I'm feeling a little like Moses right now. I think there's lots of people who are.
We all have moments in our lives when we'd really, really like to see God just do something. Or, if not do something, at least show up in person and answer some questions. And that's not new. It seems like it has always been like that.
Moses had a moment like that. After the burning bush and the plagues and leading the Israelites out of Egypt, he'd brought the Ten Commandments down from Sinai only to find the Israelites had got tired of waiting and had made their own new god, a golden calf. So he broke the stone tablets and destroyed the idol and he sorted out the Israelites and headed back up the mountain to see God. And here's the moment.
Moses has to persuade God not to destroy the Israelites completely, but God's fed up and says that he'll send an angel ahead of them into the promised land. God won't accompany them. But Moses is maybe a little fed up, too. He says to God that, after all that God's done for God's people, all that everyone's seen because this is God's chosen people, the people whom God favours, then God should really be going with them. And God says "my presence will go with you" (Ex. 33:14).
Still not enough for Moses. He wants to see God, to see his "glory," in person. God replies that no one can experience God in person and live. But Moses has a relationship with God: God "knows" Moses. So God puts Moses in the cleft of the rock, God covers him with God's hand and, after God has passed by, Moses can see God's back.
That seems to have been enough for Moses. At first, I wondered if that would be enough for me, but I think I came to the conclusion that it wasn't about knowing what he was seeing so much as what it meant. I'll explain.
This is a rich story, full of much meaning. But right now, I'm holding it like this. There are many in our community who are grieving. An unexpected and tragic loss, illness that has taken or will take a loved one, a broken relationship - with respect, there isn't really any way to justly describe their pain in words. They are surrounded by loving, compassionate people who want to help and would do anything for them, if there was anything they could do. There often isn't, so we hope our presence, our thoughts and our prayers are enough. But we wonder, as those who grieve do, where God is.
Why, as Moses wonders, doesn't God just show up and do something?
There's a variety of stock traditional answers to that question, and I know they may be comforting. But are they enough? I've been wondering lately at how amazing it is that we seem to be wired to question, but not to understand. This is why Moses' story is becoming so valuable to me. Moses has a relationship with God and that relationship allows Moses to see something. And when he does, he comes to recognize and understand that what he's seen is really the most important thing: where God has been.
God "knows" Moses. I believe that God "knows" you and me and all people because I believe that we all come from God and we all return to God. I don't doubt that. But do we each know God as Moses did? More importantly, even when we do, how often does our grief or our fear or misunderstanding blind that knowing? Perhaps then, we may not see God in this moment, but only in reflecting on the moment past.
Perhaps that's when we may recognize that God has been present all along as the spirit, the energy, the source, the power, the life - whatever you wish to call it - that is in, and connects, all creation. It breaks down the barriers we build between us, shares our grief as readily as our joy, and binds us to each other and to all of creation.