As I sat in the back seat of a car, staring out the window at the landscape rushing by, I began to feel tired. My eyes grew heavy and I let them close. Then the gentle whisper of Jesus came to me and he said, “Sin broke humanity’s view of who God is and what He is like. You need me to show you my Father in powerful and heart changing ways.”
I sat there and stilled my mind. I wanted to just let his words sink in. Then I did what any modern person would do. I got out my phone, opened the ‘notes’ app, and wrote the words down. Then I set about doing what any ancient person knew to do…I began to ponder what he’d said.
Over the next few weeks I spent time thinking about it. I felt like there was a path to follow, so I looked for the beginning, which of course led me to The Beginning. In Genesis chapter 3 we have the account of the Fall of Man, which I sometimes think should be referred to more in terms of what man loses at this point. We tend to emphasize the rebellion and fault we see—which certainly are obvious elements present in the account—but we also witness profound loss in this story. It is tempting to launch into a lengthy discussion of the Fall, but I will limit myself to a single point: humanity’s loss of sight. At the Fall, Sin shattered human vision. It placed fractured spectacles upon our noses, through which we squint and blink, trying to see, but until those cracks are fixed we will be unable to see our way clearly. Sin broke our ability to see and know God as he truly is. We may be aware of him, but what we perceive of him is unclear… it is out of focus. But we are made to know God. We are made to worship him—indeed we are made for worship. So, despite our broken vision, we will seek something outside of ourselves and we will worship. In Romans 1:25, Paul writes, “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.”
So, back in Eden, Adam and Eve have eaten the mysterious fruit. Their eyes are opened, which is the moment the cracked glasses go over their vision, and Sin lays waste to creation like a nuclear bomb. The System is corrupted, changed terribly. When they looked around everything looked the same, but they knew it wasn’t. Invisible splinters and cracks had filled reality like a shattering window. In Genesis 3:7-10 we see the result of this cataclysmic event when Adam and Eve encounter God for the first time after they’re rebellious action and in verse 10 we hear Adam express the core problem reflected in every human heart that would follow him. He’s lost his ability to see and know God as he truly is…and now Adam is afraid. The majesty, authority, and the sheer awe inspiring power of God now intimidate Adam. He is terrified of his Creator. He no longer knows God’s kindness and gentleness, he can’t recognize the God who has come to walk with him in the garden and speak with him at other times. Everything has changed. Adam hides… “I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” He no longer feels safe in God’s presence, he feels exposed—ashamed—so he hides. Adam and Eve’s view of God—and consequently ours—has been so distorted by Sin that they cannot remain in the garden. They must leave for their own good lest they wither away in utter fear in the presence of God, unable to function. These truly are the deepest moments of loss in human history. The Golden Age crumbles into faded memory…though humanity spends the rest of history grasping for it, whether they agree on what it was or not, we all seem to know we lost the relationship with God we were meant to have and live only with a shadow of it. Yet there is an incredible message within this account of loss. God made us for worship…to live a life in relationship with him. God is not one to abandon his intentions and he cannot help but set out to deal with our Sin smashed glasses so that we will be able to see him and know him. Perhaps, this is the first thing all people need to know about God: he not only made us, but he loves us and wants to be invited into our lives even as he is inviting us into his own life. Yet, it can be extremely difficult for people to believe that the God of the universe even knows their name, let alone wants them to know him. When presented with this truth they find a way to hide from it. Much of our sinful lives are this attempt to hide from God, echoing the response of Adam and Eve from so long ago.
Jump ahead a few years now with me along the path of my pondering and we arrive at Moses. Now, if you think of any Old Testament character who knew God, you probably would think of Moses. Not only did he have a unique relationship with God, he seemed very confident in it. He was neither hesitant to make bold demands of God, nor shy about complaining to God about the fate he’d lain on Moses’ poor shoulders. In Exodus 33 and 34 we see something curious. These chapters will be familiar to most avid bible readers, but I hope to point something out that you may not have noticed before. Moses explains to God that he doesn’t want to go forward with Israel on any kind of adventure towards a promised land unless God promises to come with them. Now, this isn’t a request for God to simply accompany them. Moses wants God’s dynamic, powerful, obvious presence to go with them. He wants to ensure that everyone they encounter knows that Israel is arriving with the most powerful God in the universe on their side. Moses knows that if God is seen and known for who he is, no one will stand in the way of Israel and there will be nothing they can’t accomplish. Moses is also wise enough to know that without God’s presence with them, they have little chance going forward. Moses places extreme importance on God’s presence being real and tangible in the life of Israel—his Glory is of the utmost importance. God is pleased with Moses’ requests and agrees to do what he is asking, “I will do the very thing you have asked because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” Then in 33:18, Moses makes a bold request, “Now, show me your Glory.”
God agrees to show Moses his glory, but he sets out conditions before it can happen. Moses can only look upon God’s glory and live if he is hidden in an opening in the rock, then covered by God’s own hand, so that he won’t look upon God’s face. Sin is still exerting its power here. Moses will die if he sees God’s face.
We understand this in terms of God’s holiness. His immense holiness was so potent that if Moses looked upon him he would die because of it. But, I wonder too if we can’t recall Adam’s plight here. Adam had seen God in the garden…walked with him and talked with him. When Sin fractured his ability to see and know God truly, then he could no longer look at him without fear and wanting to hide. If Moses, suffering with the same Sin shattered spiritual glasses had looked upon God’s face he would have been unable to see him for who he truly was…he wouldn’t have been able to hear God’s words in 34:5 “The LORD, THE LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin…”. Instead of hearing God speak truth about himself, Moses would have struggled to survive looking upon the pure majesty and glory of God. God wants Moses to know him…what he is like, so he ensures that Moses is hidden in safety as the fullness of his presence comes to rest on him. In order to know God’s glory, Moses couldn’t look at or see God’s face.
Let’s journey down the path a little further and look in on Elijah. In 1Kings 19 we find the prophet in a cave. He’s fled there after soundly defeating the false prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel in style. This was a showdown for the ages, and Elijah did more than just win it, he demolished his opponents utterly. So why has he fled to hide out in a cave? Elijah has trouble seeing things clearly. Jezebel, infuriated by his defeat of the false prophets, wants his head on a pole. When God speaks to Elijah, the prophet is in despair, believing there is no one faithful to God in all the land except for him. God tells Elijah to get ready…he is about to come face to face with God’s presence. In verses 11-13 a powerful wind blows, tearing up the mountains and shattering rocks…but God is not in the wind. An earthquake follows, but God is not in the earthquake. A fire comes, but God is not in the fire…these power filled manifestations of the elements would terrify any one present to witness them. Yet, Elijah waits. He knows something. I imagine a hush fell all around him as everything paused. Then comes a gentle whisper…“When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” Now God corrects his eyesight and makes things clearer for him. He is not the only faithful one in Israel, there are indeed seven thousand more. Elijah recognized the fullness of God’s presence in the gentle whisper. What did he do? He knew to cover his face…he hides…he knows he can’t look on the Glory and live. He won’t hear the truth in God’s words if he looks upon his face, for he will only be afraid of God and nothing else will be perceived or understood in the midst of his fear. Elijah’s glasses are still cracked and distorted because of Sin, and I imagine he knew it.
Further down the path we must go. There must be an answer to the problem. If we are to know God the way he intends, then we need a way to overcome this broken and distorted lens through which we attempt to see and know him. Thankfully, God has made a way. As I pondered this vision issue, my journey brought me, as it always does, to Jesus. I often say that Jesus changes everything. In Jesus comes the upheaval of the spiritual landscape that has stood since Adam and Eve left the garden. He came to alter everything and to heal the ancient loss humanity experienced at the Fall. Recall that when he whispered to me, he told me the end I would come to after my pondering journey, “You need me to show you my Father in powerful and heart changing ways.”
In John 14:5-9 we read something remarkable in light of what we have looked at along our path to this point. A change has come. A new era that would have filled any of the prophets with awe. Jesus is preparing his disciples for his departure. He’s leaving them, but with a promise that he will return for them and that they know the way to where he is going. Thomas, not really sure what he means, needs clarification. They don’t know where he is going so how can they know the way there? Jesus replies, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” As I read these words, I saw something in Jesus’ statement I hadn’t seen before. Why is it that no one can come to God except through Jesus? The answer lies in our distorted view of God because of Sin. It is only when we come to God through Jesus that we begin to see him as he truly is. Only Jesus can do something about our inability to see and know God. He is the revelation of who God is and what he is truly like in character. He is the expression of God’s glory. Philip, perhaps so shocked by what Jesus has just said, asks for his own clarification in verse 8, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” When Jesus answers him, I hear sorrow in his voice, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” This is a profound statement. Anyone present when he spoke these words would have known that an incredible revelation was being made along with an almost unbelievable change. They knew that no one could look on the face of God and live, and yet Jesus has just altered that reality.
He is bringing humanity into a new relationship with God, or rather, restoring what was lost in the garden so long ago. A total change has come…you can see God and live. You can know him as he truly is, without distortion. In John 12:44 Jesus says, “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me.” Who sent Jesus? God, the one true God, the Creator who walked with Adam and Eve in ancient days. Jesus is prophetically pointing to the new spiritual landscape that is about to be accomplished through his suffering.
So we come to the end of the path and we find ourselves at a familiar hill under overcast skies. Most journeys of reflection on the Christian life end up here. At the cross, God acted in Jesus to do something about the cracked glasses humanity had been wearing over their eyes for so long. When Jesus overcame Sin and Death through his death and resurrection, he put an end to the fractured and distorted view of God that Sin had caused. I don’t think that Jesus repairs the lenses in our spiritual glasses when we come to him. Instead, I’ve come to believe that he does something more profound than that: Jesus heals the very eyes of our heart so that we can see God for who he really is. Because of him we can look on the face of God and live. We come to life within, our spirits knowing in truth the love and compassion of God, the mercy and grace of his heart. When he draws near to us by his Spirit we are no longer afraid and driven to hide from him because we truly know that he cares for us. Because of Jesus we can know God. He has shown us the Father and revealed to us what was always meant from the beginning: our God is to be known. We are invited into his life and those who answer that invitation are never turned away.
One morning, a few years ago, I wandered into the prayer tent we have at church where one can receive prayer during the worship time. I sat down and some friends began to pray for me. I found myself drawn into a place in my heart and began to see a vision there. I was sitting down in a chair and a figure approached me. I looked up and much to my astonishment found that I was looking at myself. I shared this with those who were praying for me. One of them suggested I try and ask a question of myself in the vision. “If you could prophecy something what would it be?” I didn’t know what—if anything—would happen. Yet, no sooner were the words out of my mouth, than the vision version of me replied: “God is not angry with you.”
The vision faded away as a well of emotion bubbled up and over, out of my soul and heart…and I cried…perhaps even wailed a little. I was a sobbing mess as many years of stored up guilt and shame simply erupted from my heart and left, lifted away by a truth spoken by Jesus through an odd vision. Since that day I have known without a doubt that God is not angry with me. That moment changed the way I knew him. It altered the way I prayed and approached him. I knew that I was a beloved and adopted son. Jesus had healed the eyes of my heart so that I could see and know God more deeply. We need Jesus to heal our eyes and reveal his Father to us in powerful and heart changing ways if we are to be truly spiritual people who want to know God as he truly is.They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.”