If there’s one problem with being a Christian, it’s that we can get complacent about God. The profound truth about Christianity is that the maker of the universe has become known, more deeply and lovingly than we can ever comprehend. Yet we can become so familiar with “God-talk”, religious jargon, and certain patterns of living than we forget the spectacular and the sublime truths about the divine. We normalise transcendence, and God takes the equivalent position of a Facebook notification in our lives.
We see a daily verse or thought for the day and think “Cool. Great. Got it.” We just don’t have time to “contemplate God”. Life is busy, we’ve got a lot on. Even the renewed sense of spiritual purpose and discipline that can come with the new year – the plan to read the Bible in a year, for example – can turn God into another “thing”, a box to tick, a job to get done.
We may have become materially comfortable, and find that we don’t need to ask God for things that often because well, we don’t really need to. We can talk about salvation, but do we really experience it? Sometimes we can treat God more like a handy helper than a saviour who we’d be lost without.
If God has become distant to us, or somehow boring or over familiar, what can we do? Fortunately, the God we meet in the Bible is never dull, or over familiar, or easily understood, rather he inspires us to wonder. He transcends our understanding, and constantly surprises.
Consider the God Moses meets in a burning bush (Exodus 3). He Is not a distant voice from the clouds, nor does he take the form of an accessible human messenger. This God is a fiery presence, and Moses must take of his sandals, because he stands on holy, set apart ground.
This God is surprising too. This is a God who cares deeply about the slavery of his people, and wants them to be free.
When Moses asks for a name, some kind of label, God responds: “I am who I am.” The Hebrew there could also be translated: “I will be who I will be.” God is elusive, and yet committed to who he is and will be. In time Moses will see the identity of God unfold: God is a God who saves, and who sets people free.
Much later in the Exodus story, Moses sees the glory of God on Mount Sinai:
Then Moses said: “Now show me your glory.”
And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” (Exodus 33.18-20)
Moses asks for glory, and God shows him his goodness, because that is his glory. Goodness, mercy, compassion – these are essential to God’s character, they are what make him glorious. We see this fulfilled in Jesus, in whom we see that God has a face, and that that face is one of love and self-sacrifice.
We are human, and so we lose our way. Yet, God never changes. To experience true wonder at who God is can be hard. Our vision gets clouded, our hearts get distracted, and yet we can count on the fact that God is not like the shifting shadows of the earth. God is who he is, and who he is is glorious. The creator of the universe. The saviour of the world. Rediscovering wonder may mean staring up at the stars for a while, or even just being thankful for the little things. It may mean taking the time to simply be with God, and asking him to show your his character.
Perhaps God became distant in 2016, maybe even because he became so familiar. Do we, like Moses, need to say to God: “Now show me your glory!”