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ON SEEING GOD

 



ON SEEING GOD

One of my favorite childhood memories is greeting my father as he came home from work.

My mother, who worked an evening shift at the hospital, would leave the house around three in the afternoon. Dad would arrive home at three-thirty. My brother and I were left alone for that half-hour with strict instructions not to leave the house until Dad arrived.

 

We would take our positions on the couch and watch cartoons, always keeping one ear alert to the driveway. Even the best “Daffy Duck” would be abandoned when we heard his car.

 

I can remember running out to meet Dad and getting swept up in his big (often sweaty) arms. As he carried me toward the house, he’d put his big-brimmed straw hat on my head, and for a moment I’d be a cowboy. We’d sit on the porch as he removed his oily work boots (never allowed in the house). As he took them off I’d pull them on, and for a moment I’d be a wrangler. Then we’d go indoors and open his lunch pail. Any leftover snacks, which he always seemed to have, were for my brother and me to split.

It was great. Boots, hats, and snacks. What more could a five-year-old want?

 

But suppose, for a minute, that is all I got. Suppose my dad, rather than coming home, just sent some things home. Boots for me to play in. A hat for me to wear. Snacks for me to eat.

Would that be enough? Maybe so, but not for long. Soon the gifts would lose their charm. Soon, if not immediately, I’d ask, “Where’s Dad?”

 

Or consider something worse. Suppose he called me up and said, “Max, I won’t be coming home anymore. But I’ll send my boots and hat over, and every afternoon you can play in them.”

No deal. That wouldn’t work. Even a five-year-old knows it’s the person, not the presents, that makes a reunion special. It’s not the frills; it’s the father.

 

Imagine God making us a similar offer:

I will give you anything you desire. Anything. Perfect love. Eternal peace. You will never be afraid or alone. No confusion will enter your mind. No anxiety or boredom will enter your heart. You will never lack for anything.

There will be no sin. No guilt. No rules. No expectations. No failure. You will never be lonely. You will never hurt. You will never die.


Only you will never see my face.

Would you want it? Neither would I. It’s not enough. Who wants heaven without God? Heaven is not heaven without God.

 

A painless, deathless eternity will be nice, but inadequate. A world shot with splendor would stagger us, but it’s not what we seek. What we want is God. We want God more than we know. It’s not that the perks aren’t attractive. It’s just that they aren’t enough. It’s not that we are greedy. It’s just that we are his and—Augustine was right—our hearts are restless until they rest in him.

 

Only when we find him will we be satisfied. Moses can tell you.

He had as much of God as any man in the Bible. God spoke to him in a bush. God guided him with fire. God amazed Moses with the plagues. And when God grew angry with the Israelites and withdrew from them, he stayed close to Moses. He spoke to Moses “as a man speaks with his friend” (Exod. 33:11). Moses knew God like no other man.

But that wasn’t enough. Moses yearned for more. Moses longed to see God. He even dared to ask, “Please show me your glory” (Exod. 33:18).

 

A hat and snack were not enough. A fiery pillar and morning manna were insufficient. Moses wanted to see God himself.

Don’t we all?

Isn’t that why we long for heaven? We may speak about a place where there are no tears, no death, no fear, no night; but those are just the benefits of heaven. The beauty of heaven is seeing God. Heaven is God’s heart.

And our heart will only be at peace when we see him. “Because I have lived right, I will see your face. When I wake up, I will see your likeness and be satisfied” (Ps. 17:15). Satisfied? That is one thing we are not. We are not satisfied.

 

We push back from the Thanksgiving table and pat our round bellies. “I’m satisfied,” we declare. But look at us a few hours later, back in the kitchen picking the meat from the bone.

We wake up after a good night’s rest and hop out of bed. We couldn’t go back to sleep if someone paid us. We are satisfied—for a while. But look at us a dozen or so hours later, crawling back in the sheets.

We take the vacation of a lifetime. For years we planned. For years we saved. And off we go. We satiate ourselves with sun, fun, and good food. But we are not even on the way home before we dread the end of the trip and begin planning another.

 

We are not satisfied.

As a child we say, “If only I were a teenager.” As a teen we say, “If only I were an adult.” As an adult, “If only I were married.” As a spouse, “If only I had kids.” As a parent, “If only my kids were grown.” In an empty house, “If only the kids would visit.” As a retiree in the rocking chair with stiff joints and fading sight, “If only I were a child again.”

 

We are not satisfied. Contentment is a difficult virtue.

Why?

Because there is nothing on earth that can satisfy our deepest longing. We long to see God. The leaves of life are rustling with the rumor that we will—and we won’t be satisfied until we do.

We can’t be satisfied. Not because we are greedy, but because we are hungry for something not found on this earth. Only God can satisfy. Philip was right when he said, “Lord, show us the Father. That is all we need” (John 14:8).

 

Alas, therein lies the problem: “But you cannot see my face,” God told Moses, “because no one can see me and live” (Exod. 33:20).

The eighteenth-century Hasids understood the risk of seeing God. Rabbi Uri wept every morning as he left his house to pray. He called his children and wife to his side and wept as if he would never see them again. When asked why, he gave this answer: “When I begin my prayers I call out to the Lord. Then I pray, ‘Lord have mercy on us.’ Who knows what the Lord’s power will do to me in that moment after I have invoked it and before I beg for mercy?”2

 

According to legend, the first American Indian to see the Grand Canyon tied himself to a tree in terror. According to Scripture, any man privileged to have been given a peek at God has felt the same.


Sheer terror. Remember the words of Isaiah after his vision of God? “Oh, no! I will be destroyed. I am not pure, and I live among people who are not pure, but I have seen the King, the Lord All-Powerful” (Isa. 6:5).


Upon seeing God, Isaiah was terrified. Why such fear? Why did he tremble so? Because he was wax before the sun. A candle in a hurricane. A minnow at Niagara. God’s glory was too great. His purity too sterling. His power too mighty. The holiness of God illuminates the sinfulness of man.

 

To understand this, let’s imagine you are in a theater. You have never visited one before, and you are curious. You poke around backstage and look at the lights and play with the curtains and examine the props. Then you see a dressing room.

 

You enter and sit at the table. You look in the large mirror on the wall. What you see is what you always see when you look at your reflection. No surprises. Then you notice that the mirror is framed in light bulbs. There is a switch on the wall. You flip it on.

 

A dozen lights shine on your face. Suddenly you see what you had not seen. Blemishes. Wrinkles. Every mole and mark is highlighted. The light has illuminated your imperfections.

That’s what happened to Isaiah. When he saw God, he didn’t sigh with admiration. He didn’t applaud in appreciation. He drew back in horror, crying, “I am unclean and my people are unclean!”

The holiness of God highlights our sins.

 

Listen to the words of another prophet. “Look, Jesus is coming with the clouds, and everyone will see him, even those who stabbed him. And all peoples of the earth will cry loudly because of him. Yes, this will happen!” (Rev. 1:7, emphasis mine).

Read the verse in another translation. “Riding the clouds, he’ll be seen by every eye, those who mocked and killed him will see him. People from all nations and all times will tear their clothes in lament. Oh, yes” (Rev. 1:7 the message).

The holiness of God highlights the sin of man.

Then what do we do? If it is true that “Anyone whose life is not holy will never see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14), where do we turn?

We can’t turn off the light. We can’t flip the switch. We can’t return to the gray. By then it will be too late.

So what can we do?

The answer is found in the story of Moses. Read carefully, very carefully, the following verses. Read to answer this question—what did Moses do in order to see God? Read slowly what God says. You may miss it.

 

“There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes that place, I will put you in a large crack in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you will see my back. But my face must not be seen” (Exod. 33:21–23).

Did you see what Moses was to do? Neither did I. Did you note who did the work? So did I.

God did! God is active. God gave Moses a place to stand. God placed Moses in the crevice. God covered Moses with his hand. God passed by. And God revealed himself.

Please, underscore the point. God equipped Moses to catch a glimpse of God.

 

(Holy Moses!)

All Moses did was ask. But, oh, how he asked.

All we can do is ask. But, oh, we must ask.

For only in asking do we receive. And only in seeking do we find.

And (need I make the application?) God is the one who will equip us for our eternal moment in the Son. Hasn’t he given us a rock, the Lord Jesus? Hasn’t he given us a cleft, his grace? And hasn’t he covered us with his hand, his pierced hand?

 

And isn’t the Father on his way to get us?

Just as my dad came at the right hour, so God will come. And just as my father brought gifts and pleasures, so will yours. But, as splendid as are the gifts of heaven, it is not for those we wait.

We wait to see the Father. And that will be enough.

 

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