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The Revelation of God...
Trusting God in the dark

The Revelation of God

Further thoughts on Parashat Ki Tisa

by John J. Parsons
www.hebrew4christians.com

When Moses asked the LORD, har'eini na et-kevodekha - "Please show me your glory" (Exod. 33:18), the sages said he wanted to reconcile God's supreme power and goodness despite the prevalence of evil in the world. God answered, "I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim before you my name the LORD... but," he said, "you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live" (Exod. 33:19-20). The early sages interpret God's answer to mean that once we encounter God's goodness and love (defined by the essential name י־ה־ו־ה), we must trust that what is beyond our understanding nevertheless works for our ultimate good, even if its purpose may be unknown to us at the present time (Rom. 8:28). The LORD said both: "I will make my goodness manifest to you," and "you cannot see me and live," which means that we "see through a glass darkly" as we sojourn through this world (1 Cor. 13:12). God manifests yet still we can't fully see... In this life you may stand near God in the "cleft of the rock," on the very mountaintop of revelation, but you will still be in a cloud of unknowing (Exod. 33:22-23). Nevertheless God promises to "shelter you with his hand"; he will provide you a place of refuge and the strength to keep trusting despite incomprehensible times of testing.

There is an opinion in the Talmud that says Moses was the author of the Book of Job, the ancient story that investigates why the righteous suffer (Bava Batra 15a). At the end of the book, God answers Job from the midst of a whirlwind, reminding him that while people can't comprehend His ways, he is the nevertheless the Source of all goodness and truth in the universe. After Job hears God speak, he says, "Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth... I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.  I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 40:4, 42:2-3,5-6). Both Job and Moses realized that trusting in the love of God is the key to accepting all other experiences that might befall him...

Note that God said that "no man can see My face and live" (Exod. 33:20), and yet Moses spoke with God "face to face" (Deut. 34:10). We reconcile this by understanding "face to face" (פָּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים) to be an idiom that means "intimately," or "personally," that is, without the use of mediators or outside agents.  Nevertheless the "face of God" was disclosed in the advent of Yeshua, as it is written: "No one has ever seen God; the only begotten God (μονογενὴς θεὸς), the One who is in the heart of the Father (ὁ ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρὸς), has made him known" (John 1:18). Yeshua is the "image of the invisible God" (εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ἀοράτου) who reveals the meaning of the Father (John 14:9). As it is written, "God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Yeshua the Messiah" (2 Cor. 4:6). Our Savior is "the radiance of the glory of God and the representation of his essence (χαρακτὴρ τῆς ὑποστάσεως αὐτοῦ), the One who upholds the universe by the word of his power" (Heb. 1:3). All this is very mysterious, of course: the Infinite enters the realm of the finite; God is revealed yet concealed; he is made known yet beyond our understanding. Indeed, the very One who entered the "leper colony of the world" and willingly died on the cross for our meanness and sin is none other than "the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light (φῶς οἰκῶν ἀπρόσιτον), whom no one has ever seen or can see" (1 Tim. 6:15-16).

That Yeshua dwells in "unapproachable light" recalls the story of the Roman emperor who once asked Rabbi Joshua if the universe had a ruler. The sage answered, indeed, the LORD is the Creator of all things, as it is written, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." The emperor then asked, "Why is God not like the emperor of Rome, who is seen twice a year so that people may know and worship him?" Rabbi Joshua said that unlike human kings, the LORD was too powerful for people to see; as it is written in the Torah: "No person shall see Me and live." The emperor was skeptical, however, and insisted that unless he could see God, he would be unable to believe. Joshua then pointed to the sun high in the sky: "Look into the sun and you will see God." The emperor tried to look into the sun, but was forced to cover his eyes to keep them from burning: "I cannot look into the sun," he said. Joshua then replied: "Listen to yourself: If you cannot look into the sun which is but one of God's creations, how can you expect to look at God?" (Sefer HaAggadah).

It is interesting to compare this story with another...  Lev Tolstoy tells the parable of an old cobbler who despaired of life and yearned to finally see God. In a dream one night a heavenly voice told that he would see God's face the very next day. The cobbler began the day on the alert, hoping to catch a glimpse of God, but he was distracted when he encountered a needy family. They were cold and desperate, so he took them in and cared for them. The day passed and as he finally laid down to sleep, the cobbler realized he had completely forgotten to look for God.  He apologized to God and once again asked to die... As he fell asleep he dreamed that he saw the family he had helped walking by when the heavenly voice then said, "Rest assured: you saw God today in the faces of those you helped." "Truly, as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me" (Matt. 25:40).



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