God's Invisibility Cloak
God’s Invisibility Cloak
Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve wondered what God looked like. At first I figured He was just like a puff of smoke, since He was a “spirit” and didn’t have flesh and blood like me, but then I remembered reading in Genesis that He decided to make man in His “image”, whatever that means. I would have internal debates with myself if He was talking about the essence of Himself or, you know, His hair color. Was this “image” something internal, inside of us; something that could not be quantified per se but that everyone will be able to recognize when we get to heaven and see Him outright? Or does God have hairy armpits like me?
Maybe it’s just my odd mind at work, but if, by some chance, we aren’t the only ones He created, and out there in the vastness of the Universe is another life form, another planet, and another people He is trying to have relationship with, would He have created them in His image as well, or would He have thought about throwing a curve ball, spicing things up a bit? These are the things I ponder, and they are probably the stupidest things I could spend my time pondering. But even as a child I wondered what God looked like, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. Quite often for me it has simply been a case of pure, unadulterated curiosity. Is He absolutely enormous? For a long time, whenever I thought about heaven, I pictured billions of people worshipping at the throne, and two big feet sitting there. Like He’s so big we can’t even see the top of Him. And of course He wears sandals in this vision, because everything we acquaint with the Almighty always has to adhere to the clothing and customs of the Middle East. But then, God existed long before Israel did, so I wonder if He had some kind of different, unique, funky style until He became such good friends with Abraham and Moses, and then did they affect Him so much that they actually changed his choice of fashion? What are we going to do if we get to heaven and the Father is rocking some Adidas? Maybe He changes it up all the time: a little Nike here, some flip flops there, an occasional Dutch wooden clog. I told you my mind goes to weird places sometimes.
While I certainly do jest (sort of), there is a very real concept here that I think deserves some attention. God DOES look like something. He DOES have a form and a body (of some sort). We can conjecture all we want, and paint as many pictures of old men with beards sitting on clouds, but the fact remains that God is real, and as such, has a form and shape. And I just can’t believe that I’m the only one out here who has wondered why in the world He doesn’t just show Himself.
One of the great frustrations for me as a Christian (as well as a filmmaker) is the fact that I have to try to convince people to fall in love and believe in someone who is…well…invisible. When I was having my own personal spiritual crisis in my 20s, wondering if God was even real at all and if so, why this Christianity He created was so boring and lame (just go to church, be a good person, and believe the right things? Really? That’s it?), I would often ask Him to show Himself. Give me five seconds, that’s all I needed for a lifetime of devoted service. Just a quick glimpse, even if it’s just one of those sandaled feet of Yours. But of course I’d stare at nothing and sink deeper into my existential despair.
But then I started making these movies about God, and I started seeing Him move on people right before my eyes, and I would see impossible things happen to people as if, well, as if an invisible person walked up to them and did something to them. As I saw more and more evidence of Him, I thought about seeing Him physically less and less. As I became better friends with Him, I started to understand His personality more, His character, and the need to see with my physical eyes waned. It hasn’t totally left, but it isn’t front and center like it used to be.
But until recently, I never stopped wondering why it has to be this way. Why does God choose to remain invisible? The whole world would believe if, just for a few seconds, He revealed Himself to everyone. Imagine how much suffering, how many bad choices and prodigal stories could be avoided with a simple pulling back of the divine invisibility cloak. Why not just do it then?
The answer, I think, lies in the one time in all of history that He actually DID do this…
Aside from the garden of Eden, when God walked in the flesh with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day and (probably) told them jokes, there is one instance in the Bible when God revealed His true form. Something like this is only reserved for the closest and dearest of friends, and while David gets the prize for being the man after God’s heart in the Bible, Moses gets to be God’s best friend.
In Exodus 33:18-23, there is a peculiar and thrilling narrative where one man finds Himself in the peculiar position of, in a sense, finding God in a really good mood towards him, and in return, he goes for broke and asks for the moon.
If you recall, the Israelites have just committed the whole golden calf sin, and Moses has interceded with God to spare them. Yes, they’re morons, he tells God, but they’re Your morons. God relents on account of Moses, and then makes this remarkable statement:
“This very thing I will do, because you have found favor in My sight and I know you by name.” (vs. 17)
Let’s go into this scene, shall we?
God is angry going into this conversation. There’s no bones about it, He’s ready to slaughter this “stiff necked people” and start all over again with Moses as the new Abraham. Moses, in a sense, calms God down (before you get angry and write me a nasty email admonishing me for writing that, remember, this is Old Covenant here, and Jesus’ death has permanently calmed God down). And now they’re having a good old fashioned love fest together. God tells Moses, essentially, that he’s His favorite, and that they’re good friends (I know you by name). And this is where sometimes reading these stories in the Bible without imagination can kind of ruin the richness of these events. Typically we read that, then move onto the next verse, which, in my opinion, feels a little out of place.
“And Moses said, “Show me Your glory.” (vs. 18)
On the surface, we read it and move on. But enter the scene, and really think about what is happening here, and it blows your mind (at least it blows mine). God is mad. He’s just gone out on a limb and chosen this crew as His special kids, He does all this incredible stuff for them, makes all kinds of promises to them–not for anything they’ve done, but just because they’re them, and they return the favor by worshiping a statue. It would be the equivalent of me going above and beyond to bless my kids, even when they’ve been pretty rotten and don’t deserve it, and they take my blessing, walk outside, and thank a tree.
But Moses pleads with God to have mercy when mercy has not been earned, and God, because He is slow to anger and rich in mercy, affirms Moses’ plea. He listens to him because Moses is a friend.
I can just see this scene playing out, and I put myself in Moses’ shoes at that moment. It has to be a momentous situation. The God of the Universe has just listened to you and has just opened His heart to you. There’s a lot of goodwill happening here, and Moses must have realized that He’s never going to have a chance as good as this again. He’s heard the “voice”, but he’s never seen the speaker. So he goes for broke and blurts out the Biblical equivalent to, “Can I please see what you look like?”
It’s the question every human in history who has believed in God has thought at some point or another. What does God look like? And here Moses steps out on a limb and just goes for it. And what does God do? He says yes! Of course, He tells Moses that he can’t see His face, because if he did that Moses would certainly die (apparently pure goodness would make your head explode). But beyond that limitation, this is interesting if not for the mere fact that it proves beyond a doubt that God actually HAS a face! He actually looks like something.
God tells Moses he can see His back. Then He tells him that “where I am standing there is a cleft in a rock, and I’ll put you in there then pass by you so you can see my back, and I will speak my name to you.” (Exodus 33:22) This reveals two interesting points about God:
1) He apparently can exist in a particular spot. I believe He is everywhere and in everything, but at the same time, in some way, He can BE somewhere in particular.
2) Not only does He give Moses what he asks for, but He gives him MORE than he asks for! Moses never asked God to speak His name, but God does it anyway. Most likely it is because God’s glory does not just reside in His person, but also in His voice, which is law when spoken, as well as His name, which defines and represents Him. And of course, the true heart of God is always to give to us abundantly beyond what we even ask for.
We know the rest of the story. God passes by, give Moses a little speech about how amazingly patient yet devoted to righteousness He is, then he shows Moses His back. They chat some more, God gives Moses more of the law, and then Moses heads down the mountain back to the people.
Of course, when he arrives back home, everyone freaks out because Moses’ face is shining. They make him put a veil over his face because…well…because why? Was it scary? Was it too disconcerting? Did it hurt their eyes? The Bible is never really clear on what the Israelites’ problem was with Moses glowing face, but that’s not really the point here. The point is the very reason why God MUST remain invisible.
If just seeing God’s back caused a man’s face to glow and an entire people group to become so uncomfortable that they made him cover it up, imagine what would happen if God showed Himself in any real, physical way. God is so powerful and so irresistible that if He did show Himself, we would be powerless to not bow to Him and worship Him. But God is not looking for people who are so impressed by His physicality that they reflexively bow to Him. He is looking for relationship in the deepest sense of the word. While it makes things infinitely harder for Him to woo us and draw us to His heart, He realizes that invisibility is the only way to make sure that our love for Him is genuine and wholly our choice. Once He reveals Himself, the whole world will bow before Him, and the gig is up (Isaiah 45:23). But until that day, He’s going to dedicate His entire existence to trying to get you to fall in love with someone you can’t see.
So why must God remain invisible? The answer is simple. Love. It is another side to His character that should impress even the most jaded heart. While showing Himself would speed everything up and make a relationship inevitable, God chooses to do it the hard way so that you and I have the right of refusal. He’s not going to force Himself on anyone, because that goes against everything that love is.
But the one guy in history who got to peek behind the curtain only did so because he had a relationship with the Almighty in a way no one else ever has. God does not honor your service to Him as much as He honors your relationship with Him.
Too often, though, we think it’s the other way around.