Do you remember that Christmas present you always wanted but never got? I found mine while reverently flipping through the Sears Wish Book, eyes wide, excitement bubbling through my veins. I circled the picture over and over, practically cutting a hole through the paper with the tip of my pen. Then, when I showed my parents, they promptly informed me that a Barbie Dream House was not in the budget nor would it fit in our two bedroom apartment. Even after a letter to Santa and some earnest prayers, come Christmas day, among all the presents under the tree, there was no Barbie Dream House. So goes life. Sometimes, we ask for one thing and get another.
Most of the time, such disappointments are small and quickly forgotten. But at other times, they hurt. Imagine the child who wants a set of paints or a guitar but the parents keep buying soccer balls and shin guards. Might such a child wonder, “Do my parents even know me? Do they care at all?” A good and genuine gift – material or not – is one that says, “I know you and I love you. I know you and I love you.”
I think that’s why we’re often confused when we ask the Lord for one thing and He gives us something else. Doesn’t He know us through and through? Doesn’t He love us more than anyone ever could? Scripture tells us that God gives good gifts to his children – we just have to ask. Then why do we ask for work and find none? We ask for friends and are still alone? We ask for healing and death comes anyway? We ask for answers and are left with more questions? What then?
Lately, I have really wrestled with this. It’s not that I think He can’t hear me. I know He can. And it’s not even that He’s silent. In fact, He’s talking to me all the time. But sometimes I feel like we’re having two different conversations. I ask for an apple and He answers with an orange. I ask in English and He answers in…well…God language.
One particularly frustrating night, I picked up the book Beyond Opinion. After flipping to the chapter “The Role of Doubt and Persecution in Spiritual Transformation” by Stuart McAlister, I skeptically began reading. What? Doubt? Me? Never! To my surprise, I found some nuggets of truth, a new perspective, and it’s radically altering how I view the Lord and my relationship with Him.
Do you remember what happens between Moses and the Lord in Exodus 33? I consider it one of most beautiful moments in Biblical history. At first, the Lord, angry with the Israelites for their rebellion, tells Moses to take the people and go on without Him. Like a forsaken lover, the devastated Moses shamelessly protests; the Lord immediately and lovingly responds. With an almost palpable tenderness, they lay bare their hearts, declaring their love and devotion to one another. In that moment, raw with vulnerability and heavy with expectation, Moses realizes that nothing else will do but to know and be completely known. Boldly, confident of his lover’s love, Moses beckons to the Lord, “Now show me your glory.” Time almost seems to stand still.
With passion for His beloved, the Lord agrees…but there’s a twist. The Lord only allows Moses to see His back, lest Moses die. I don’t know about you, but I might have been disappointed, hurt or even angry. After such an intimate exchange, how could God not know what Moses really wanted? The usual, standard answer would be that the Lord was protecting Moses – and that’s true. The Lord did protect Moses and He did it with moving, powerful, symbolic, almost prophetic imagery of the coming Christ. (I could write a thousand paragraphs about that, but not today!) There is no doubt that the Lord was protecting Moses, but perhaps there’s even more to it than that.
What if what Stuart McAlister, Alister McGrath and Martin Luther believe is also true? That God was indeed showing Moses his glory because God’s glory is present even in “the back parts of God”. Perhaps Moses, and we alike, must be “forced to turn our eyes from contemplation of where we would like to see God revealed, and to turn them instead upon a place of which is not our own choosing, but which is given to us. We like to find God in the beauty of nature, in the brilliance of an inspired human work of art or in the depths of our own being – and instead, we must recognize that the sole authorized symbol of the Christian faith is a scene of dereliction and carnage.” (McGrath)
We want to see God’s glory….just so long as that glory is powerful, beautiful, awe inspiring…and safe. Yet the core of our faith rests on Jesus, who was humiliated, violently tortured, brutally murdered and abandoned by his Father; the same Father in whom we’re asked to put our trust. Are you willing to look at that God? Do you want to see all of Him?
God isn’t neat, tidy, predictable or tame. Just think of Jesus for a minute. He showed up in some unexpected ways, didn’t He? After entering the womb of a poor, unwed, teenage virgin, He was born amid scandal and worshiped by mystics and the dregs of society. He acted in some unexpected ways, too. The Israelites asked for a savior who would conquer their political enemies, bring national freedom, and raise Israel up to rule over all the earth, eternally. But the King of Kings preferred to socialize with outcasts and eventually submitted to humiliation, defeat and death on a cross. Through means no earthly soul could predict, the Lord attained complete victory, spiritual freedom and eternal life for all people who would receive it.
So, when you contemplate the miraculous work of the cross, do you, like me, see the Lord’s strength and glory prevailing in spite of Christ’s suffering, humiliation and defeat? I once envisioned Christ as somehow outside of it all. But He wasn’t…if anything, He was more present, more alive, more aware of His experiences than we who live with veiled hearts have ever been. Christ wasn’t victorious despite defeat. He was victorious in and through defeat. He wasn’t strong despite the appearance of weakness. No! He was strong in and through His weakness. And He wasn’t glorified despite his humiliation. Rather, He revealed His glory in and through humiliation. In the cross, and even in the manger, we find that “God reveals himself through a contrary form. It is the back of God, which is revealed – but it is God, and not another.” (McAlister)
Recently, while meditating on God’s glory as revealed through the degradation of the cross, I imagined Jesus there – beaten, broken, humiliated and hanging on a tree. He looked like any other brutally tortured, dying man – but He wasn’t any other man. He was God. All the power of the universe, wrapped up in the flesh of one man, and nailed to a cross. The Lord, the Mighty One, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, a picture of human weakness. Then this word came to mind: vulnerable.
In Jesus, the Lord Himself became vulnerable – vulnerable to all that mankind could throw at Him. And it was in and through that very vulnerability that He rescued a cursed creation. Sometimes the Lord reveals his power with a mighty arm, but at other times He places us, as He did Moses, on a Rock, hides us in the palm of His hand and then shows us a side of Himself we’ve never seen before. He does this because He, the Great I AM, longs for us to know Him…all of Him…even the back parts.
Suddenly, I am overcome, breathless at the thought that through some divine mystery, I might actually encounter the Lord in and through my weakness and suffering. That in those cold, dark places, if I watch with the eyes of my heart, the Lord will reveal Himself to me. That He and I, for a moment, might share even a thousandth of the intimacy experienced between the Lord and Moses.
Can I be that vulnerable? What do I need to do Lord? And I hear: “Give. Give. Give. Give, yourself to Me.” The Lord knows us and loves us. He gives us, always, the perfect gift: Himself. We may not always get what we expect, or even what we asked for, but we always get Him. And for once, I see the possibility, I long to respond and give Him the only gift I ever can: Me. All of me. Warm, expectant and trembling ever so slightly, I find myself whispering, “Lord, show me your glory.”
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. II Corinthians 12:9-10
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. I Corinthians 1:27