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Posteriora Dei

March 16, 2021

“Moses said, ‘Show me your glory, I pray.'” Exodus 33:18

Our Old Testament verse from the Daily Texts is set within a moment of crisis. The disaster of the golden calf has just unfolded. God is poised to send the people forth to the Promised Land, but is not planning on journeying with them any further. For the people of Israel, this means the effective end of their existence. They might keep going, keep living, but as a people the will be finished. The existence of the people depends upon the presence of the Lord. Who else brought them up out of the land of Egypt, as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night? Moses needs to know that the glory of the Lord will not desert the people.

Moses does something that we all do from time to time. We ask God for a revelation, for a sign. Show me your glory! We want to know that all will be well. How many times have we made such a request over the past year?

There is nothing wrong with seeking the Lord’s presence, of course. But note how the Lord responds to Moses’s request:

And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’;[a] and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” 21 And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; 23 then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.” (Exodus 33:19-23)

Moses wants to see God, but instead of seeing the divine face, he sees God’s back. God’s self-revelation is often hidden. Luther refers to this as God showing us the posteriora Dei, the backside of God. So Luther in the Heidelberg Disputation 0f 1518, Theses 19 and 20:

That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who perceives the invisible things of God as understandable on the basis of those things which have been made.

The person deserves to be called a theologian, however, who understands the visible and the “backside” of God seen through suffering and the cross.

God graciously reveals the divine presence to Moses, but hides from Moses at the same time. Moses sees only the back of God. We, too, seek to discern God in the good and the glorious. This has its place, but nowhere is God more clearly revealed than in the last place we’d look for God. God is revealed as power in weakness, as victory in suffering, upon the cross of Calvary.

This is still the scandal of the gospel. If you want to see God, look upon the cross. See Jesus suffer and die. Know in this God’s love for you. This is the God we have, and this is the God we need; a God who is with us in our suffering, proclaiming that Christ gets the last word over suffering and death. Like Israel, our existence is entirely dependent upon God’s presence. God, in Christ and him crucified, is present. Here. For you.

Like Moses, we see only in part, looking out from a cleft in the rock. We cannot see or comprehend the fullness of God’s glory. It would consume us. But we see Jesus on the cross, hidden in plain sight. This is always more than enough.

Be well, friends. You are loved.

God, you show us your glory by emptying yourself upon the rough wood of the cross. In your death, we find life. Let this be enough for us, trusting that although we do not see or know everything, you see and know us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Image: Kreuzigung, Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1532 (public domain).

From → COVID-19

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