that if there are 10 good people in the city he will not destroy it. This passage is illuminating regarding the bargain struck.
Firstly, Abraham has heard the audible voice of God—no uncertainty there—which unfortunately is seldom the case for us today.
Secondly, Abraham was not placing himself under any future obligation, he was pleading on behalf of the city.
It is worth noting that Abraham was appealing to God's own character with the bargain: God really doesn't want people to perish and it seems likely he wanted Abraham to plead on Sodom's behalf.
Sadly for Sodom, despite Abraham's inspired bargaining, not even 10 good people could be found and the city was subsequently destroyed.
Jacob—taking a gift and making it a bargain
In Genesis chapter 28 Jacob has a vision from God and responds saying that IF God does prosper him as he had said, then he would give a tenth of his riches to God.
God has reached down to give Jacob a gift, a promise of prosperity, and Jacob pledges to give to God with conditions attached. Jacob takes what God gave as a gift, and makes a bargain.
To me this seems like an odd response and I wonder if Jacob would have been better off just thanking God for the promise of prosperity. Later Jacob would be free to honour God by giving back to him, but without obligation.
Was Jacob trying to hold God to his promise, or was he just overwhelmed by God's goodness and wanted to respond with a promise of his own? I doubt we will ever know for certain.
God gives good gifts
One of the things I love most about God is that he gives us gifts.
'If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!' Matthew chapter 7, verse 11.
My primary love language is gifts (as determined by the 5 love languages book by Gary Chapman). I feel loved in giving and receiving gifts. I enjoy giving God gifts of love far more than fulfilling terms of a bargain.
A gift is not earned and we don't pay for a gift. Imagine getting a birthday gift you love and immediately asking the giver how much it cost and trying to pay them back. Talk about inappropriate!
Gifts are joyful, obligation is not
I am wary of attempting to strike up bargains with God; the Bible seems to say that once you have made a bargain with God you really do have to keep your obligation.
Numbers chapter 30, verse 2: 'If a man makes a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by some agreement, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth'.
Personally, I will be keeping away from bargaining with God. I don't want our relationship to become a series of mutual obligations to fulfil. I have observed that when obligation creeps in, joy slips away.
I want our relationship to be full of love, gifts and generosity.
Kara Greening trained in biology, works in chemistry and wonders about the physics of the TARDIS in Doctor Who. She is passionate about exploring her faith and being wholehearted in life. She is married to a primary school teacher and they have two cats; one of whom is massive and fluffy and the other adorably small.
Kara Greening's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/kara-greening.html