11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflection August 20, 2017
No One Shall See God and Live
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
This past Sunday, August 13, I preached on Moses at Mount Sinai and his request to “see” God (Exodus 33:18-23). God’s answer to Moses’ request is: “You cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live … I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.“
We need to take this scriptural admonition seriously. But why can’t we see God’s face? I asked this question during the sermon. Why can’t we see God’s face and live? Why would the sight of God’s face cause us to die?
Is God’s face so frightening to see (“yes” and “no” are the correct answers)? Is God’s face so terrifying that we’re humanly unable to tolerate such a sight? (I don’t know the answer to this since I have not “seen“ God‘s face!).
I offered a few thoughts about such questions this past Sunday. I’ll not place my sermon here but I will add a tiny piece about seeing God’s face.
To look fully into the face of Absolute Love would annihilate us. Our souls, which have come forth from the “heart” of God, desperately desire to return to that same “heart.”
If we were able to see the “glory” - the dazzling radiance - the breath-taking beauty - of God, our souls would rush headlong into that divine radiance, that staggering splendor. Our souls would completely merge with God - the Source of All Life, the Source of All Love. We would, in effect, get “lost” in the eternal “vastness” of God, the overwhelming beauty and brilliance of God. This, I believe, is why we cannot see the “face” of God and live.
We can see the “back” of God because we are not then looking deeply into the “eyes” of the Almighty - into which we would plunge with an overwhelming passion and absolute abandonment. To gaze into the “eyes” of Absolute Love, Absolute Acceptance, Absolute Beauty would “blind” us and we would never then be able to turn our eyes away.
This is, of course, what true and abiding love is all about. Love is, at best, a passionate plunge into a staggering abyss. I know this sounds overblown and hyperbolic and, in a true sense, it is!
But there you have it! As I’ve said more than once, our language breaks down when we try to speak about the Almighty and the Almighty’s abiding, abounding love for all creatures, great and small. So hyperbole is necessary when we talk about God.
Any attempt to “name” God is bound to fail and fall far short. Any attempt to “picture” God is bound to fail and fall far short (sorry, Michelangelo!). Any attempt to “speak” for God is the height (or depth) of hubris! No one “speaks” for God except God.
As our brother Paul writes: “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are God’s judgments and how inscrutable God’s ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been the Lord’s counselor?” (Romans 11: 33-34)
I admit having a problem with those pastors, preachers, clergy persons, who so readily rush to tell us God’s “message.” I want to ask: “Did God whisper that message into your ear?” “Are you on such a “first-name” basis with the Almighty that the Almighty has “chosen” you to be the divine spokesperson? Are you and the Awesome Almighty “buddies”? (God is NEVER our buddy!)
I believe it borders on blasphemy to claim to speak for God. The misguided pastor who recently claimed that God has given the president “permission” to “take out” the leader of North Korea is living in a land beyond rational and religious reality. I am sure at a deep level he knows this!
We poor humans cannot speak for God. We poor humans cannot “tell” God what God should do. We poor humans cannot, in any significant way, portray the reality of the Ultimate Reality - God.
Yes, we can see the “back” of God. We might even be able to “glimpse” a touch of the divine radiance in the beauty surrounding us. We’d all do well to become more sensitive to the face of beauty filling our world. This may be one of the reasons I so frequently go to our wonderful Art Institute. This may also be why music is such an important piece of my life.
God is our Ultimate Bliss. God is Who and What we long for, whether we are able to articulate this longing or not. As I’ve noted numerous times over the nine-plus years I’ve served as pastor of our beloved congregation: God has made us with two great hungers - a hunger for God and a hunger for each other. These two hungers are intimately intertwined. Our God-language always begins at this sacred place!
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor