Today's eMo is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, The Alsolife, which will be published by Church Publishing in the fall.
The Burning Bush
Who are you, Moses wanted to know four thousand years ago, and we have been wrestling with this reasonable question ever since. For some of us, it has led to conundrum upon conundrum as we have created intricate structures of thought about God, edifices that soared far above the experiences of human life. But Moses doesn't ask a speculative question. Freeing the Hebrews from their enslavement will be a formidable task, and he wants to know who will undergird his response. Is he on his own, or does he have backup?
Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you."
The God of their fathers is one thing, a concrete memory -- surely most of the Israelites to whom Moses must make his case will remember at least some of the stories about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Name, though, is something else entirely. I AM? What is that supposed to mean? You want us to leave everything we know here to follow -- what? A sentence fragment?
God is existence itself. And, while the sophisticated I AM response to Moses may be a newer addition, it is far from modern. Somebody in very ancient times thought God was much more than the partisan deity of the Israelites. God was existence itself.
Theologians may ask speculative questions about God, but most people have more personal reasons for inquiring into the divine nature. Theology is interesting all the time, but it becomes urgent to us when loss threatens. How can we get free? What will the death I am facing mean? For that matter, what did my life mean? Will I ever see her again? Will I get a second chance? Does pain go on forever? It is these existential cries that rise heavenward. When we speak of God, are we speaking of anything that will make it more possible for us to live in peace of spirit? Are there means by which the power that creates the universe can "incarnate" for us in a way that our minds can handle, enough for us to touch it just a bit? Or even just to imagine touching it?
Or are these just interesting puzzlements, the parlor games of a religious temperament -- literally, of no earthly good?
No. This is more than a game. Our losses resound throughout our lives. They are the reason our exploration of who God is matters.