Unbelief and its consequences

In Numbers 20, Moses is commanded by God to speak to the rock to initiate a flow of water to meet the Israelites needs.

In a fit of anger, Moses instead strikes the rock and the water gushes forth. God responds to this action by telling Moses, “Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” (Numbers 20:12)

In Moses’ previous episode of bringing water from a rock, he was commanded to strike the rock. So what is the big deal about Moses doing it the same way the second time? Isn’t God’s reaction a little extreme?

The short answer is no, God’s reaction is not extreme even though my initial reaction is to think so.

Faith and UnbeliefMoses’ problem is also my problem, I struggle to believe God and act on that belief when He tells me something. God identifies Moses’ problem as lack of faith when He says, “because you have not believed . . . ”

I have observed in myself and others the tendency to do things in our own wisdom and relying on our own talents. Often, a train wreck ensues.

When I was young, much of  the church withdrew from the surrounding culture. We looked different and were often identified by the things we could not do. The church was intentionally out of style. The church stood firm on trivial issues like men’s hair length and women wearing pants. We successfully conveyed the message that those from the surrounding culture were not welcome in our church unless they cleaned themselves up to look like us.

Because withdrawal didn’t do anything good for the church or the culture, Evangelicals then tried to change the culture through political action. Political action succeeded in allowing the church’s detractors to portray Christians as right wing extremists who are determined to take people’s freedom away. This thought is with good precedent. Every time the church has gotten political power, it has gone badly for the church and the surrounding culture.

I do not see either of these responses modeled in the New Testament. If the Apostle Paul was so inclined, he could have found many things about the Roman government worthy of criticism, yet such criticism is noticeably absent from Paul’s letters.

Nor do we see Jesus withdrawing from the surrounding culture. Jesus interacted with everyone, religious or irreligious alike. He encountered the culture where it was at and shined the light on that culture.

When the church responds badly to the surrounding culture, it is an indication of lack of faith, a demonstration of unbelief. Like Moses striking the rock, we can lash out at the people around us in unrighteous anger. Or, we can withdraw and refuse interaction with those who need our message the most.

The third way is the way of Jesus. We are called to lovingly interact with the culture. We should not condone those aspects of it that are contrary to Scripture, but should acknowledge that we all fall short of God’s standard. It never ceases to amaze me that the only group that hated Jesus was the religious right. The sinners and others who acknowledged their need flocked to Jesus and were accepted by him.

This third way is sometimes messy. Some people will misunderstand. Yet this is what we are called to do. It takes faith and obedience working together to do this.

We would do well to emulate the one who we claim to worship. Acting in unbelief does have consequences. Just ask Moses.

What do you think? Your comments are encouraged and appreciated.