Today's reading at Morning Prayer was from Exodus. Most folks have heard about this chapter because it contains one of the versions of "The Ten Commandments." However, what followed caught my eye.
1. Moses told the people to stop being afraid. It is interesting because the Hebrew people are told [20:19] "Do not fear for God has come to test you and to put the fear of Him upon you." This is the sort of word usage which makes simple reading not so simple. I think that the nuance is obvious, fear of the Lord is reverence and respect, but terror is not helpful. Yet the terror is real and it produced a stunning demand from the people.
2. The people did not want God to talk to them. From this point on in the Torah God only speaks through a mediator (like Moses). In a sense this is a further alienation from God. In the post-Garden loss of intimacy, humans no longer walked with God. Now, the people are asking for even less contact...The desire to be further from God is driven by fear (in the Biblical narrative). I contrast that with the "absence" of God in our own day and time. I think of the desire for tangible contact with the Lord. I think of how much we feel God's distance. The Exodus account reminds us that God is terrifyingly awesome. This is in stark contrast to the idea that God is nice and cuddly. Perhaps we would jon with them and telling God, "Go away!" if we saw Him?
The Jewish Bible does not sugar coat the awesome nature of God. They were being tested because it is the only way to measure our worth. (Ironically the Gospel today was Matthew's temptation of Jesus in the desert; which is obviously related to the story of Israel in the desert). The Israelites and Jesus both had to live out their vocation. It was not enough to say, they had to do it. Our commitment is also more than lip service (confession on the lips leads so salvation; as is made clear over and again, the life choices and behaviors have to follow).
I think I envy those ancient Hebrew slaves, seeing such a manifestation of God among them. Yet, their fear makes me wonder how I would have reacted. As much as I long to see God, will the actual seeing turn me to melting wax? Have I fabricated a domesticated God and created a false idol? The Israelites provide much to ponder. I speak to lightly of God and do not always remember that the Hebrew word for "heavy" is related to His glory. A frightening God is worthy of worship!
And it also gives a starting place for answering the question, "Why does God not show Himself?"
He did and He was asked to stop...