I listen to podcasts and books while I run and when I walk to/from work. I can’t remember who it was, but the other day a speaker talked about a super interesting and somewhat famous Bible story, and what she/he pointed out BLEW MY MIND … so naturally I wanted to share it with you! 🙂
In Exodus 33.18-23, at the end of a conversation with God Moses says, “Please. Let me see your Glory.” In response, God said “I will make my Goodness pass right in front of you; I’ll call out the name, God, right before you. … But you may not see my face. No one can see me and live.”
God concludes by saying, “Look, here is a place right beside me. Put yourself on this rock. When my Glory passes by, I’ll put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with my hand until I’ve passed by. Then I’ll take my hand away and you’ll see my back. But you won’t see my face.” (The Message version of the Bible)
Isn’t that super interesting? One of my favorites aspects of studying Old Testament passages, like this one, is seeing what the rabbis had to say about it. Noting that God is everywhere, there is nowhere we can go where God isn’t, and that God doesn’t have a literal face or hand (except as Jesus, but that’s a different story :), some rabbis surmised those aspects of the text must be more figurative than literal. This idea is backed up by a statement just a few verses early, where it reads: “And God spoke with Moses face-to-face,as neighbors speak to one another.” (Exodus 33.11a)
Let me start by saying while I really like the interpretation I’m going to present, I’m not at all saying others you’ve heard or believe are wrong. Some interpreters understand this passage to mean: We see God and the results of Divine goodness most clearly and fully in hindsight. While we often miss God in the present amidst our cares, worries, and stress, it’s easier to spot our Creator’s handiwork once the Spirit has already “come” and “gone”. As I playfully/poetically put it in the title, God’s backside is beautiful.
More than anything, what I’m talking about is how God has a gift for turning awful into awesome. Our Source specializes in transforming our hurts and faults into gains and strengths. This is the counterintuitive, redemptive nature of the Divine Economy, which I can see play out time and time again in my own story. With that in mind, I’ll briefly share one of my most poignant experiences of this, my second divorce.
For a variety of reasons I won’t go into here, in my first marriage I was disconnected emotionally and relationally. In essence, I was neither able to feel all the feels, nor could I identify or go very deep into what I wasfeeling. Relatedly, I wasn’t very intimate relationally with my first wife. I didn’t, and likely wasn’t able to, share my deep dreams, fears, questions, and hurts. To overstate a bit for affect, I was a shallow and thin person.
I share this because by the time my second marriage came around, God had helped me transform A LOT, in that my heart was far more open to joy, sorrow, beauty, anger at injustice, and so on. Likewise, I had way more access to my inner-self, which allowed me to more freely and fully share my big and small struggles and triumphs with my second wife. As it seems us humans are wont to do, though, I swung the pendulum too far, overcorrecting my mistake by going from disconnected to tooconnected.
While I did the beautiful work of connecting relationally with my partner, I also lost myself in her. I put too much of my identity, value, and self-worth in and on her. Going through the long and lengthy process of first having my wife disapprove of me occasionally, then the dissatisfaction becoming more frequent, then putting divorce on the table, then asking me to move out while dangling the carrot of restoration, then saying we were getting a divorce while keeping the carrot up, and finally divorcing me was heart rending to say the least. Before moving on let me note this is a VERY simplified version of myperspective, the carrots may have been of my own imagining, and I don’t blame or condemn her for anything that happened, I hold little but grace for her in my heart when it comes to our past relationship.
As things fell apart and ended, in the midst of my crying out in pain and confusion, the Spirit revealed to me via friends, family, books, podcasts, a counselor, a pastor friend, and the inner nudges I take to be God how to turn my deep bruises into enduring beauty. While placing your identity and value in others, things, or achievements will inevitably let you down as they all change or pass with time, finding yourself in the Christ will never let you down because there you are forever named precious and beloved, was the healing and life-changing message I received.
On the other side of a brutal experience, with God’s transformative power I’ve found a bigger, more joyful, and more grounded life than I ever thought possible. In a very real sense most everyday is a taste of heaven. This experience is amplified by the amazingness of my wife, Lisa, who I’m convinced is the kindest, most encouraging, and most giving person since Jesus! The love we have is bigger, better, and more beautiful than anything I’d imagined, and is largely a gift of Divine redemption in our lives following loss, hurt, and unwanted divorce. God took Lisa and my failures and wounds, and reshaped them into gifts of understanding, compassion, forgiveness, giving, kindness, tenderness, and the like.
I think this would be a really great landing place for the blog … but I think if we go just a tiny bit further it’ll get way better. The more we develop eyes to see how our past blemishes have blossomed into blessings, the shorter the process will become, and more we’ll be able to see and anticipate God’s transformative goodness in the midst of present periods of suck! This is what Rob Bell calls “the holy shift”, the change in thinking/seeing whereby we increasingly see the Divine presence, influence, and glory in every person, place, and experience.
When we begin to change our minds in this manner, we start to see quarrelsome people at work as opportunities to increase our curiosity, patience, and peace. When we rewire our brain to see how time and again bad things have turned to good, we learn to view stressful weeks as opportunities to remember our doings don’t define us, we are loved, precious, and belong here simply by being. When we reflect on the redemptive nature of God’s economy, we grow to see how even deaths can turn into increased connection, community, and compassion. I believe God is always and forever in the business of turning the awful into awesome, that’s the nature of reality and we’re invited to join! What do you think?
Grace and peace,
One thought on “God’s Backside is Beautiful: How Recognizing Past Divine Touches Changes Our Present”
Thanks for sharing
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