We started a new summer Sunday school session at College Park Baptist Church yesterday. Two years ago, if you’d told me I’d be happy attending a Baptist church, I’d have said you were crazy as hell. But, College Park isn’t quite like any Baptist church in my experience. That’s born out in the book we’re reading for the summer session: “What We Talk About When We Talk About God“, by Rob Bell. Yesterday was sort of orientation to set the stage for the class. In one of the exercises, we were asked to close our eyes and try to come up with a concrete image of God; then, anyone that wanted to could tell what they saw. The images were varied, but the upshot of it all was that it was hard. Someone mentioned that the Bible tells us humans can’t see God in all God’s glory because it would be too much for our fragile minds to handle. As they said that, I thought “But, Moses saw God once”. Actually, he saw God’s ass.
I’m not kidding, God let Moses see God’s ass and I’m not talking about some angelic donkey, either. In Exodus 33, Moses is having doubts about leading those damn stubborn Israelites anywhere and is arguing with God about it. At one point, Moses asks God to show himself so he’ll know he has God’s favor. God told Moses:
“I’ll make all my goodness pass in front of you, and I’ll proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord.’ I will be kind to whomever I wish to be kind, and I will have compassion to whomever I wish to be compassionate. But,” the Lord said, “you can’t see my face because no one can see me and live.” The Lord said, “Here is a place near me where you will stand beside the rock. As my glorious presence passes by, I’ll set you in a gap in the rock, and I’ll cover you with my hand until I’ve passed by. Then I’ll take away my hand, and you will see my back, but my face won’t be visible.”
Oh sure, the translation I quoted here (Common English, my favorite)says “you will see my back” and most others say the same thing. But, this is perhaps the only time I actually like the King James Version best. In the KJV, God tells Moses”thou shalt see my back parts“. They make it sound like God mooned Moses.
I realize that all this is irreverent, sacrilegious and maybe even a little offensive. And, if you found it offensive, I apologize. But, I’ve said all this to make a point: God is incomprehensible. Now, when most of us think of the word “incomprehensible” we think of something that defies understanding. While God certainly does that, the definition I’m referring to here is an old one. The archaic meaning of incomprehensible is “having or subject to no limits”. Sometimes, the old definitions are best.
God is too big to be limited to a human form or personality or gender or pretty much anything else we puny humans could ever dream up. The ridiculous image of Moses getting mooned by God just serves to underscore that incomprehensibility. Although, I’m pretty sure that isn’t what the original author of Exodus had in mind.