We’ve always been intrigued by a story that comes to us from the Book of Exodus about Moses’ request to see God. Actually, Moses asks to see God’s glory, and God responds that no one who saw that could live. But, God does offer an alternative. God will place Moses in the cleft of a great rock and cover Moses with a hand. Then after God has passed by, Moses may peer out and see God’s back, though God’s face may never be seen.
Throughout the millennia, commentators on biblical texts have spilled gallons of ink explaining this encounter between Moses and God. What does it all mean – being granted a glimpse of the back side of God? For us, one of the most compelling arguments about its meaning comes from ancient authors who claimed that we are not to understand God’s “passing by” in this story, spatially – that is, referring to the actual front or back surfaces of God. No, we are to understand God’s “passing by” Moses, temporally. In other words, God is telling Moses something about how time reveals God’s presence. God is telling Moses that he will not be able to see God coming. He will only see God clearly by looking back. You might say, God can be seen best by looking in the rearview mirror.
In June 2005, Steve Jobs, CEO and co-founder of Apple Computers, was invited to deliver the commencement address at Stanford University. As he spoke to the students about his life, he was looking back, as in a rearview mirror, and trying to see how it all made sense. Jobs called it “connecting the dots.” He shared many details of his life, the good and the bad, the successes and failures, and claimed that every detail had helped him to become the person he ultimately became, capable of doing the things he did.
Jobs said that it would have been impossible to connect the dots looking forward but it was very, very clear looking backwards years later. You cannot connect the dots looking forward, he said, you can only connect them looking backwards. You have to trust that all the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something lying ahead. This approach, Jobs claimed, had never let him down. It made all the difference in his life.
What do you see as you look back? Are there events, circumstances, people or projects that you can recognize as you look back, as having been determinative for your life – forming you, shaping you? Or to put it another way, can you connect the dots of your life? Can you trace the path of your life through all the days and moments, the decisions and apparent accidents, and see how all the points have almost resolutely lead you to this place, now? Can you envision some sheltering, guiding, supporting hand that has been at work through your life to help to bring you safely here? If so, then perhaps you could say you’ve seen God from the back. And with that vision, and the assurance of God’s presence with you in the past, then whatever the future holds ought to look much less worrisome.
We can all follow, dot by dot by dot through life, trusting that it’s all leading somewhere wonderful. Though we cannot see the whole path, we can remain confident that it’s taking us somewhere within the scope of God’s care.