I mentioned in my recent review of The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton one quote that stood out to me. While several of the characters are trying to figure out a conundrum, the main character, Syme, says, “Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front—.” The whole book has had a variety of interpretations since its publication, but I took this observation to mean that we don’t have the big picture. In trying to figure out the mysteries of the universe, even believing that God is at the helm and wisely and lovingly guides and provides, there are still things that don’t make sense to us.
In trying to understand the book better, I came across this article. It provided much food for thought though I am not sure I agree with every point. But I did take note of the connection it made between seeing the back of things with Moses seeing the “back” of God. After the disastrous incident of the golden calf, and that after all God had done to manifest Himself to His people, He is so angry that we wants to consume them. In Exodus 32 Moses intercedes, and God relents. In Exodus 33, God tells Moses to continue on with the people toward the land He had promised them, but God’s presence would not go with them. The people mourn and Moses intercedes again in one of my favorite passages, pleading with God for His presence with them.
When God promises to go with them, Moses responds in worship, “Please show me your glory.” God replies:
“I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”
Then the next day:
The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.
As I pondered these passages once again, this thought struck me:
If this is the back of God – merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love, forgiving sin – what must the front be?
No wonder no one can see His face and live! We’d be overwhelmed!
Besides these verses that refer to His mercy, grace, love, and forgiveness, other passages of Scripture tell us about His wisdom, power, omnipresence, and so many other attributes.
I don’t know exactly what we’ll “see” of Him in heaven, but I do know this: I may not understand everything that happens, I may question why some things have to be and wonder why God does some things and doesn’t do other things, but what I do know to be true of Him helps me to trust Him for what I don’t understand.