“They turned their backs to me and not their faces…
Think about this: if our faces aren’t turned towards God, our backs are. To be honest, many times I wish this weren’t true. I wish that I could hide from God like Adam and Eve hid in the garden. I often want to find a good-sized tree to duck behind so God can’t see the fresh juice from the forbidden fruit running down the side of my mouth. But, truth be told, the only thing that Adam and Eve were hiding were their faces. Their backs were fully exposed. So it is with us. The trees are too small; God too big.
Sometimes I think that we are like Moses, thinking we are hiding when really, we’re exposed the whole time. Moses, “looking this way and that and seeing no one…killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand” (Exodus 2:12). But of course, that wasn’t the end of the story. The very next day someone said to Moses, “‘are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?’” (v. 13). What a dreadful moment it must have been when he realized that he wasn’t nearly as hidden as he thought he was. It gets worse: “When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh…” (v. 15). It’s one thing when one of your countrymen finds out what you did, but quite another when Pharaoh does. But if it’s bad when Pharaoh finds out, what about when God finds out? What do you do when you realize that what you did wasn’t hidden from God? Moses could run from Pharaoh, but can one run from God? How frightening it is to think that God, seeing our sin, is standing right behind us. Surely God will strike our exposed backs, right? But suddenly, we find that the news we thought was frightening – God is watching! – is quite the opposite. God didn’t strike our backs with God’s fists like we thought. Instead, God used God’s own hands to make clothes to cover the exposed areas we were trying so carefully to hide
How often do we talk about people, maybe even ourselves, as being far from God? We can’t seem to get this idea out of our heads that we need to make rather lengthy pilgrimages to somehow find our way back to the Divine. But God is not far. The Hebrew word for repentance doesn’t mean pilgrimage, it means return (pilgrimage can be wonderful, but not as a necessity for repentance). You’re not as far away as you think–you’re simply facing the wrong direction. God wants to see your face, not your back.
It is so important that we get rid of this dangerous idea that God is waiting to strike us. Jewish philosopher Martin Buber wrote,
“Nothing can doom man but the belief in doom, for this prevents the movement of return.”
Maybe read that Buber quote again slowly. Is there any way in which you feel doomed? Here is some good news for you: doom is not what is waiting for you if you turn towards God; healing is. How do we know? We know beca use when we turn around we see that God’s hands are not closed fists ready to strike, but open, scarred, and ready to heal. When we turn we recall Isaiah’s words:
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
So let acknowledge our sin. This is utterly important (and it’s also a revelation that the Spirit of God is already at work!). But, and this is equally important, let us drop the belief that we are doomed, that we are far away, and that God is ready to strike. Again, Isaiah puts it best:
“Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon”.
Gracious God, forgive our sins. Forgive our wrong understandings of you that have kept us from you. We offer you not our backs, but our faces. Heal us. Amen.
*Image Credit: Tokkoro.com