Seeing God's Hind Parts
There's a strange moment in the book of Exodus from the Hebrew Scriptures where Moses is hanging out with God on Mt. Sinai getting all of the Commandments, and all of a sudden Moses says this to God: "Now show me your glory."
To which God essentially replies, "My glory? You can't handle my glory! No one can experience the fullness of Me and live."
Then it's almost as if God sees that God's answer saddens Moses, and so God says this:
Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back, but my face must not be seen.”Another way of translating that last line is "...you will see my hind parts."
So God hides Moses in a cleft in the rock and passes by Moses, revealing only God's "hind parts." And this encounter with God so affects Moses that he comes down from the mountain with his face glowing like he was exposed to radiation.
I've always wrestled with the meaning of this story, but today I read something that helped me make sense of it--at least a little.
First, Moses desired what all of us desire: to know God more intimately and to experience God more fully. We all want to know that God is near, and we really wish that God would reveal God's glory to us--to let us know that we are not alone, that God has our back.
Second, there is no way for us to fully comprehend what God is up to in the world. We can't handle the truth (the glory) of God because if we were given just a glimpse it would blow our minds. Revelation should come slowly otherwise it overwhelms us.
But the most important lesson is the one I uncovered today. Sometimes we don't fully see or experience the presence of God until after. We remember how we felt in the moment of crisis, or triumph and we see the traces of God's glory more clearly than we ever did when it was happening.
Richard Rohr writes:
My best spiritual knowing almost always occurs after the fact, in the remembering--not seen "until God has passed by."
I have found this so true in my own life. If I am quiet and still after the storm passes, I can see the places where God held God's hand over my life to shield me from it all...
And sometimes what God is shielding me from is God because in my struggle with unbelief and my inability to trust... in my frailty and smallness... I simply wouldn't be able to handle God's glory save only in my memory.
If you are lamenting what you perceive as a lack of God's presence in your life---be still. Look around you and perhaps you can see where God was. Or maybe you need only look in the mirror and see the faint glow of pure love and life still flickering there.
May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.