The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.”
Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?”
-Exodus 17:2, NRSV, emphasis mine.
Notice what happens in this verse. The people quarrel with Moses, and Moses asks them why they’re testing God. Incidentally, when Moses complains to God about this, God gives Moses a commonsense answer: Give them water.
Moses in this story has a problem that is shared by a frightening number of American Christian leaders: confusing themselves with God. Not in the sense that they’re encountering God and becoming confused, which would be good, but in the sense that people are challenging them, and they think people are challenging God.
I could give oodles of examples, but I’m sure you’ve seen them too. The most recent example I’ve seen is this post from Owen Strachan on The Gospel Coalition. Responding to a line in a book by William Paul Young, author of The Shack, Strachan says,
Don’t miss this: The most popular Christian writer in our time labels the biblical God a “cosmic abuser.” Ancient false teaching returns.
No, Owen. Young didn’t label God a cosmic abuser. He labelled your ideas about God cosmic abuse. There is a critical difference between the two – and a painfully underappreciated one.
The best example, I think, comes from a particularly dogmatic Bible professor who, as recently as winter 2015-2016, is known to have said, in so many words, on several occasions,
You can disagree with me on this, but if you do, know that you’re disagreeing with Paul, you’re disagreeing with Jesus, and you’re disagreeing with God.
The person who heard this dropped the class shortly thereafter. Learning is always a challenge, but it’s a special kind of difficulty to learn from someone who thinks their opinion is identical with God’s.
Some Christians have a painfully difficult time distinguishing God from their ideas about God. Many think the two are one and the same – that God is identical with what they think God is like. This leads to those same Christians assuming that an attack on what they think about God is identical with an attack on God.
On the contrary, many such “attacks” are not attacks on God at all. They are attacks on dangerous false ideas about God, and as such are defenses of God’s character, not attacks on it.
Let those with ears, hear.