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June 3, 2012

Is arguing with God a virtue? Dennis Prager vs Mormon thought

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/is_arguing_with_god_a_virtue_dennis_prager_vs_mormon_thought_39120602/

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Wherefore, brethren, seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand. – Jacob 4:10 (Book of Mormon)

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.  – Isaiah 55:8-9



In his most recent Jewish Journal article, Dennis Prager claims that arguing with God “is not only Jewishly permitted, it is central to the Torah and later Judaism.” Since he added the qualifier “later” to “Judaism,” I’ll let his assertion go unchallenged. However, if modern Jews truly believe that they have the right – indeed, a religious obligation – to argue with God, then their view of their relationship to God is fundamentally different from the Mormon one.

Truth be told, I’m not too sure that most Jews, even religious ones, agree with Dennis on this point. The famous Oven of Aknai story from the Talmud teaches that God’s role vis-à-vis the Torah was to give it to Moses, with the rabbis left to interpret it without His help. Every time that I mention the story in a presentation to Jews in order to illustrate one of the differences between Jewish and LDS theology, several audience members make it a point to talk to me afterwards and make sure I know that Jews still value God’s opinion more than man’s. 
       
In LDS theology, God is literally the Father of our spirits and is a perfect, omniscient being. In order to argue with God, a mere mortal would have to believe that he either knows something that God doesn’t, or that his judgment is superior to God’s. There is no place for either possibility in the Mormon belief system, since there is nothing that God doesn’t know. As the above-cited passage from the Book of Mormon suggests, Mormons are supposed to receive counsel from God, not attempt to counsel Him. This is in keeping with the spirit of Isaiah, who reminded the ancient Israelites that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours.

For Mormons, prophets are special people chosen by God to carry out His work on earth. The fact that Moses and Abraham may have questioned God in a certain way doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone else is able to do likewise, just like everyone is not able to part the sea or to receive engraved tablets from Sinai’s summit.

Of course, Mormons experience disappointment, sadness, tragedy, and loss during this life. Sometimes we scratch our heads and wonder why God does what He does, why He seems to abandon us on occasion, why He allows injustice and evil to thrive and prosper. I know from firsthand experience what it is like to be angry with God following the death of a loved one. However, using my limited mortal reasoning and logic to argue with Deity is something that I have never attempted to do. 
 
In his article, Dennis Prager asserts that arguing with God is a Jewish virtue. However, he neatly avoids answering the obvious question: Has arguing with God brought Jews closer to Him? Abraham and Moses were obviously very close to God, but I’d be interested in learning how virtues like argumentation and debate with the God of Israel can improve one’s spirituality. I suspect they can’t.     

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