As we read the Bible it seems as if God regularly appears to the saints of old. By the time we get to Israel leaving Egypt God is showing up almost daily to these wandering Jews. But as you read on it wasn’t all that great for God or His people. Just as God found it nearly impossible to live among sinful people, the Israelites found it nearly impossible to live with a holy God in their midst. They even turned down the opportunity to talk to Him, preferring Moses meet with God on their behalf (Exodus 21:19). We see that even though God dwelt in their midst in the Tabernacle, fed them daily with Manna, led them by a cloud and pillar of fire, executed instantly those who rebelled, and gave them a meticulous code of ethics called the Law, they still lacked faith and obedience…which is what God was looking for in the first place. Their true condition made it virtually impossible to be near God. Some kind of greater work or transformation needed to be done to their souls.
Even those of us who want God to reveal Himself with supernatural signs and wonders must admit that the fireworks of Moses, Elijah and Elisha were just a blip in Israel’s history that produced little lasting faith. We submit that the miracles in Egypt, the supernatural victories during the wars of Israel, the awesome ministry of Elijah and Elisha, and the signs and wonders of Jesus and His disciples had more to do with them dispossessing the power of the Devil than trying to prove God’s existence and create faith in God’s people. Jesus Himself even said in Matthew 16:4, “a wicked and adulteress generation seeks after a sign.” In effect He was saying, “You won’t be faithful to me unless I give you an incentive to be faithful.” Try telling that to your spouse and see how long your marriage will last.
You see, when God tried to reveal Himself, He was often misunderstood in the eyes of a sinful people. Sin keeps us from seeing God with eyes that can behold and understand Him as He truly is.
His Presence Would Overwhelm Us
God also seems to limit His exposure to us so as to not influence our behavior in His favor. Take the story of Job for example. God didn’t sit down with Job and explain the existence of a terrible Devil who desired to destroy him, although most scholars believed the ancients knew of the Devil from the oral traditions passed down from Adam. God simply allowed Job to be free to respond to his circumstances according to his own will. God gave Himself no advantages.
Philip Yancey says it like this, “The gambler would say God stacked the deck against Himself. The cynic would say the Creator is taunting and toying with His creation”. But only an all-knowing God truly knows the delicate balance between revealing Himself and holding Himself back in order to produce true obedience in the heart of the believer. Remember, God has had a plan from the foundation of the world that we free-will, yet sinful humans would stand before Him blameless and in love. (Ephesians 1:14). Somehow He will make us blameless and we will truly and freely love Him.
This seeming unwillingness for God to reveal Himself fully to us can be better understood in a story told by one theologian about a King who was in love with a humble maiden. Yancey quotes the story about a King in love.
The King of the Universe Falls in Love
“There once was a King like no other King. Every statesman trembled before his power. No one dared breathe a word against him, for he had the strength to crush all opponents. And yet this mighty King was melted by love for a humble maiden.
How could he declare his love for her? In an odd sort of way, his very Kingliness tied his hands. If he brought her to the palace and crowned her head with jewels and clothed her body in royal robes, she would surely not resist — no one dared resist him. But would she love him? She would say she loved him, of course, but would she truly? Or would she live with him in fear, nursing a private grief for the life she had left behind? Would she be happy at his side? How could he know?
If he rode to her modest forest cottage in his royal carriage, with an armed escort waving their bright banners, that too would overwhelm her. He did not want a cringing subject. He wanted a lover, an equal. He wanted her to forget he was a King and she a humble maiden and to let shared love cross over the gulf between.
The King, convinced he could not elevate the maiden without hurting her and crushing her freedom, resolved to descend. He clothed himself as a beggar and approached her cottage incognito. It wasn’t just a disguise but a new identity he took on. He renounced the throne to win her hand.” (Philip Yancey, Disappointment with God. Zondervan 1988 p.103, 104).
This love story gives new meaning to the following Scripture.
Who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Philippians 2:6–8
During the Old Testament, anytime God appeared to man He would have to tell those He was speaking to, to “fear not”. Through Jesus, anybody could walk right up to God Himself, shake his hand, walk right on by, or spit on Him. The humiliation God has gone through to relate with us and reveal His love for us is staggering to comprehend.
As much as we want God to reveal Himself in a big way, through signs and wonders, we should remember “The Big Picture”. Our God wants genuine love from us because of who He is, not because of how powerful He is. It is really to our advantage that God limits the physical revelation of Himself so that we might choose Him as a person and not His power. It is as we embrace the characteristics of God will we be prepared to meet Him face to face.
Another reason we need to recognize for God’s apparent hiddenness is because He is communicating to a deeper part of our being. He is speaking to us but He speaks in the spirit realm. You can learn more about how He does this here… Be Encouraged, God Will Come into Focus.
Earth is crammed with heaven, and every common bush is afire with God. But only he who sees takes off his shoes. Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
Excerpt from “It Really Is God’s Book”