I spent a sizable piece of Tuesday afternoon at Starbucks with a couple of my fellow church planters working out our plan for this Sunday's worship encounter. Whenever we get together, we tend to spur one another on to some important thoughts, but we never have time to pursue these rabbit trails. Invariably, someone says, "that's a blog article..." Now you know where this one came from.
The Book of Exodus describes a man named Moses and his first encounter with God. Moses approaches a strange sight seen on an otherwise quiet mountain and investigates. There he finds swirling light the color of flame engulfing a tree. As he creeps closer, a voice addresses him by name, saying "Don't come any closer, for you are standing on holy ground. I am the God of your ancestors." Moses crumples in fear at the voice, but God continues to speak to him. He tells him of a task he has prepared for Moses, at which Moses promptly balks. In desperation, Moses asks this God what his name is. The answer is striking: "I Am Who I Am."
Is that an answer to Moses' question? He asks for a name and this is how God replies? In that statement, does God reveal His identity or does He remain concealed?
Moving forward a few chapters, Moses is well on his way to completing the task God has sent him to do. He is leading a ragged band of freed slaves across the desert wastes of northern Egypt. They've just escaped the clutches of one of the most powerful nations of the known world and were barely out of bowshot before the enemy army was on their heels. God was there at the forefront of their massive exodus, present in the form of an roiling cloud of smoke by day and a blazing pillar of fire by night.
Did the cloud of smoke and pillar of fire reveal God's presence or conceal it?
Very often humanity's perception of God lies somewhere in the frustrating gulf between glorious, awesome presence and ominous, silent absence. At the same time that we perceive God moving and acting, we can never quite pin Him down. God identified himself to Moses without letting Moses get a good handle on Him. Though the Voice-in-the-Cloud that led the Israelites through the desert was a reassuring presence to the frightened ex-slaves, He was not a God they could control or predict.
In a life lived by the grace of God, sometimes I wish I could pin God down and get a better handle on who He is and why He does the things He does. But as Moses learned, God makes His own rules. He explains Himself in His own time, on His own terms. There is great beauty in this mystery, and I have found that at every turn, something new and wonderful awaits those that choose to listen to the Voice in the Cloud.