Searching for the Face of God

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Moses said to the LORD, “See, you have said to me, ‘Bring up this people’; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me.  Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’  Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.”  He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”  And he said to him, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us?  In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.”  The LORD said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.”  Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.”  And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The LORD’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.  But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.”  And the LORD continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.” (Exodus 33:12-23 NRS)


I try to imagine what it must have been like for Moses.  He was called from a life that he seemed to be happily living in exile to free God’s people from bondage in Egypt.  These were not just any people either; they were “a stiff-necked people” (Exodus 33:3).  They complained about everything.  You know the type.  They were miserable in Egypt, and now they are miserable in the wilderness, but now when they look back at their slavery, they seem to have some selective amnesia that leads them to proclaim how much better is was in Egypt.  They gripe, grumble, and harass Moses.  They complain about the bitterness of the water, so God instructs Moses how to make it sweet.  Then they want bread, so God sends them manna from heaven.  There is another story in the Book of Numbers where the Israelites complain about the lack of meat to the point that God promises to send them so much quail that it will come out of their nostrils (11:18-20).  These people were more than stiff-necked; they were a pain in the tukhus.

While I have seen some of the trials of ministry, I have been blessed with an amazing congregation that does not begin to treat me the way the Israelites treated Moses.  But I know the exhaustion of ministry and I try to imagine being exhausted to the point of Moses and asking God for one small thing for all your faithful service: I want to see your glory, Lord.  Moses is searching for the face of God.  God knows Moses by name, has called him specifically.  Despite, all that Moses has done and all that he will continue to do, he cannot see the face of God.  No one can, not if they want to keep on living afterwards.  God makes a counter offer: you stand in the small open space of the mountain and I will cover your eyes.  I’ll pass in front of you, but not uncover your eyes until I am past.  Moses will get to see the back side of God, literally.  He asked for the glory, the face of God, and he will get the divine behind.


(Image courtesy of barbaragriffiths.com)

It seems like a such a downer.  You work diligently and so hard, pouring yourself out for a task, and when you finally have something you dare to ask for, you get, well, the rear end.  I have empathy for Moses.  There are times when I go above and beyond to help someone and they turn around and act like I was giving them trouble, or I get greeted with a total lack of gratitude.  That’s the paradigm.  That’s something every Christian will learn at some point in their walk.  Sometimes no one is going to notice, or care, or be thankful.  In fact, sometimes they might be mean or rude in return for your trouble, but it is not in vain.  God sees what we do, and knows what we have done to glorify Christ’s name.  In the end, that’s what matters most.  We can’t do this Christianity thing for earthly glory, fame, riches, or respect, because that’s just not likely to happen.  The day will come when we stand before God without fear of death because we will be raised from its hold, and then we will look upon the face of God.  God, in all the glory and splendor that would kill us just to glimpse it with our mortal eyes, will look back and know who we are, call us by name, and invite us to dwell in the House of the Lord forever. 

Those people we serve here on earth, the ones who may or may not be grateful; they are gateways to seeing God.  When you look in their face, whether smiling or impatient or whatever display you see, just remember that somehow God is looking upon you and taking notice of you, waiting for the day when you will look upon the face of the one you have been serving all along.  All the time, the exhaustion, the endless hassles, the bickering, the drama… it will all be worth it.  How could it not be?


Prayer:
Glorious God Almighty,
I am not worthy to look upon your face,
But I am trying to serve you to the best of my ability.
Lead me where you would have use of me.
Let me keep my eyes fixed on the task at hand,
Knowing that one day I will see you for myself.
For now, I will look in the faces of your people,
Broken, scattered, hungry, sick, angry, despondent…
Whatever state I find, I will serve them as I would serve you.
Perhaps, by some divine miracle,
When they look back at me, they will not see this imperfect vessel,
But you working through me.
All honor and glory to you alone.
Amen.

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