The simple answer is because we are children. It is hard for us to think that our members who range from 6 months to 101 are all equally children, but we are and are in a perpetual relationship with God where we are testing our boundaries and challenging God, in a very similar way to how teenagers test their parents.
In the passage we have this Sunday, we see Moses perform the miracle of getting water from a rock. This is an interesting little story whose significance is often lost in the miracle that is performed. In short, the people are thirsty, they complain, Moses is at a loss and goes to God, God gives provision for a miracle and Moses produces water. Pretty straightforward, right? I used to think so, especially since this was the way the story was always taught to me.
The problem was that the emphasis was on the miracle and not the people. We know the story that proceeds. Had the people not left Egypt, a mass genocide was about to happen. God, through Moses, made provisions so that the people could be saved and brought them to the desert. Now the people were understandably frustrated since the journey was taking far longer than anyone would have expected, and the people began to wonder if they had really made the right choice. This is a theme of the exodus.
But there is more to this story than just an unhappy group that wants fresh water; when you look at the psychology that is going on, the underlying question the people have is whether or not God is still with them, or even if there is a God at all. So they challenge Moses to give a sign that God is still there.
In the modern world we do this often, since even the most seemingly easy life has its difficult times. When we are stuck in our journeys where we can neither see the truth of the beginning, nor the completeness of the end, it is hard to see God, because we are so focused on just getting by, and often we feel alone. So we do what we know best and test God.
Sometimes we test God in silly ways and other times we ask God for the miracles. For some these tests work out and for others these tests don’t and go to drive them further from God. The problem about testing God is that the test by its nature is a statement of unfaithfulness, because we neither trust nor respect that God is there. Moreover, when we test God we also often do so without taking time to look around and witness to the various ways in which God is active in the world, often because we are so overwhelmed by ourselves that we become lost to our own way.
All this being said, the answer to the question about why we test God is because it is part of who we are. Like I said in the pastor’s letter, we only see things in part. And since there are a lot of times when we cannot see God, when we need God, we long for that unmistakable shining sign, not the subtle one that is always there but hard to see.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen