The time even Moses asked “Where’s God?” — By Ben

There isn’t a single person alive who from time to time hasn’t asked, “Where could God possibly be?” It is a harrowing question that drives some to atheism and others to tortured contemplation.  I’ve heard tremendous insights into the question, “Why bad things happen to good people?” but this blog post isn’t the place to share that.  Instead, I want to refer to the section in the Bible itself where the question is asked and how God responds.

Exodus 33:18-23

And [Moses] said: “Show me now, Your glory!” [God] said: “I shall make all My goodness pass before you… and I shall show favor when I choose to show favor, and I will show mercy when I wish to show mercy.” And [God] said, “You will not be able to see My face, for man shall not see Me and live.”

And the Lord said: “Behold, there is a place with Me, and you shall stand on the rock. And it shall be that when My glory passes by, I will place you into the cleft of the rock, and I will 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 shall not be seen.”

Show me the Glory!

To give some context, the sin of the golden calf has just been committed among the Jewish people.  Moses breaks the original tablets.  Several lives were lost.  And because of this event the Jewish people have permanently lost an opportunity to be on a higher level with God.  Needless to say, this is a really bad day for the Jews.

Moses then asks to see God’s Glory.  Why Glory?  What’s Moses asking for?  To see God’s dignity? His Honor? It’s such an abstract concept.  God responds in many ways, but ultimately, he ends with, “My face shall not be seen.”

The Rambam (a.k.a. Maimonides) writes about this in his Mishneh Torah. By saying Moses wanted to see God’s face, it meant he wanted to be able to recognize God in every moment of life.  Even in the bad stuff. Especially in the bad stuff. Rambam says (I’m paraphrasing), Moses wanted to recognize God the way a person can recognize their husband or wife in a sea of people. 

What’s God’s Answer?

MosesAnd to that God says, No Moses. It would be too overwhelming.  I have my reasons and you can’t know those reasons.  But God does let him see something.  God proceeds to shove Moses in the cleft of a rock, then God “walks by” said rock-clefted Moses, lets Moses free, and finally He let’s Moses have a glimpse of His back.

What the Torah is saying is that while you are going though hard times, perhaps when you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, you won’t be able to see God.  But once it is over and time has passed, then you can look back and see God in those events.  Some things take a very significant amount of time to be able to see God in.  And some things, the benefits are not for our generation to reap the rewards of.   So we would have to look deeper into history to understand that the good exists.  But once one is able to see it, continually remind themselves of it, and be real with it, then when they go through difficulties in the future, they will have a tool.  Not a tool to see God during the turbulence, but to know He is there.

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