Living the Uncertainty of Our Conviction

Mount Hood
Photo Credit: Dennis Stilwell

Exodus 33:12-23

Moses said to God, “Look, you told me to bring these people, but you haven’t given me anyone to help. You’ve said on all my job reviews that I’m a stand-out, your favorite employee. So, if that’s really true, show me how you want things so I can understand you and be your favorite. And, don’t forget, they’re your people.”

God said, “My avatar will go with you, and I’ll give you some time off.”

Moses said to God, “If your avatar won’t go, don’t bother sending us up there. How’s anybody going to know I’m your favorite, how are your people going to know, unless you go with us? How else are your people and I going to be any different from anybody else on the planet?”

God said to Moses, “I’ll do what you ask, because you’re my favorite, and you are a stand-out.”

Moses said, “Please, show me who you are – not the avatar, the real you.”

And God said, “I will show you my whole self, and tell you my real name. And I’ll be generous with whomever I please, and I’ll kind to whomever I please. But you can’t see my face. I’d show you my face, but then I’d have to kill you.” God continued, “Look, you stand over here on this rock and while I pass by you can hide in the big crack in the rock while I cover you with my hand until I’m past. Then I’ll take away my hand and you can see my back. But you can’t see my face.”

There are three difficulties with religious leadership, even for the stand-outs like Moses:

  1. you don’t get much help,
  2. it’s hard to get time off, and
  3. all you’ve got to go by is a symbolic representation (an avatar) of God.

At the end of the day, when you come back down the mountain, all you have is your word against theirs that what you’ve heard and are convinced of is real. Whenever you make a move, you do it with the conviction that God will be faithful to the promise you heard on the mountain, but you don’t ever get to see God. The best you can do is see, in hindsight, where it appears to you God has been. You can see God’s back (and maybe pick up a trail), but not God’s face.

This is particularly problematic because people generally want convincing proof. Especially when the stakes are high. Especially when you’re asking people to give their lives (a religious commitment) to a project. People turn to religion when their lives are disrupted and they want answers. But concrete answers are the one thing good religion cannot provide – the whole religion project is to help people live more fully with the questions.

If Moses is any indication, the temptation for religious leaders is wanting to be able to finally provide answers. But as Moses talks with God, every one of Moses’ demands for relief is answered by some version of, “you’re just going to have to live with it.” Even the question, “How will people know we’re different from anyone else?” is answered by “I’ll do whatever I’m going to do.”

And that’s the point. However strongly you may feel that you are specially favored, there is no way to tell that one group is any better than any other on the planet based on religious conviction. From the outside, they all look equally plausible (or implausible). So all that is left is to follow your conviction (religious or otherwise) through life’s questions.

2 thoughts on “Living the Uncertainty of Our Conviction”

  1. Thank you so much. These are thoughts that I have struggled to put together as I have very much felt in the wilderness. I thank God for work and for your willingness to share> it has been greatly encouraging, validating and uplifting for it suggests to me that I am not the only one.

    1. You’re very welcome. I’m sure you’re not the only one, but often part of being in the wilderness is feeling like you’re the only one.

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