What does it mean to quarrel with God and how can we be sure to avoid it?
Yesterday we looked at Exodus 17 – the story of the people of God struggling with thirst in the desert. A shift happens in the people in this story. Up to this point, they have grumbled in their frustration about food, they have complained about Moses’ leadership, and they have expressed their disappointment with their journey to the promised land. However, in this passage they cross a line. They go from belly-aching to quarreling.
Quarreling, we learned, is a word that means much more than simply griping. Quarreling means bringing charges and demanding answers. The people quarreled with Moses and with the Lord. Amazingly, God continues his patience with them and not only miraculously provides them with water, but also stuns them with an act of symbolic sacrifice, further demonstrating his grace and compassion for them.
What I keep thinking about, though, is quarreling with God. I regularly counsel people to be honest with God. I think sharing your unfiltered feelings (frustration, anger, disappointment, confusion, despair, etc.) is essential to a healthy relationship with our Lord. It is modeled for us most clearly in the prayers of the Psalms. There you find joy and praise mingled with anger and disappointment. However, let’s not confuse honesty to God with quarreling with God. Honesty is healthy and builds faith; quarreling is toxic and erodes faith.
My point is just this: when you experience pain and frustration, come to God in humble honesty. Acceptable prayers include “God, where are you?” (see Ps 71), “God, I’m afraid” (Ps 27), and “God, have you forgotten me?” (Ps 13) just to name a few. However, the thoughts that cause us to quarrel against God are built on the premise that we are owed something by God and that he has some explaining to do.
The most important posture required for honesty that avoids quarreling is humility. Bring your big feelings to God, but in humility. I take my cues from Job who, despite unspeakable loss, clings to his humble faith, declaring “blessed be the name of the Lord.” I pray that this experience of God’s people shapes the way we humbly and honestly relate to God, especially in times of difficulty.
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