Discussions of Book of Mormon issues and evidences, plus other topics related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

How to Win an Argument with God: A Lesson Sponsored by the Corona Virus

Ever since I participated in debate competitions in high school and maybe before, I have relished the occasional thrill of winning an argument against a smart opponent. Forgive me for bragging, but I can rightfully boast some pretty impressive victories, especially my many victories against the smartest opponent of all: God. That sounds pretty amazing, I know, but I've discovered that it's relatively easy to win arguments against Him. In fact, I won several in a row in the past few weeks.

The key to winning the argument is first listening so you can know what to argue against. Prayer is a great way to get started. Pray and seek for guidance in some aspect of your life. Humbly sense that guidance. Feel free to write it down. And then, think carefully of all the reasons why it is ridiculous and doesn't apply to you. Strong logical skills are a plus here if you want a decisive victory. Provide your reasons, dismiss His suggestion, and voila, you are likely to win because I've found that He often doesn't do much of a rebuttal.

God, in fact, is a terrible debater. No offense, but it's true. In debate, after one side critiques your proposal, it's important to carefully respond to and rebut each argument they have raised. God, I'm sad to say, is rather weak in this regard. Although He's the Ultimate in intelligence, His mastery of debate techniques seems to pale in comparison with the skills most of us mortals have.

For example, two months ago, in praying for guidance on the things I needed to do, I had a distinct impression: go to the Shanghai office of Woori Bank (a Korean bank that was said to be a relatively safe place to park some money in a world where many banks are now close to insolvency) and take out the money I had there in an unusual US dollar account. It wasn't much, but wasn't trivial. I actually wrote that down on my to-do list for that week. I would write it down again for two or three more weeks after that. I came close to going right before our recent trip to Vietnam, but fortunately was able to come up with some very logical reasons about why there was no need to do that. It would be 6 months before I left China and had plenty of time, and the time I took to do that in January would be time I couldn't do some important things for my work, my callings, whatever. It just made no sense, and I provided persuasive reasons why I could delay that prompting. No rebuttal. God walked away. Bingo, I won! Such an easy victory. (I say that with all due respect.)

I had similar victories as I was packing and preparing for our short trip to Vietnam almost a month ago. I was repeatedly prompted to bring my journal, to bring a backup hard disk, to bring extra cash, to bring a an unnecessarily large supply of medication, and most strangely of all, to bring some of my collection of magic tricks that I use daily when I am around my grandchildren. My arguments were to the point and overwhelmingly persuasive: "There's no way I'm going to be doing magic tricks for Vietnamese kids. There's no need for extra cash in Vietnam and it could be stolen. I need to travel light, so my heavy journal will be a burden that I can deal with after my short trip. And bringing my backup disk puts me at risk of having it and my computer stolen while traveling -- a disaster." God just didn't have any reply to such persuasiveness. Victory, victory, victory! So sweet.

On the other hand, now that the Corona virus has swept across China and made it impossible or unwise to return home to Shanghai after my short trip to Vietnam,  causing my wife and I to flee to the US as "medical refugees," where we are now hanging out with family, I can somewhat admit that some of those illogical suggestions might have been slightly useful after all. Since I may not be able to return to China before my visa expires, I may not ever see that money at Woori Bank. I called them yesterday and they explained that for my protection, the only way they will ever let me access the US dollars in my account is to show up at their office in Shanghai with my passport (and visa, of course). The good news, though, is that if I die and my wife can provide proper documentation and evidence of death, she may have a chance of getting some of it if she also goes to China. The helpful employee I reached was chuckling over my situation and the impact of China's and the bank's regulations. Hilarious, I know! My other bank accounts have ATM cards that allow me to withdraw money here in the US, but not that special US dollar account with the appropriately named Woori Bank.

The journal, with some precious accounts, would have been nice. The medication would have been useful but I found some more in Vietnam. The hard disk would have been helpful, but I bought another. The magic tricks, well, surprisingly, they would really come in handy now that I am staying much of the time with a family of six grandchildren who are magic addicts and visiting another grandchild in Minnesota tonight who also loves magic. So, grudgingly, I can sort of see some point to some of my Opponent's suggestions, but that doesn't change the fact that I absolutely won the argument -- and lost some valuable resources and time, while gaining some unnecessary worries.

I guess winning arguments is not always the best policy when dealing with God. Yes, I'll acknowledge His awesome intelligence, but wish He were a more vigorous debater so it wouldn't always be so easy for me to win.

Mercifully, we may have found a way to retrieve the journal and some other much-needed items. I'll report on that story in a few days, which abounds in examples of the great kindness of some foreign and local friends in China who made that possible as an answer to prayer (it was also a rare example of me finally not arguing when there was a good argument to be made against an implausible suggestion). God may not be the best debater by human standards, but He often helps us find second chances or new paths forward after we make major blunders in our lives (sometimes as a result of a very persuasive win in our debates with God). Keep seeking Him and listening to His guidance, in whatever situation you are in. He may have some interesting things for your to-do list, whether it's something small that might help you to bless your neighbor, relieve someone in distress, solve major problems in your life, or prepare to flee your home on your own journey to somewhere unexpected.


Anonymous said...

In Judaism there’s a long and distinguished literary tradition about arguing with God, starting with Abraham challenging God about the destruction of Sodom and asking “Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked? ... That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

Then there’s the Book of Job, plus modern classics like Elie Wiesel’s The Trial of God and its film adaptation God on Trial.

All highly recommended!

— OK

Anonymous said...

We are all constantly not doing something our sixth sense or intuition tells us to. Not infrequently, we write one down and then put it off. When it bites us in the bud, we beat ourselves up over it, forgetting the thousands of times putting off a thought saved us time and energy. Publication basis.

The reason to not ignore a thought and not put something off is knowing how we will beat ourselves up if things go wrong. Sure a stitch in time can save 9, but 9 times out of 10 it doesn't - making stitches a zero-sum game. It is about how we will be disappointed in ourselves while suturing the 9 that 1 time out of 10.

Amara said...

I think this is a great story. Although I have been guilty of doing the same thing more than once, I needed this reminder to not arrogantly goof up again. Thank you for sharing and being so vulnerable.

Anonymous said...

The art of debating is lost.
Civility is gone.

Verbal attack and vile name calling is the fallback action for those who know their position/view point is weak and that true facts destroy their argument.

Name calling and personal attacks is what so called scholars in the LDS church do.... frequently....and the church members look bad because of it.
They use personal attacks because they Lost the argument and know it... and can't stand to be wrong....they believe they are the more righteous in their small narrow minds.

False Christians. Anything bad that befalls them is deserved.

Anonymous said...

This is simply silly.

If your god wanted you to be able to avoid the corona virus why didn't he simply give you that revelation? Clearly and effectively so you could make intelligent choices. Why the sideway urge to take cash, etc? Why not the American currency? Why not a prompt to leave China period rather than a side trip that's now extended?

Why did only you get this "argument"? How many Americans and other nationals are stuck inside the contagion zone? Why didn't your god give the appropriate "argument" to the seller in the market who caused the initial infections?

Why does your god need to be so oblique, spotty and discriminatory?

Jeff Lindsay said...

To "Simply Silly" Anon, I can relate. Many of us are shocked that God doesn't do things our way. Some conclude that He either must not exist or is simply incompetent based on His failure to accept our arguments and comply with our logical demands. Incredibly, so far He has still failed to stop all disease, eliminate death now (not in the distant future!), eradicate student loans, ensure high wages for all, prevent climate change, stop tooth decay, provide us with more sustainable packaging materials, reduce traffic jams, redistribute wealth in our direction, and ensure that all students have above-average grades.

It takes little more than a third-grade education to recognize the absurdity of God not doing things our way. Instead, it seems that He only occasionally works miracles and often rather minor ones, healing a few random people long ago in Israel, for example, instead of providing cures for all globally. So unfair!

Believers may opine that His purpose is not to make us as comfortable as possible on earth, but to send us here briefly to learn, grow, face trials, get a body, choose good over evil, etc., however brief the journey. For those who view God as a loving parent, some will say that the purpose of parenting is not to spoil kids with all the toys and treats they want now nor to ensure they never have to struggle, study, face consequences, or experience grief and pain, but rather to help them grow, mature, make decisions and realize their own potential, even if it means being sent away from home and facing painful trials, even the risk of failure.

Believers will say that each of us are on a unique journey through mortality and that God is there with great love for us and sometimes inspiration, regardless of where our journey takes us or even if we make choices that take us far from His intended path. Some will die or suffer today by His will, others by their errors or the sins of someone else. Some will be guided to avoid a crisis such as a war or a pandemic, while others will be needed to stand in the heat of battle and play a painful role. Some He may try to guide one way or the other, but they may not listen. But many will testify that even in their darkest hours, they found His love and sometimes even tender mercies.

Your arguments against His tiny blessings to some make a lot of sense. What He seems to do with us can be described as "silly" or absurd. Since He's not much of a debater, you may even persuade Him to step down and let you show us how to run this troubled cosmos. But be careful -- the hours are long and the job is thankless, for no matter what you do, there will be people arguing that you must not exist or are incompetent. Tough job! But I'm sure you'll manage.

In my case, I could join you in complaining about God allowing harmful viruses to spread at all. I can complain about why millions are trapped in Wuhan and so many are dying. The complaints are many. Answers are few. But whether one is trapped in a prison, a locked-down city raging with disease, or forced to leave home in an unprepared manner, when we turn to Him for guidance, there are blessings that await in our ongoing journey. There may be comfort and peace in times of trial. There may be the "tender mercies" like Nephi experienced on his painful 8-year trek through Arabia that helped shape and prepare him for great things. For some of us, there may be a second chance to get a valuable record that a stubborn soul should have brought. My journey has been a mix of trouble and joy, with many tender mercies but very few of the big miracles that you and I may have wanted or demanded. But while His ways are not my ways, I'm gradually learning that for wise and eternal purposes, it's best for me to not criticize His ways and to endure in faith and patience. I fail frequently and am tempted to rail and moan, but am gradually learning that His ways are worth accepting and His gentle, personal whisperings are worth listening to when they come.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, you write that God’s purpose is not to make us as comfortable as possible on earth, but to send us here briefly to learn, grow, face trials, get a body, choose good over evil, etc.

But even if that is so, it doesn’t address Anon 7:33’s last question. Giving people random, highly oblique hints that are really only recognizable as such after the fact doesn’t really serve the purpose you described above. It doesn’t help them choose good over evil, or grow, or learn to endure, etc. Life itself teaches us those things perfectly well without any supernatural nudges.

Maybe such hints serve some other purpose? Or maybe, as seems far more likely to me, they’re not divine at all but originate in our own minds?

— OK