In Stephen King’s short story “The Jaunt” a family is preparing to travel to another planet via teleportation. Everyone will be administered a drug that will render them completely unconscious. The reason: they had discovered that every person, without fail, who made the trip while awake arrived in the other location completely insane, and most were catatonic. This family has a precocious twelve year old boy who is curious and sincerely believes himself smart enough to handle whatever it is that causes ordinary people to go insane. So he somehow renders his drug ineffective. And sure enough he arrives on the planet completely out of his mind. The only thing he can say is “The universe!” Or something like that. The implication is that in that in between state, during teleportation, the mind is exposed to the vastness of the universe and the mind is not able to handle the infinite. It’s like that.
Yahweh had allowed Moses to win the discussion and agreed to bring his presence back into the camp. Again, I believe, Moses won the argument, but ended up exactly where Yahweh wanted him to be. Amazing that. Apparently, Moses decided to push his luck and he pleads with God to see his glory. The word “glory” can mean “splendor, honor, or even character.” I don’t believe this is Moses seeking proof of what God had just acquiesced to. I believe he wanted to see the essence of God; to see what made God God. After all, God knows him by name, which implies so much more than the word Moses. God Knows Moses inside and out. So, Moses desired to see the essence of God.
Interestingly, God complies. Well, not completely. There is this one huge proviso. First, God stated that he would make all of his goodness pass before the face of Moses. What in the world does this mean? Yeah, I don’t know. The word “goodness” can mean “beauty”, but that isn’t helpful. Here is my best guess. If you are going to get a glimpse of the essence of God, you are going to see goodness, beauty. Sometimes that goodness may be awesomely scary, but it is goodness nonetheless. And then God will cry out his own name, “Yahweh”. And again, what? The essence of God is that he is the I Am. He exists. And within this name there just may be a clue to why mankind cannot see the essence of God. God adds to this “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” And this is part of his essence. We may think we know who should receive God’s favor and mercy, but God will be gracious to whom he will be gracious. So, did Moses really sway God? He is Yahweh, the existing one.
Then Moses is told that he cannot see the face of God. In fact, if he did see the face of God he would die. God is spirit, so I’m pretty confident we are not talking about a physical face here. “Face” is often translated “presence,” or “before.” Moses cannot gaze upon the essence of God. And the point is not that God would strike him dead. The point is that mankind is finite and God is infinite. He is the I Am. Before the creation he is I Am. In the future he will be I Am. Infinite. Our finite mind cannot grapple with the infinite Yahweh. We would die with minds fully blown.
So, having explained the situation, God points out a rock on which Moses was to stand, where this experiencing God event would take place. God explains that he would move Moses to a cleft in the rock and then cover him with his hand. I’m guessing he tells Moses this in advance, because being moved by God into a cleft of a rock was most likely a fairly unnerving experience. Most likely the most important thing we are to see here is that God is protecting Moses. And, of course, that Moses is allowed to see as much as he can handle. There is poetry here. There is reality here. God gives us what we can handle; what we can wrap our minds around. And he protects us from what we cannot handle.
God is beyond my ability to grasp. He is the infinite I Am. How are we to be in a relationship with a being who is so vast; so beyond us; so awesome, that our minds would implode if we saw his essence. Again, I believe we sometimes are too comfortable with our view of God, reducing him to a cuddly teddy bear. This is the one who uttered the cosmos into existence. He cannot be bound by time and he will not be limited by our imagination. But there is a more relevant truth for us here. God wants us to know him, you know, as much as we are able. He even sent his son, his essence, and wrapped it in flesh so that we can get a closer look than Moses was allowed. The face of God is found in the story of Jesus. Look! Walter.