Going Deeper with God: Exodus 33: 18-33 – The “Afterwardness” of God

El Shaddi bannersPeterson’s book Eat this Book teaches us to chew on a passage of scripture, digest it, and then put it to use in practical ways. Our Christian fathers and mothers called this process Lectio Divina. This story about Moses from Exodus 33 teaches us about looking backwards to see God’s work in our lives.

(This post was first published on January 5, 2016. Reading these verses again, I realize that in addition to the “afterwardness of God,”  I have been thinking a lot about being “covered by the hand of God” lately.)

 Exodus 33: 18-23 (MSG)

Moses said, ‘Please. Let me see your Glory.’

 God said, ‘I will make my Goodness pass right in front of you; I’ll call out the name, God, right before you. I’ll treat well whomever I want to treat well and I’ll be kind to whomever I want to be kind.’ God continued, ‘But you may not see my face. No one can see me and live.’

 God said, ‘Look, here is a place right beside me. Put yourself on this rock. When my Glory passes by, I’ll put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with my hand until I’ve passed by. Then I’ll take my hand away and you’ll see my back. But you won’t see my face.'”


In the latest issue of the newsletter for the Center for Action and Contemplation, Fr. Richard Rohr talks about his battle with prostate cancer, which required (successful) surgery.  About ten days after his surgery, he found this scripture passage that describes his journey with his illness and  teaches an important principle for all of life.

He says, “In several sermons, I have used that verse [Exodus 33:23] to teach that our knowledge of God is indirect at best, and none of our knowledge of God is fully face-to-face.  God is always and forever Mystery.  All we see is the ‘backside’ of God.

“This time it was not the indirectness that hit me in this passage but the afterward-ness. My best spiritual knowing almost always occurs after the fact, in the remembering – not seen ‘until [God has] passed by.’ I realized that in the moments of diagnosis, doctor’s warnings, waiting, delays, and the surgery itself, I was as fragile, scared, and insecure as anyone would be, but if I could stay with the full narrative, all the way through, it was afterward that I could invariably see, trust, and enjoy  the wonderful works of God (mirabilis Dei) – the seeing which Moses seemed to experience as the very glory of God.

“The foundation of Jewish faith is the ability of the Jewish people to look at their entire salvation history and then trust that this pattern would never – could never change!  It was largely after the fact that the Jewish faith was formed – and gloriously transmuted into hope for the future. Only after the fact can you see that you were being held and led during the fact.  During the fact, you do not enjoy or trust your own strength at all; in fact, quite the opposite.  That is when God, for some wonderful reason, is able to fill the gap.” (From the Mendicant, Winter, 2016).


♥   I am only a few months into what will be a life-long battle with a cancer of the blood cells, multiple myeloma, [now a 5-year journey] but I can already see again the “afterwardness” of the march with God through life.  Spend some time looking back at your life.  Where do you now see God’s presence in a long ago time of wonder or a time of distress?  How did that presence change the way you looked at the future? Share your stories with your children or grandchildren, as the Jews did.

♥  Rohr mentions the development of the “entire salvation history.”  Page through your Bible and think about the arc of the narrative of the Old Testament from the Creation story through the patriarchs and the exodus through the Kings and to the time of the splitting of the Kingdom and the prophets and the dispersal of the Jews all over the known world. And then page through the Gospel stories from the birth of Jesus to his death and resurrection to the Spirit’s filling the disciples to the conversion and travels of Paul and other disciples and to the maturing of the church.  How often do  you find that the people of this book did not see the work God was doing until afterwards?

♥  When a trial comes upon you of any sort in the near future, remember that Godrock-cleft (1) will put you in the cleft of a rock.  God’s hand will cover the opening because we are not allowed to see God’s glory.  But you will see and feel God’s presence, even if it is the backside of God, as time passes into the afterwards.


“After you take your place in the cleft of the rock, allow God to temporarily shield your sight, and get a glimpse of the divine design “after the fact,” [when] it is much easier to know – really know the patterns of divine love and faithfulness. This is surely why the Jewish people remind us of the importance of remembering. Until we look back and recollect for ourselves the disparate moments of our lives, so often taken for granted, faith remains largely a theory, a memorized Bible quote or a line from a sermon, a speculative hope that does not yet grip our very soul”  (Richard Rohr in the Mendicant, Winter, 2016).

image of rock from smallvillagepastor.wordpress.com

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