BARGAINING WITH GOD:
John M. Hull
In view of the developmental conceptual and emotional similarities held by individuals with regard to both God and money, it seems likely that in an intense money culture the ultimate reality of God will be confused with, and even displaced by, the ultimate reality of money. Bargaining appears to be a developmental stage in both economic socialisation and in the development of relationships with God, and, therefore, a study of the similarities between economic and religious bargaining offers a starting point for considering the impact of money upon the spiritual development of both children and adults. Oser’s (1980) theory of religious judgment describes the second stage of the religious development of children as the bargaining stage. Oser’s theory thus enables us to perceive an analogy between religious development and economic socialisation, and to trace the implications of this potential confusion into adolescence and adult life. In the more mature stages of spiritual development, self-centred bargaining is gradually transformed into a covenant of sacrificial love, in the light of which the idolatry and false consciousness of the earlier confusion is revealed.
The similarities between human conceptualisations of God and of money may be traced: historically, in the impact of money on the development of philosophy in ancient Greece (Thompson, 1961); philosophically, through analysing the structure and functions of money (Simmel, 1990); linguistically, through the study of analogies and metaphors (Belk & Wallendorf, 1990); and theologically, through the examination of salient biblical narratives (Hull, 1996, 1997a). Insufficient attention has been paid to the impact of money upon the development of children's spirituality, and even my own contributions toward a pedagogy of emancipation from the domination of money have been mainly concerned with adult education (Hull, 1997b, 1999).
MONEY AND GOD
The study of money and its influence cannot be confined to economics because money has a wide-ranging impact on personal and social life, and can truly be regarded as a dominating aspect of contemporary culture (Dodd, 1994). In as much as money affects human ambition and desires, creates self-esteem, and moulds the imagination, it can be described as a spiritual force. Around the breakfast table, I recently asked my children what they thought of money. My 13-year-old daughter replied with a voice serious enough to surprise, "Oh Dad, it’s easy. Money is our life." A friend told me that when she proposed to buy a set of athletic shoes without a logo at about one quarter of the cost of the identical pair which had a fashionable logo, her 10-year-old son burst into tears, crying out, "But Mum! You’ve got to consider my reputation." Consumable commodities have become symbolic commodities (Baudrillard, 1975). The spiritual and religious lives of children are not likely to be immune to these influences. In what follows, an attempt will be made to go beyond moralisng about the acquisitive child in order to investigate a developmental structure at a deeper level.
A starting point for our study is suggested by the developmental psychology of Oser (1991a, 1991b), who has developed Kohlberg’s (1981) stages of moral, or justice, reasoning by postulating an autonomous sphere, or domain, of religious judgment. The central characteristic of religious judgment as described by Oser is the way consciousness is modified as the individual grapples with the contingencies of life in the light of the reality of God, or whatever else is taken to be the ultimate reality. In a society where money is treated as having ultimate significance, the modifications of consciousness, as it seeks to interpret money, will take on the characteristics of religiosity.
In Oser’s (Oser & Gmünder, 1991) first stage of religious judgment, the deus ex machina, "children assume that everything is guided, led, or steered by external forces" (p. 69). Children transfer the pat-terns of behaviour which they have perceived in their parents onto the "still undetermined Ultimate" (p. 69). This Ultimate power is distinguishable from the parents but is unmediated. God is thus conceived of as active, intervening unexpectedly in the world. There is little opportunity to influence the divine being. The first stage begins to break up when there is a clearer understanding of reciprocity. "The child questions the one-way street of the Ultimate influence and actions" (p. 71). A new understanding of rules and conditions begins to emerge.
Stage 2 is called give so that you may receive. Its main feature is the emergence of a contract, or covenant, between human beings and the Ultimate. Relationships with the Ultimate are no longer arbitrary, but conditional. Causes and their consequences are now co-ordinated. There are means for influencing the Ultimate. "Persons can talk, bargain, interact with the Ultimate and even placate it" (Oser & Gmünder, 1991, p. 71). Following the rules is believed to stand in a direct relationship to experiencing good luck and health. Disobeying the rules is followed by disaster. It is possible to strike a deal with the Ultimate, to bring pressure to bear upon it. This is a period of promises, vows, and prayers.
This stage begins to break up when the conditions do not bring about the desired result. You pray, but your pet still dies. Stage two, however, can be very tenacious and may last well into adolescence or beyond. "One day, he discovers that he does well on examinations even without a prayer or religious engagement. Uncertainty befalls him. He feels ‘exploited.’ From that point on, he intends to take all responsibilities onto himself" (Oser & Gmünder, 1991, p. 73).
Stage 3 is called the perspective of absolute autonomy or deism. This is the time when the increasing differentiation between the human and the Ultimate, which has been progressively clarified through the early stages, reaches its maximum point.
The Ultimate now has its own characteristics, whereas human beings must live in their own world. "Transcendence and immanence are separated from one another" (Oser, 1991a, p. 10). I must be responsible for my own life. God is no longer in control of every detail of life. God may now become irrelevant, and, thus, stage three is the typical stage of atheism. On the other hand, the responsibility and autonomy of stage three may be expressed in religious form through voluntarily accepting a relationship with the Ultimate, This stage begins to break up when the extreme separation of the two domains is questioned. Transcendent and immanent voices appear to coincide.
Stage 4 is called the perspective of religious autonomy and the plan of salvation. New possibilities now emerge which reconcile the autonomy of the person with the Ultimate. The Ultimate is seen as the condition of human freedom. The Ultimate is now seen symbolically within nature. "As the ground of the world and of human existence, God constitutes the condition for human action" (Oser & Gmünder, 1991, p. 76). This is often expressed through belief in the divine plan.
In the following state, the symbolic mutuality of the human and the divine is expressed through intersubjectivity. Religion is now universalised and becomes unconditional.
The Ultimate Being is realised through human action, wherever there is care and love. Freedom and dependence, transcendence and immanence, all of the polar dimensions come equilibrated to produce a way of being that can at times seen strange and marvellous (Oser, 1991a, p. 12).
Sometimes Oser speaks of a sixth stage, which is the highest possible structure of religious reasoning. This stage is normative rather than empirical Stage six is postulated from the developmental logic of stages one to five. "God can be experienced as the possibility and fulfilment of absolute meaning mediated through finite freedom in fragmentary action of powerlessness and love" (Oser & Gmünder, 1991 p. 81). Of course, this has been no more than the barest outline of Oser’s rich and complex under standing of religious development. In particular nothing has been said about the series of contrast; or polarities which provide the criteria for determining each stage (Oser & Gmünder, 1991). Those wishing to explore Oser’s approach should not only consult the works already mentioned, but also Oser (1980, 1985, 1991b).
The possibility of making use of the Oser developmental framework to understand human development in relationship to money is suggested partly by Oser’s understanding of religiosity, that fundamental and universal tendency of human beings to interpret their lives in relationship to an Ultimate, and by the fact that the Ultimate is conceived of functionally rather than as a particular content. Oser is looking at the nature of religious judgment from the point of view of the person, not from the point of view of the Ultimate. "By far, the least amount of attention can and will be paid by this theory to the entity at the other side of the relation, the Ultimate ‘God"’ (Oser & Gmünder, 1991, p. 4). That which lies on the other side of the relationship is variously described as the Absolute, the Transcendent, or the Ultimate.
We are using the terms "the Absolute," "the Ultimate," and "the Transcendent" interchangeably. All three presuppose and try to bring to expression a form of religiousness that is universally expressive and valid. The term "the Ultimate" refers to a "final reality." These terms, therefore, are synonymous. The term "the Absolute" refers to the conditions of possibility, i.e., to that which always already exists, when we begin to relate to a final reality. The term "the Transcendent" refers to that other reality which we can glimpse in acts of self-transcendence (Oser & Gmünder,1991, p.14).
The psychological program of Oser is intended to elucidate the changing pattern of ultimate concern at each stage of development
.... the stages describe a depth-dimension of human being in the sense of Tillich. Only from the perspective of this depth-dimension is it possible to understand concrete religions, their symbols, and their institutions. If religion, in the Tillichian sense, is "the state of being concerned about one's own being ...," then a certain content must be reconstrued afresh at each stage of this interpretation of meaning (Oser & Gmünder,1991, p.143).
The structure of ultimate concern evolves through the various stages of development, regardless of the content ascribed to the Transcendent or the form in which the Absolute makes its appearance. There can, however, be an inauthentic expression of ultimate concern. When ultimate concern is addressed toward that which is not worthy of it, because it only possesses the objective characteristics of the Ultimate Being by analogy, then Tillich speaks of idolatry, or "demonic holiness" (Tillich, 1953, p. 240). Money possesses the objective characteristics of God by analogy, and when it becomes absolutised, when money, which is the great means to all ends, becomes an end in itself, then it becomes an "idolatrous reliance on something finite" (Tillich, 1964, p. 379). It is significant that Tillich relates idolatry to social injustice (Tillich, 1953, p. 240), and when money is absolutised, when it is desired for its own sake, then social injustice is inevitably the result. For many people today, including children, money has become the most important thing in life (Madanes, 1994). What we are faced with under the conditions of financial globalisation is not so much a culture of secularisation, which would reduce the quality of transcendence, but a kind of displacement in which the subjective attributes of the Absolute are retained. In other words, the beliefs and emotions which were once attracted by deity are now, for many people, attracted by money. Money has become the god of our culture, and Oser’s stages of dynamic exchange between subjectivity and this object of false ultimate concern may apply to the processes of economic socialisation. The false Ultimate is masked; however, by means of psychological and cultural analysis and with the help of a theological critique, we maybe able to unmask it.
THE BARGAINING STAGE
It is in Oser’s second stage that the similarities between ultimate concern, directed toward the true and worthy Ultimate, and that which is directed toward the false and unworthy Absolute are most striking. As we saw in our brief review, it is as children emerge from absolute heteronomy into the possibility of reciprocal relationships that the techniques of bargaining emerge. Where there is no perception of means and ends, and where the Absolute imposes itself in an unpredictable or arbitrary way, there is no possibility of mediating the relationship. However, when the structure of causes and effects becomes apparent, intervention emerges as a possibility, and then one can influence the Absolute. As far as I am aware, Oser does not call his second stage the bargaining stage. On the contrary, he calls it "give so that you may receive" (Oser, 1991a, p. 10). "At stage two there is a shift: the subject now sees the possibility of and the means for influencing the Ultimate and thereby introducing security measures for his or her own well-being" (Oser, 1991b, p. 40). Moreover, "Life becomes more calculable, because the actions of the Ultimate Being seems [sic] to depend on us, on our deeds, and not on His arbitrary decisions" (Oser, 1991b, p. 40). The emphasis upon transaction, upon the discovery of a mutuality, upon the character of promise keeping (Oser & Gmünder, 1991) along with the emphasis upon fortune and well being, upon security and happiness, indicates that the stage could well be called that of bargaining.
The development of bargaining in children has been described in the literature on economic socialisation (Benton, 1971; Moessinger, 1977; Ostmann, 1992; Pliner, Darke, Abramovitch & Freedman, 1994). Moessinger (1977), in his study of children aged 4 to 15 years in Geneva, found three fairly well-defined stages in the development of bargaining behaviour. The younger children are cooperative, but the older ones are competitive. Children of the same age were given three battery driven toy cars to play with. One child had the batteries and the other had the cars. Between ages 4 and 6 years, the children behaved rather spontaneously, giving and taking in random play. Moessinger described their behaviour as "I give/you give; I take/you take" (p.11). Children between the ages of 8 to 10 years seemed concerned mainly with maximising the functioning of the cars. Very quickly, the children got two cars going, and each child had one. That left one child with the remaining battery and the other child with the remaining car. The attitude of the child is, "Give me your battery ‘cause it won’t do you any good." By approximately age 11 years, the bargaining becomes more intense. Threats and promises are likely to be made. A child might say, "If you don't give me the batteries, I might go home, taking my cars with me." To which the other might reply, "Go on then. See if I care!" The results of Moessinger’s study varied. Sometimes nothing was exchanged, resulting in a stalemate. Sometimes the stronger child would end up with two functioning cars. The striking thing, Moessinger remarks, is the difference between the cooperative solution reached by the 8 to 10-year-olds and the blackmailing style of bargaining by the older children. It is as if the younger children cooperate because they are unaware of the possibility of competitive bargaining expressed through blackmailing threats (Moessinger, 1977). The younger children do not understand the exchange relationship as a power game. This stage could thus be called let's give and take, whereas the stage reached by age 11 years could be called give or I’ll take.
Whereas Moessinger found that there was no difference in the bargaining development attitude of girls and boys, Alan Benton (1971) found that the American children he studied, aged 10 and 11 years, did display gender differences. Girls, when bargaining, distinguished between their friends and those girls who were not their friends, but boys treated everyone with the same strict bargaining logic. A test was given to all of the children, and the boys who had passed the test reckoned that their bargaining situation was stronger than those boys who had failed. If they passed the test, they deserved more toys, and the low achieving boys did not disagree.(Benton, 1971, pp. 77).
While it is reasonable to expect that friends both male and female are more concerned with the feelings of one another than non friends, the results seem to indicate that for males, even by ten years of age, unequal divisions of rewards based on differential productivity is such a strong societal prescription that it can be adhered to without apparently endangering a friendship relationship
The bargainer who is a high achiever is in a stronger bargaining position. He is justified in driving a harder bargain, even with his friends.
Is it possible for parental nurture to affect children’s responsible use of money? The study by Pliner et al. (1994) showed that children who were given a regular allowance by their parents tended to use the money wisely, but children who were paid for work done at home felt free to spend the money carelessly. The children who have been paid for their work feel that a fair exchange has already taken place. The bargain has been made and settled. Now the money is theirs to do with exactly as they want. The work has paid for the money. In the case of those who were given the allowance, the implications of the bargain have yet to be worked out. They were in a more sophisticated bargaining relationship with their parents. Other factors influenced the conditions of this bargaining expectation. Parents who had high expectations of their children's responsibility tended to evoke a commensurate response from their children, whereas those who had low expectations found those low expectations justified by a low level of responsible behaviour from their children. It seems that parents have an influence in modelling bargaining behaviour for and with their children. The children in this study were 8- to 10-year-olds.
This supports the findings of Ostmann (1992), who emphasises that one cannot understand bargaining, whether of children or adults, in purely economic terms. Bargaining is a conflict situation in which more is at stake than mere economic maximisation. Emotional factors, such as the aspiration of the bargain toward friendship or social acceptance in the group as a whole, are influential. Bargaining is not a matter of simply expressing a preference or making a demand, but of following certain social rules and procedures.
In considering the nature of bargaining behaviour and its wider application, we should remember the advice of Sonuga-Barke and Webley (1993) that a great deal of the research into economic socialisation, especially that which falls within the Piagetian tradition of cognitive stage development theory, has been too narrow in its understanding of an economic relationship. Buying and selling have been looked upon as economic activities, whereas playing football or talking with friends have not. The truth is, however, that any activity involving "a behavioural expression of the intention to maximise reward" (p. 4) could be understood as economic behaviour. One must consider the intention and the function of behaviour, not merely the form of thinking, which must not be considered in a too narrowly defined type of content.
The descriptions of the emergence and the characteristics of the bargaining process help us to under-stand the stories about bargaining with God in the Bible. The stories of Jacob, the great bargainer, display a developmental progression. First, he bargained with his brother Isaac, offering a bowl of soup in exchange for the patrilineal inheritance rightfully extended from their father to Esau as the oldest son (Gen. 25:29-34). This kind of bargaining for material prosperity continues in the encounter between Jacob and the God who was seen in the dream about the ladder reaching from heaven to earth (Gen. 28:10-22). Jacob said, "If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the Lord will be my God. This stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God's house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth" (vs. 20-22, New International Version).
During his years at Paddan Aram, Jacob developed his bargaining skills considerably. "I will work for you for seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel" (Gen. 29:18). Although he met his match in his uncle Laban, who deceived him into marrying the older daughter and offered a new bargain: "I will give you the younger one also in return for another seven years of work" (Gen. 29:27).
When Jacob on his journey home arrived at the brook Jabbok, he is still bargaining with God, but now it is not so much for material advantage as for a blessing (Gen. 32:24-32). He received the blessing in the form of a new name, as one who has struggled and prevailed with God, but-far from receiving any material benefit-he was wounded in his thigh and left limping as the sun rose upon him. The fearful who appeared beside the ladder (Gen. 28:17) has been superceded by the painful intimacy of the struggle with God in the dark waters of the stream.
Oser’s (1980, 1985, 1991a, 1991b) theory regards religious judgment as a form of grappling with the Ultimate in relation to the contingent. This is partly why the second stage is so relevant to the bargaining theme, for it is not until this stage that the child-or the adult-becomes aware of contingency. It is the realisation of contingency which makes bargaining possible. "Across highly different contents, persons maintain the same religious judgment" (Oser & Gmünder, 1991, p. 60). Oser is probably thinking of the different conceptions of God in the various religions, but whatever is "Ultimate" for the person would be relevant to the theory.
THE BARGAINING STAGE WITHIN THE STAGES OF ECONOMIC SOCIALIZATION
To understand more fully the way in which bargaining with money begins to take on the qualities of struggling with the contingent in the light of the Ultimate, we need to consider the emergence of the bargaining stage from the previous stage. Where there is an undifferentiated exposure to arbitrary power, an inability to distinguish the various sources of power, and reliance upon mere expressions of need (e.g., crying) to influence the powers (i.e., the parents), there can be no calculation, and, hence, no bargaining. In the domain of explicit religion, there can be no patterns of liturgy or types of prayer of the if ... then ... type as long as the powers remain inscrutable and all-pervasive. Maturation into the awareness of contingency takes place during increased social experience, in which the child is affected not only by relationships within the family, but by the way in which contingency and bargaining procedures enter into the life of the family from out-side (e.g., shopping). The child passes through a series of mental transformations during which he or she emerges out of the undifferentiated loving care of the family, of which the shopkeeper is at first merely an extension, to the more differentiated world with its balance between working and being paid, entailing possibilities of both cheating and getting a good bargain (Strauss, 1952). Younger children begin to understand that money circulates. The shoppers give it to the shopkeeper who buys things from other shops, but they do not understand the circulation of money in and out of the commodity. This is clear in the comments made by young children ages 5 to 7 years about the origin of money. It comes from God or from heaven or from a gold mine. Slightly older children realise that money comes from work, but only the older 8-year-olds could put this into a cycle in which the shopkeeper puts the money into the bank and the bank lends it to other people. The young child does not under-stand that the money that has paid for the commodity represents a necessary exchange. It is simply realised in a general sort of mystical way that it would be wrong not to pay (Berti & Bombi, 1981; Danziger, 1958; Leiser, 1983; Stacey, 1982).
The developmental processes which enable children to bargain with the powers surrounding them is thus clear enough. As children pass through the bargaining stage, their understanding of the power of money and its significance in social and personal life deepens. Gradually, the child comes to understand that the power of money is more than merely magical. The child begins to understand that its parents, the shopkeeper, and the other adults known to the child work for money. An understanding of shop profit leads to a wider understanding of bank interest (Nakhaie, 1993). The whole world is bound together in a web of exchange relationships. Money is seen to be the power of well-being, the secret of happiness. "By the age of 10 or 12 [years], most recognise the almost universal range of things which can be bought and sold in our society. Other human beings and intangibles like ‘happiness’ or ‘friendship’ are the only consistently mentioned exceptions" (Burris, 1983, p. 797).
Money begins to take on the attributes of ultimacy. Money begins to be desirable in itself. The situation is not simply that the bargaining stage in economic socialisation and the bargaining stage in religious development are analogous. This analogy could doubtless be extended to include a comparable stage in mathematical development, in the development of moral judgment, and so on. It is because children and young people come to have faith in money as being the power of life itself that we can speak of a content-displacement between the transcendent absolute of religious faith and money as the object of ultimate concern.
Just as we illustrated the emergence of the bar-gaining stage by showing the character of Jacob's bargaining with God as being both religious and economic, we may consider the bargaining of Jephthah as illustrating a similar bargaining for personal advantage in which, however, an additional displacement takes place.
The elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, "Come and be our commander, so that we may fight with the Ammonites." Jephthah replied, "Are you not the very ones who rejected me and drove me out of my father’s house? So why do You come to me now when you are in trouble?" The elders said to Jephthah, "Nevertheless, we now have turned back to you so that you may go with us, and fight with the Ammonites, and become head over us, over all the inhabitants of Gilead." Jephthah replied, "If you bring me home again to fight with the Ammonites and the Lord gives them over to me, I will be your head" (Judges 11:6-10).
This bargaining for power was then turned upon God.
Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, "If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return victorious from the Ammonites shall be the Lord’s, to be offered up by me as a burnt offering" (Judges 11:30f.).
Idolatry, Ambiguity, and Self-Deception
In the process whereby the ultimacy of the divine is replaced by the ultimacy of money, two situations may be recognized. The first is found when the per-son in stage two (give so that you may receive) has no knowledge of explicit religious vocabulary or ritual. Money becomes the functional equivalent to God, but the person at stage two, whether adult or child, does not know this. This is a situation of implicit or innocent idolatry. In the case of such children, we may say that the sins of the wider society (with regard to money being an end in itself and the focus of desire and ambition) are visited upon the children.
One of the features of the passage from stage 2 into stage 3 is that this idolatry begins to lose its innocence. In stage 3 (the perspective of absolute autonomy or deism) the money is either obeyed explicitly or is abandoned in favour of a different way of life. This second situation is found where the child has been explicitly socialised into religion. The values of the money culture may so invade the religious sphere that genuine displacement occurs in a way which was not possible in the absence of the specific God-vocabulary. The God who is actually worshipped becomes Mammon, although worship is still ostensibly directed toward God. This is explicit idolatry, although its explicit character may not be acknowledged by the worshipper. It is at this point that the phenomenon of self-deception arises.
The question of the relative innocence of these two types of displacement is complicated not only by the ambiguity of self-deception, but by the fact that self-deception takes an individual form in the psychology of the believer, as well as a social form in a kind of collective self-deceit (Hull, 1995). Indeed, the most common form of self-deception on the part of stage two children raised in money-worshipping cultures may be described as self-deception by "mimetic engulfment" (Wilshire, 1988). The child inherits a whole structure of theology and religious practice that more or less unconsciously serves the interest of the money-God. The child is socialised into this collective amnesia, which in capitalist societies holds most adults under its sway so that they rarely proceed beyond stage two. This may be called self-deception through copying, or mimetic engulfment.
The realisation of this situation marks the break-up of stage 2 and creates a transition into stage 3, the stage of conscious choice. The criteria for distinguishing stage 2 (bargaining with the living God) from stage 3 (bargaining with the money-god) would involve a re-evaluation of the theological tradition, so as to open it up to the sufferings of the world (Hull, 1999).
In light of this discussion, we return to the bargaining of Jephthah, which may be regarded as a kind of primitive stage two bargaining in a state of self-deception. Jephthah thought he was bargaining with the living God, but it is significant that God makes no comment when Jephthah strikes the bargain. In fact, there has been a content-displacement. The God with whom Jephthah is bargaining is more like Moloch, the God of child sacrifice, than either Mammon, the money-god, or Yahweh, the living God.
Bargaining With God in the Higher Stages of Spiritual Development
Does the displacement of content from God as the Ultimate to money as the Ultimate continue into the higher stages? In stage 3, the sphere of the Ultimate and that of human freedom are clearly distinguished. The Ultimate has its own world and follows its own procedures, while the human being has his or her own realm, is responsible for his or her own life, and must be loyal to individual autonomy. This stage is compatible either with voluntary surrender to the Ultimate or with atheism (Dobert, 1991). Some of the studies of economic socialisation in the adolescent and young adult years suggest that similar alternatives appear in relationship to money, seen as an ultimate end of life. Some young people abandon themselves to the search for money and become more or less entirely materialistic (Dittmar & Pepper, 1994). Others reject the money-culture and find alternative ways of life. The higher stages, with their emphasis upon freedom, solidarity with others, and love, are orientated increasingly toward the true and living God and can no longer function with respect to the money-god. Mammon has more or less exhausted his divine role by the end of stage three, and only in stage two is he found at the height of his power. This does not mean that there is no genuine religious faith at stage 2. The child or person at stage two may bargain with the living God just as he or she bargains with the money-god. The bargaining stage is a stage of cognitive development that cannot be bypassed.
The evolution of bargaining through the higher stages may be illustrated in the case of Abraham's bargaining with God about the cities of the plain, Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham does not seek to maximise his own profit, but bargains on behalf of others (Gen. 18:20ff.). Moreover, the exchange is initiated by God, who wants to take Abraham into his confidence. In the cases of Jacob and Jephthah, the bargain is offered from the human side. There is no response from God. As the bargaining experience passes through the stages of development, the initiative passes increasingly from the human to the divine side. The story of job is a fine example of this. God appears at the end of the story to challenge job. Mammon and Moloch seldom appear in person. They remain in the early stages, veiled by innocence or by self-deception, attracting the immature bar-gainer but offering little or no response.
In the higher stages, the bargaining process seems to break down, although traces of its formal structure remain. James and John asked Jesus if they could sit beside him in glory (Mk. 10:35-37). Jesus replied,
"You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?" They replied, "We are able."Jesus replied, "The cup that I drink you will drink, and the baptism with which I am baptized you will be baptized with, but to sit at my right hand or at my left hand is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared."
We must distinguish bargaining from begging. The disciples did not try to bargain; they simply asked a favour. It is Jesus, taking the initiative, who offers a bargain. As we saw earlier, it is characteristic of the higher stages that the initiative comes from the side of the Ultimate. However, the story now takes a surprising twist. James and John accept the bargain only to find that Jesus reneges. They are left with their commitment to the downside of the bargain, but Jesus deftly removes the reward: "It is not mine to grant" (Mk. 10:40). Oddly enough, the story does not go on to tell us that James and John protested; rather, it was the other disciples who protested.
This strange story can be interpreted in the light of Oser's developmental structure with special reference to the character of bargaining in stage five. Jesus proposes a bargain which offers the disciples solidarity with his sufferings in life and in death. This solidarity is to be unconditional. The baptism that Jesus speaks of is the baptism of death, and all deals are off. This is disequalibration with a vengeance.
The reference to the cup leads us directly to the Gethsemene story (Mk. 14:36). Jesus said, "Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me, yet not what I want, but what you want." The Lucan version reads, "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done" (Lk. 22:42). Is this bargaining or begging? The formal structure of the bargain is retained: if ... then .... If you will, then remove this cup. The strange thing is that the condition no longer optimises advantages to the bargainer, but relates solely to the will of the One with whom the apparent bar-gain is being negotiated. What kind of bargain is this? Heads you win; tails I lose.
God, thy way is hard
But you hold every card.
(Jesus Christ Superstar in Webber & Rice, 1970)
What is left is solidarity, a voluntary solidarity with the God of freedom on behalf of all humanity, a solidarity now not proposed to the disciples, but claimed for himself and acted out in reality to the very edge of life and over it.
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