Arguing with God

Last Sunday we continued our study of Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life. I was intrigued by a claim made by Warren (page 93, if you have the book):

“In the Bible, the friends of God were honest about their feelings, often complaining, second-guessing, accusing, and arguing with their Creator. God, however, didn’t seem to be bothered by this frankness; in fact, he encouraged it.”

Warren went on to give examples from the Old Testament, including Abraham’s shrewd haggling over the destruction of Sodom, Job’s forthright speech to God, and Moses argument with God in the aftermath of the golden calf fiasco.

I’ve got nothing against honesty. Indeed, if you can’t be honest with God, you have serious issues in your understanding of His power and His goodness.

We all do a considerable amount of second-guessing of God, particularly when we don’t know His will or understand His plan. And, given the examples Warren cites, I can’t really find fault with some limited and respectful arguing with God, especially as we grapple with God’s attributes, (like mercy and justice). I myself have dared to question God regarding His management of our church.

But I get a little uneasy with the idea of accusing God (wasn’t that Satan’s role, in Job?) and complaining (or murmuring) against God. This seems to be a quick way to acquire a non-stop, one-way ticket to 40 years’ wandering in the wilderness. I wonder if we can become a little too enamoured with the idea of God as our best friend, and fall into error in understating God’s role as our Lord?

As I considered the examples Warren listed, I flipped back to Exodus 32 and 33, reading some of the context of Moses’ argument with God.

God was telling Moses to go on up to the promised land. He was graciously sending His angel ahead of them to keep His side of the covenant and deliver the land into their hands, even though they had broken their side of the covenant before the figurative ink was dry. (Read Exodus 32 — it was like a newlywed jumping into an adulterous affair while still on the honeymoon — a pretty sad story.) But God Himself would not go with them, as He said, “I might destroy you if I go with you even a single step.” (Tim’s paraphrase.)

On the surface, Moses seems to be asking God not to remove the validation of His Presence, perhaps out of fear that his position as leader would be vulnerable without God to back him up. But a closer reading of chapter 33 helps to clear that up; it reveals something very obvious and yet profound:

Moses was arguing for God Himself — he wouldn’t settle for God’s gift (the promised land) but wanted God’s actual presence. He correctly recognized that God’s gift was worthless when compared to God Himself. “If you won’t go with us, we don’t want to go!” Moses told God. (Another Tim paraphrase — I’m just not in Eugene Peterson’s league, I guess.)

I think that this is why God allows us to argue with Him — He wants to bring us up to the next level of faith by revealing Himself through a dialogue. In each of the examples Warren cites, the parties involved learned more about the character of God, and adjusted their faith accordingly.

There are plenty who chase after God’s gifts. The “Health and Wealth Gospel” folks would have you believe that God wants you to be rich, and your appropriate faith response is to enjoy those riches (after tithing, of course). The Prophecy types are eager to acquire the secret knowledge of God with regard to future events, although I’ve never been clear exactly why. Many Christians put their faith in God as fire insurance, correctly reasoning that there are no other options.

My understanding, however, is that God desires fellowship and friendship with us — He wants us to want Him, not His gifts. Like a parent, sometimes He lavishes gifts on us, and other times He withholds things that would harm us — but always, He desires a deeper and more satisfying relationship with us.

I’ve been unemployed and self-employed for a long time now, and one of the things I desire most of all from God is a steady source of earned income. Yet God continues to deny that to me. Perhaps He is teaching me to want Him, not His gift.

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