Moses and God were not getting along. The people had done that golden calf dance and God didn’t like it and was about to wipe them out. Though Moses didn’t like the golden calf stuff, he had a problem with total destruction. They worked it out, except Moses had one final request. He wanted to see God’s face. That wasn’t going to happen. “You can’t handle the face,” God told Moses. (Exodus 33:20 “No one can see God’s face and live.”)
Instead, God gave Moses all he could handle. “Hide in this crevasse; I’ll put my hand over your eyes as I pass by. Then I’ll take my hand away and you can look at my backside.” (Yes, God apparently mooned Moses. Isn’t the Bible strange?) “But you’re not going to see my face.”
It’s that way for me. Sitting on my deck last Saturday (Yes, on the deck in January. What a beautiful spring weekend!), I watched an overhead plane contribute its exclamation point to the gorgeous sunset. Actually, I didn’t watch the plane; I watched its vapor trail. I couldn’t detect the plane, but I could see clearly where it had been.
I never see God’s face. Instead, I see God’s backside. I never see where God is right now, but I can see where God has been. Not what God’s doing today, but what God did yesterday. (Isn’t the Bible profoundly true?)
After ten years in youth ministry, I left the only people I’d ever worked for (Young Life) to work at Shallowford Presbyterian Church. I felt like I was deserting my faith family, making a self-centered choice of ungrateful disloyalty. But at that time, Shallowford Church had become a wellspring of nourishment for my faith and I had to drink of it as deeply as possible. (Okay, I also preferred the prospect of being paid regularly, which was definitely uncertain with Young Life.)
Was that decision a God thing? At the time, it was a flip of the coin: was God behind this move or was I losing my nerve and taking the safe, easy road? Now, I look back and see fingerprints on each side of my nose. God’s fingerprints, leading me where I needed to go.
I seldom see God in action. Instead, I see God’s vapor trail. If there’s a vapor trail up in the sky, there has to be a jet, right? And it has to be headed somewhere. I’m not completely confident that God is behind my decision to retire this year. The nagging voices inside me whisper, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” and “If it’s still good, why stop now?” I love being pastor of Pleasant Hill Church. I just sense it’s time to stop. And all God’s vapor trails in my skyline help me trust that God is somewhere in this.