At the church of my youth, I somehow got the idea that only a prideful person would dare to question the Lord. But now, I have learned that sometimes asking questions is a way to demonstrate humility, because inherent in the question is the assumption that I do not have the answer : God does. Sincere questions give God respect. They acknowledge His power. They honour Him.
Moses learns this as he leads the Israelites out of Egypt.
With the famous ten plagues of Egypt and the divided sea behind him, it seems Moses may be getting a bit smug. This is only natural. After all, Moses’ outstretched hand parted the waters, Moses prophesied the ten miraculous plagues that convinced Pharaoh to let the people go, and Moses alone had been chosen by the Creator of the universe for the job of leading his people. Small wonder this man begins to believe his own wisdom is up to the task of answering every single question in Israel. So Moses sets himself up as Israel’s only judge, the final authority for all disputes. Only pride run amuck can explain such foolish behaviour from an otherwise intelligent fellow.
God wants Moses to come to the mountaintop now, and in order to survive such close encounters with the Master of the universe, all self centered pride must be checked at the door. So the Lord sends Moses a message through his father in law, a Midianite priest named Jethro:
“Listen now to me and I will give you some advice and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him.”– Exodus 18:19
To his credit, Moses follows his wise father in law’s advice and by doing so humbly admits that he is not up to answering all of the people’s questions after all. I too would be wise to follow Jethro’s advice, taking my questions to the Lord, along with the humble acknowledgment that I am not up to answering them myself.
Of course there is true humility and there is false humility. The two are easily confused.
Is it humility or is it a warped kind of pride to assume the Lord cannot stoop low enough to hear my little questions? The Hebrew Scriptures are clear God is not above a little stooping now and then:
You give me your shield of victory; you stoop down to make me great.– 2 Samuel 22 :36
I must never think, “I’ve sunk too far. Even God cannot help me now.” Believing I am beneath the Lord’s reach is the same as believing I am above it. Above or beneath – either way I pretend I am beyond God’s power, and that is something He will not tolerate.
This does not mean there are questions I must not ask. It simply means that I must be careful of my attitude when I do the asking. For example, again and again as the Hebrews move through the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula, they complain to Moses. Many of their complaints are framed as questions. As they stand trapped at the edge of the Red Sea with the Egyptians army intent on their destruction and approaching fast, they ask Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Wandering thirsty in the wilderness, they grumble again asking, “What are we to drink?’ and Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”
Even Moses sometimes joins in this spirit of discontent. He questions God’s motive in burdening him with the responsibility of the Israelites, complaining that he “cannot carry these people”, saying he would rather die than continue in the role God chose for him.
When the Israelites ask their questions, bad things often happen.
During the Korah rebellion, the ground opens up and swallows those who question the exclusivity of Moses’ relationship with God. An entire generation is condemned to live in the wilderness when they question the wisdom of entering the Promised Land.
Childhood feelings of fear and revulsion inspired by these stories are probably one of the reasons I was hesitant to question God before. Such wrathful responses to the Israelites questions led me to view the God of the Hebrew scriptures as a stern and isolated entity, one I dared not approach merely to satisfy my curiosity. I was not worthy. I was beneath even God’s ability to enlighten.
But now I notice that Moses’ questions bring very different results. There are no less brazenly doubtful than those of the other Israelites, yet Moses’ questions are always answered and invariably lead to an enriched relationship with the Lord.
Why this radical difference in God’s responses?
The answer becomes clear when I look at the questions again.
Israel questions Moses.
Moses questions God.
The difference has nothing to do with the audacity of the questions. Moses doubts from the very beginning. Some of Moses’ questions are indeed an affront to God. Some even make him angry. But Moses takes his questions and doubts to God openly and honestly. Moses doubts God’s plan, He doubts God’s abilities, He even questions God’s motives, but He never doubts God desire or ability to give answers and that makes all the difference.
God enjoys being asked a question for the same reason I do: it makes us both feel loved and honoured. The Lord wants to communicate with me as badly as I want to communicate with Him. After all it was He who provided the Scriptures which are filled with answers. God also caused my curiosity about Him which is proof that answers are out there, just as my thirst is evidence of crystal clear water and my longing for love testifies to the splendid miracle that another heart can touch me deep inside.
The very intensity of my desire to ask God questions is evidence that He wants to provide the answers. I must not be ashamed or afraid to ask, because for each honest question, no matter how brazenly doubtful, God has prepared a special answer, just behind the “difficulties” in the Bible.
God loves an honest question.
-Athol Dickson, The Gospel according to Moses: What My Jewish Friends Taught Me about Jesus