In today’s world, a huge spiritual danger is remaking God in our image. His is spoken of as “the man upstairs” or thought of as a grandfatherly type who pats us on the head and overlooks our many sins. Certainly many would like Him to be their best friend, even Christians who speak of Him this way.
We want Him to be like us, for then it is easier to imagine His presence with us. When Moses was leading the people out of Egypt, God promised to send an angel to go before them, but Moses wanted the presence of God Himself. God then told him, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
Moses explained his request, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”
The Lord reassured him with, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Then Moses asked for something no one had asked before. He said, “Please show me your glory.”
God replied, “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, you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”
After that warning, God said to Moses, 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.” (Exodus 33:14–23)
The study Bible comment on this passage brought me to a great stillness. I’ve been sitting here letting this glorious thought settle into my heart. It explains why God would not let Moses have a full view of Himself as He passed by: this man had to be “shielded from the full weight of God’s holiness” for in that holiness is wrath for sin. Out of love, God shielded Moses from certain death, and this shielding is a prefiguring of Christ shielding us from the wrath of God.
“Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:9–11)
I pray that everyone who reads this is struck by the same awe that I am feeling for what Christ has done and for the fact that because of Him, seeing God has become possible.
Job saw God. He revealed Himself to this man and Job said, “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know . . . . I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:3–6)
Jesus spoke of the same wonder for those like Job who turn from sin to face our Holy God. He said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8) Other New Testament writers wrote of the same truth. “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)
They knew that when God’s people strive for holiness by repentance and rejecting sin, and by keeping our eyes, hearts, and lives focused on the Lord in abiding obedience, we are granted something that would otherwise slay us. “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2) and “They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.” (Revelation 22:4)
Trivializing God by reinventing Him to be less than He is will certainly mar my view of God. But it also trivializes what Christ has done. If God is not a holy God whose eyes cannot behold sin, then Jesus did not need to die for sinners. A lesser God could overlook sin and pat me on the head.
Paul wrote, “For now we see in a mirror dimly” yet there will come a day when I see God “face to face.” (1 Corinthians 13:12) Because of that full view of His glory and because of my sin, at that moment I should perish. However, because of what Jesus has done by dying for me, the glory of God will transform me. When I see Him fully fact to face, I will undergo that final change from death to life, from my human sinfulness into His image and His glory. And I will be like Him, never the other way around.