When Abraham hears that God is going down to Sodom to investigate its wickedness and, if necessary, punish it, Abraham does a remarkable thing. He challenges God:
‘Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?..Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”’ (vv. 23,25).
In the last sentence, Abraham makes a specific differentiation between what God does and what is right. He answers Plato’s question: an action is not right merely because God does it. He then goes on to bargain God down to sparing the city if only ten righteous people are to be found. Abraham challenges Almighty God, and God, rather than scorching him to a cinder or even merely rebuking him, participates in the conversation.
When Moses spends too long on Sinai, the Isrealites decide to make a new god, the golden calf. God decides to annihilate the Israelites, and tells Moses that he will be the father of a new nation. Moses’ response, rather than being pleased at his new role, is to challenge God:
“Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people.” (v12).
Not only does he question the reasonability of Almighty God’s action, but he goes on to issue instructions (“Turn”, “relent”, “do not”) to God, instructions which God subsequently follows.
When the Angel of the Lord (i.e., the angelic representative of God) is distressed by the plight of Israel under God’s wrath, the angel questions God:
"Then the angel of the LORD said, “LORD Almighty, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and from the towns of Judah, which you have been angry with these seventy years?” (v.12).
Rather than being angry at a subordinate who questions divine policy in front of a mere mortal, “the LORD spoke kind and comforting words to the angel” (v.13).
In each case, a lesser being questions God’s decisions, effectively placing another value (mercy) above obedience to God. By doing so, the lesser being judges the righteousness of God’s actions according to a value independent from God. Plato’s question is answered consistently. Not one of them is rebuked for this.
The most popular counter-example to this line of thought is, of course, Job. Many people read this text too hastily, and leap to the assumption that God condemns Job for having questioned divine authority. The text says otherwise. Job demands an accounting from God for what has happened in his life. God arrives, as demanded, and responds by questioning Job. This is the first point: God validates the possibility of such a conversation by engaging in it. God’s first question is “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?” (38:2, my emphasis). Job then repeats the question at the end of God’s discourse. Thus, the question is the frame of the entire discourse (42:3). Within this framework, the questions which God directs at Job are consistently epistemic (regarding knowledge). Thus, what God condemns in Job’s action is not mere affrontery, not mere failure to meekly obey, but the foolishness of ignorant questions. Job himself is not condemned, and God finally tells Job’s friends, who preached meek obedience, to ask Job to pray for forgiveness for their “folly”.
The Bible, then, validates the role of the believer as one who can determine right or wrong for him-/herself, and who can question Almighty God regarding the righteousness of a given action. If [/FONT]“Test everything” applies to the words of God, how much more must it apply to the words of the Church!
“Companions, the creator seeks, not corpses, not herds and believers.” (Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus spoke Zarathustra)