Does God Acting mean God Approves?
Moses was miffed. The children of Israel were clamoring for drinking water again. God instructs him, “speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water” (Numbers 20:8). So what did the frustrated leader do? He struck the rock. That was not how God had instructed Moses. Some would expect there to be this awkward nothingness as God remains unresponsive to Moses’ gesture. Shouldn’t Moses get it right in order to get the result? After all, if you mistype one character in your password there is no mercy from that tech device. The shock to some of us is that God gave water from the rock anyway. Perhaps it was an unimportant distinction that Moses struck rather than spoke. No! It was so significant that God prevented Moses from ever entering the Promised Land. This was an insulting presumptuous deed on the part of Moses (Numbers 20:12).
Paul later gives even more significance to the rock. (1 Corinthians 10:4) says, “…that Rock was Christ.” The Father intended for people to think of the Son when they remembered the role of the rock in the wilderness wanderings. There is nothing trivial about that typology.
This is not the only occurrence where God acts kindly in connection with people acting badly. God returns Samuel from the grave to speak to Saul when a woman uses occult divination (1 Samuel 28:11-12). God empowers Samson to remove the gates of a city with their posts and carry them nearly twenty miles away after he rises from being in bed with a harlot (Judges 16:1-3). God sends rain on the unjust as well as the just (Matthew 5:45). God brought about the work of redemption through the betrayal of Judas (Matthew 26:14-25) and the plotting of the religious community (Acts 3:13-15).
Does God acting favorably in these situations mean that He approves of the wrong behavior by man? Our course not, God denounces these sinful activities but He is not limited by man. He is not obligated to grant our wishes just because we are being nice rather than naughty. He is also not limited to respond in ways that match our desires even if we are being naughty rather than nice. In Isaiah 46:10b, God says: “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:” God always has the right to do what He wants to do no matter what anyone else is doing.
Why is this concept so important? There is a tendency for us to look at the lifestyle of another person or the tactics of a minister and try to evaluate if that person is handling things in a way that pleases the Lord. Perhaps our discernment alarm goes off when we notice something that does not match what we see in Scripture. Are we tempted to say, “Oh well, they must be doing things right because look how God is blessing them.” Do you see the point? God’s actions do not always indicate God’s approval of the one acting. Results can be misleading because we cannot be sure how to interpret them.
I recently read an article by Pastor Michael Miller entitled “Separating from Disobedient Brothers.” In the article, he examines the struggle of one particular pastor trying to determine if he should endorse a controversial evangelist. Many of the pastor’s friends in the ministry were alarmed by evangelist’s choosing to ignore the clear teachings of God’s Word for greater opportunities. In my opinion, the pastor eventually breaks away from his concerned friends and aligns himself with the evangelist because he put more credibility in results than in the clear teaching of God’s Word.
We do not have to convince ourselves that something is the ugly work of Satan before we move away from it. I have no problem believing that God was acting alongside the ministry of the evangelist anymore than I have difficulty believing that it was God acting alongside the stone-smiting ministry of Moses. However, neither of them is right for going against God’s instructions. I am sure that people were genuinely saved by God in the meetings of this evangelist just as the Hebrews were genuinely quenched by God bringing forth water from the rock.
We should want more than results. We should want approval. We should want to hear, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21). We must do God’s work in God’s way.