There are a lot of things we like to look at which we don’t necessarily long to experience ourselves. Ever watch surgery TV? Ever gawked at a car accident? Remember William Hung? How about Shark Week? That’s a fascinating phenomenon, isn’t it? The Discovery Channel has annually dedicated a week of programming to sharks for over 25 years. It’s amazing this has lasted so long. Our culture has a strange fascination with sharks. They intrigue and inspire us. We long to witness more of them. We want to know more. We’re curious. Even still, the vast majority of us would never get in the water with a shark. The fear that a shark might get a hold of us and really mess us up keeps us wary of shark-inhabited waters.
In Exodus 20, the Hebrews are doing their shark week. By Exodus 20, the Hebrews have seen God in action. They witnessed the plagues in Egypt. They had experienced God’s special care for them as they fled their pursuing Egyptian captors. God had delivered them to freedom from slavery. By Exodus 20, they were convinced God had some power. They wanted to see and know more. But there was no way they were about to jump into the proverbial waters with that Being. God looked fascinating, but God could also really mess you up if God got a hold of you. Did you see what he did to Pharaoh? God will mess you up. So when they saw a cloud descend to earth before them and they had discerned that it was surely the presence of the Divine, they decided to keep a safe, observable distance. Instead of going to meet God, they sent Moses. “Moses, you go. We’ll watch from back here.”
It’s been a long time since we witnessed the Divine as a cloud of smoke, thunder, and lightning. Today, we call God “Father” and “friend”. These are comfortable names for a being that still makes us incredibly uncomfortable (it’s a bit like calling a shark “Smiley” or “Ol’ Blue”). The New Testament gives us a new side of God. There we encounter a God who is clear about being concerned primarily with love–and that makes us feel pretty good. But we still remember that getting in the water with God can mess us up.
I’m reminded of our point of view concerning the Divine every time I attend a worship service where the most prized seats are those situated the farthest to the back. We’re still a little wary of getting chomped by God. We want to see some signs of God’s presence, but we’d really like to observe them from the back of the room with a healthy amount of space between ourselves and the action up front (without realizing that the action is everywhere). We’re willing to watch what’s going on… but we’re pretty wary about actually getting in there.
I don’t mean to suggest that our pew position makes us any more or less likely to get “messed up” by God. But, our posture (or position) in relationship to the Almighty does make us more or less likely to have an encounter with the Divine. If our posture is wary and distant, we may find it tough for God to reach us. If our posture is eager and open… then LOOK OUT.
The question is: are we accepting of being Hebrews who are willing to watch the show from afar, or are we willing to take the posture of Moses and jump into the water?
How bad can getting “messed up” by the Creator actually be? Have we not seen in the witness of the New Testament that when we get “messed” by God, it’s a lovely mess? Given the next opportunity to jump into the water with the Divine, what might our posture be?