Negotiating in Good Faith
What do you do when you’ve reached your end? I had reached my end having exhausted the full knowledge of my training and that of the manufacturer’s tech support engineers. When my manager asked for next steps, I just made a vague statement about letting things run as they are until I can bring the system down on the weekend to try to do more extensive recovery on the network attached storage volume that had crashed. The truth was that I was at the point of just hoping to get lucky on a reboot or to receive divine intervention.
As for luck, I wasn’t really feeling that having just lost at parking roulette for the first time in three years. Instead of walking to work from University Research Park I had driven over with a couple of disks and paid for a couple of hours of parking. After, 2.5 hours I realized that things were only getting worse and that it was not going to be a quick fix, so I went out to move my car only to find that I had already been ticketed.
Luck being exhausted I needed to plead my case with The Divine. It seemed that my situation needed something beyond standard prayer at the level of serious negotiation. I know of several Biblical examples of such negotiation, but I decided to look first to the progenitor of negotiation with The Divine, Abraham, who went toe-to-toe with The Divine and wore him down until The Almighty was too through at the end of the negotiation (Genesis 18:16-33)? What was bold about Abraham’s negotiation technique was that he was not really making an offer, but simple questioning the nature and limits of The Divine as far as compassion and grace. That was like the modern negotiating technique of simply asking, “Is that the best you can do?”
If we are going to look at master negotiators with The Divine, we must consider Jacob, who was a skillful negotiator from an early age. First, he managed to bargain his brother out of his birthright (Genesis 25:29-34), but that was just his apprenticeship, his premier big deal. Soon thereafter, he moved on to negotiating his first deal with The Divine (Genesis 28:20-22) which established the tithe: Notice Jacob was not really putting anything into the deal except his word, so a 90:10 split is a good deal, like buying a stock on margin and getting a ninefold return on the stock price. With his bargaining career launched Jacob moved on to negotiating for a wife (Genesis 29:18) and cattle (Genesis 30:25-43). We must concede that Jacob may have literally used strong arm tactics in his greatest negotiation, but through it he gained the title Israel (Genesis 32:22-31).
Surely there is Biblical precedent for negotiating with the Supreme Sovereign, but why? We should ask the source, “what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? (Psalm 8:4). Then we would get the answer, “You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor” (Psalm 8:5). Perhaps the privilege of negotiation belongs to a child of God (Hosea 1:10). I know as a father I was always entertained by negotiations with my children. During the negotiations I would get to tell them things like: “All Christmas wish lists must be presented as type-written double-spaced documents” and “Oh! You mistake me for someone with money. I understand…It is the association that people have between rich and good looking, but I am one and not the other.” I was so entertained by the process that I did not get mad when at age fourteen my daughter Asha responded, “so, you really are rich then.” At the end of the day the negotiation process gave me opportunity to prove my character to my children; that I heard them and cared for them.
Therefore, we should surely negotiate with The Divine with fervor. We should follow the pattern of Moses who leaned into the negotiation as if the life of his people depended on it. (Exodus 32:11-14). One characteristic of Moses’ negotiation was that he was not making any promises, but instead boldly reciting the promises The Divine Sovereign has already made. This is a technique that I might be able to adapt. Trust is important in any negotiation, but in negotiation with The Divine, the most trustworthy one in the negotiation is The Divine. Moses simply cited the previous covenant, “Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.”
There is no bluffing in the negotiation when the other party knows you better than you know yourself. As for my negotiation, I thought the best practice was probably to follow the human axiom of, under-promise and over-deliver. Broken promises hurt relationships. I could not bargain on my record, because I know I have failed at marriage, failed my children, haven’t always given what I should, and have struggled to break free of sinful habits. On the other hand, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” (Exodus 34:6b-7).
I paused to remember my negotiations with my children. Quid-pro-quo offers and promises, were not part of their bargaining. They were pretty good at just asking for what they wanted and not feeling the need to offer a sacrifice. They knew I would give them the best that I was able. In return I knew that they would be thankful for what they received. So may times at the end of the day they would just say thank you to me for taking them someplace or doing something for them.
Remembering that offered me hope for my negotiation. I found further hope in my negotiation in the story of the man who was healed from demon possession in Mark 5:18: “As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. (19) Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”
THAT IS SOMETHING I CAN DO! That is something I have done. That is something I can offer in this negotiation. I think I have taken every opportunity to tell people about my wonderful eight-day run-up to Easter this year that was filled with opportunities to proclaim the Gospel and get fed. Getting fed and sharing the Gospel started at Brother Mark’s house the Saturday before as we affirmed his fifth son at a bachelor/birthday event. At that event I met a young seminary student who bought me dinner on Tuesday to have a chance to question me. I told him about serving in ministry by putting aside that I am unworthy and praying, planning and preparing for every lesson and then praying some more that The Holy Spirit will show up.
I got a chance to put into action what I told him when I was called on 9:00 am on a Thursday to teach about Christ’s death and resurrection at 6:00 pm Bible Club that same day. By 6:00 pm I had a lesson that included a physical participation heuristic based on physiology, anatomy and science videos, scriptures, video-taped testimony of our pastor, and interpersonal sharing that included pictures and testimony from my experience in horticulture and the culinary arts; it was all in that lesson. The Divine knows my track record and knows that I write and tell the story of how much the Lord has done for me at every opportunity. I have been faithful in that, and in return I have been able to go forth being bold and courageous knowing that The Divine goes before me and will never leave me nor foresake me (Deuteronomy 31:6).