“And he said, Thou canst not see my face… I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.” – Exodus 33:20, 23
There are several passages in the Word similar to our text. For example, Isaiah writes: “Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour.” This chapter of Isaiah, chapter 45, treats of the omnipotence of the Lord. It tells us that love and wisdom in Him are infinite, that He is the Creator of all things in heaven and on earth, that these truths are revealed in the Word, and that there is no legitimate excuse for unbelief. We find in it the words, “I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded,” and “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” Yet in this same chapter we also find the words quoted above: “Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself.”
The recent disasters – the storm that caused so much damage and loss of life in Japan, the mine disaster in Australia – have again raised in the minds of many the question, “Is there a God?” And this question is asked often by individuals as they pass through trials and misfortunes, as well as in times of war, famine, pestilence, earthquake, and flood, when it is brought before the public mind.
First, let us remember that all things are under the Divine Providence, that although there are misfortunes, they do not bring real harm to those who trust in the Lord, and that whatever happens to a good man the Lord will turn to his eternal happiness and also to the benefit of all mankind. In the Lord’s sight there is no such thing as accident or chance.
The natural world was created through and is maintained by means of the spiritual world; in it the Lord operates in the ultimates of His order, so that the natural world is a means, as is the spiritual world, whereby the Lord can bless mankind and lead them to eternal happiness. All things were created as a means of bringing us happiness.
Many are the delights that come to us through the world of nature: the glory of the sun, the beauty of mountain, forest, and sea. Also the fruits of the field and the treasures of the earth delight us. When nature is bright and smiling, when the earth yields her increase, when we are well and there is nothing to disturb, we instinctively say that God is good. But when sickness comes, when drought or pests consume the crops, when the forces of nature cause destruction, our faith is challenged. It is not so easy to see God as ruler over all.
And indeed in a sense we cannot see Him. We cannot see the particulars of His providence over us. Neither good fortune nor disaster can of itself show Him to us. The Lord’s providence in the world of nature so operates that men may assert or deny God. The Lord so operates in the world as always to leave men in freedom. So in regard to the recent disasters some say that they prove that there is no God, others that they are the result of God’s wrath upon men for their sins.
And not only does God hide Himself in His providence over the world of nature, but in the world of spirit He is likewise hidden. When we come into the spiritual world, there is nothing there which will force us to see or to believe in God. If we see Him, it will be because we want to see Him and have prepared ourselves to see Him.
And as this is a law of the Lord’s operation, it must also be true of His Word. The Word teaches about the Lord, about the spiritual world and life there, about how we should live in this world, and about the Lord’s government over all. But the Word is so written that men will not by reading its pages be forced even to believe that there is a God. The Word was spoken by the Lord, and He is indeed in His Word, but He is hidden within it.
Yet though we may not see clearly the particulars of the Lord’s providence because that would destroy our freedom, we may see His “back parts,” the general principles of His operation, if we will. In chapter 31 of Deuteronomy we read: “And the Lord said unto Moses, Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers; and this people will rise up, and go a whoring after the gods of the strangers of the land, whither they go to be among them, and will forsake me, and break my covenant which I have made with them. Then my anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and will forsake them, and I will hide my face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall befall them; so that they will say in that day, Are not these evils come upon us, because our God is not among us? And I will surely hide my face in that day for all the evils which they shall have wrought, in that they turned unto other gods.”
What are the conditions of seeing the Lord? or, in Scripture language, “Why, O Lord, hidest thou thy face from us?” The face represents the internal man. The variety in human faces is the result of the different types of love in individuals. By the face of the Lord is meant the inmost things in Him, which are mercy, peace, and all good. If we turn away from these things, we cannot possibly see the Lord. To see the Lord face to face is to be conjoined to Him. We see the Lord’s face from the truths which are in the Word from Him, when through these truths we acknowledge and obey Him.
“He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.”
This is a direct promise. If the Lord has not revealed Himself to us, we have not kept the commandments, for it is only through them that He is revealed.
“Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place?
“He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.
“He shall receive the blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
“This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face…”
We seek the Lord when we try to learn and do His will. We cannot find Him if we look for Him in the pride of natural prudence or natural wisdom. Of the truth that leads to the acknowledgment and love of God it is written: “Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.”
Of Israel the prophet Ezekiel writes: “Because they trespassed against me, therefore hid I my face from them, and gave them into the hand of their enemies: so fell they all by the sword.” Yet the promise is that if they will repent, the Lord will be with them and deliver them from their enemies.
If we seek the Lord, we shall be enabled to behold His goodness as revealed in nature, as revealed in the love and services of men, and as revealed in His own Person, giving us love, light, and in the strength of His own hand leading us always in the paths of peace. We shall see Him as a personal God and Savior, our Heavenly Father manifesting His love and mercy in all His works.