Does God intentionally hide himself from us? Sometimes it feels that way, doesn’t it?
I was reading a cool story in my Daily Bible, from Exodus 33:17-23, when Moses said to God, “Show me your glory.”
God said, “I will cause my goodness to pass in front of you … but you cannot see my face … I will remove my hand and you will see my back.”
So Moses asked to see God’s glory, but he got God’s goodness instead. He couldn’t see God’s face, but he was allowed to see God’s back.
I doubt there is a big theological difference between glory and goodness, or face and back. I think God wanted to reveal himself to a much-loved and trusted friend, and showed as much of himself as he could.
Maybe Moses would have melted down if he saw all of God. Or maybe he would have seen nothing since God is so huge. Maybe he needed small details to focus on since the full nature of God was too much to take in.
I don’t know; I am guessing. But I don’t believe God was being coy, or contrary, or even hard-to-get. He doesn’t tell Moses - “If you handle this wilderness adventure like a big boy, I will show you some more.” No, I believe God was being generous with himself. He showed as much as Moses could take. Too much too soon wouldn’t help him see more clearly.
Here is an example: My ten-year-old nephew, Kevin, asked me, “So what are the Lord of the Ring movies about?” He has trouble seeing past the image of Gollum, having been creeped out by seeing one of the movies when he was too young. And in fact, I hardly know how to answer him. To describe the story behind the LOTR movies is complex even for people who’ve spent their life reading the books and watching the movies. I told him, “Frodo has to destroy a magic ring so the rightful king could be restored to his thrown.”
That hardly does justice to ten-hours’ worth of movies, but to explain further wouldn’t have helped Kevin understand. More details would only have confused him further.
I think there was an element of that between God and Moses. Showing more wouldn’t have helped Moses understand. It would have confused him further.
Another example: If you meet someone on an airplane - one of the few places where we sit close to strangers and have plenty of time to talk - and they ask, “Tell me about yourself,” what do you say?
Do you dive into childhood stories, life victories, and emotional wounds, telling about your goals and dreams, listing off New Year’s resolutions, spilling the content of your heart? I don’t. I doubt even my most extroverted friends tell their whole story to strangers.
Why is that? Without the context of a deeper relationship and shared history, most of what you tell won’t make sense anyway. Too much too soon does not become deeper understanding.
But then there is another question from Exodus 33: Why did God show himself at all? Why not tell Moses it couldn’t be done? And even more, why did Moses think he had the right to ask it of God?
I think part of the answer lies with the traumatic moment they shared. They had just discovered the entire nation worshipping a golden calf in full Egyptian fashion, and it broke both their hearts - God’s and Moses’s. God was so angry he was ready to destroy the people and start over with Moses, and Moses threw himself in front of that anger to plead for mercy and grace.
When we go through something traumatic together, it pulls us closer. We become combat buddies, of sorts. And mutual survival of a struggle earns us the right to share more of ourselves. We learn to trust each other through shared hardship.
I have hiked Guadalupe Peak at least a dozen times with the Iron Men group, in addition to multiple trips up Tejas Trail and Permian Reef Trail. And something happens to conversations as the miles on the trail pile up. Guys start sharing more about themselves and opening their hearts in a way that could never happen back home in a classroom. Not every guy; not every trip; but guys have told deep secrets they’ve held close for years. Why? Because we earn trust through the shared struggle of the hike.
And so, the more of life we experience alongside God, the more we’ll learn to trust him, and the more of himself he can reveal to us. We have to grow further up and further in to before we can see God more clearly.
Maybe God allows us to travel extremely difficult trails because that is the only way we’ll know him better. Maybe living through those moments when God seems to be hiding are the very times we learn to trust him so we can see him more clearly.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32