I’m listening to God right now. He’s using the voice of a BBC newsman telling us that an Iceland volcano is still disrupting airline flights throughout Europe. The map on the television shows that Estonia, where I’ve been speaking, is right at the center of the ash cloud. So my scheduled flight to London today had to be cancelled. My ticket from London back to the States, set for a couple of days from now, is also out of date since I won’t be there in time to use it.
An hour earlier I was also listening to God as I read in the Bible book of Numbers about his providential rescue of Israel—a rescue that had a whole series of surprises in it, including a forty-year delay in Israel reaching their destination. I’m hoping my own delay in Estonia won’t last forty hours, let alone forty days or years, but who knows!
I know, of course, that there’s a big difference between the experience of the Israelites in the Sinai as they listened to God, and my experience here in a Tallinn hotel. And I don’t mean the difference between the bed, shower, television set, and internet access I have here compared to the stark life they had. No. It might even seem that they were better off than we are because God was with them, speaking to them. Listen to the particulars.
And when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with the LORD, he heard the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim; and it spoke to him. Numbers 7:89
What I would give right now to go to a tent and have God’s voice tell me how to get back home as quickly and as inexpensively as possible! Maybe even to transport me bodily!
Yet, as I reflect on this business of how God communicates with us I find that the Apostle Paul denied that Moses had more access to God than we do. Quite the opposite! We have a serious advantage over Moses because he had to go to the tent of meeting for his conversations and today God comes to us and remains with us constantly.
Here’s just a segment of what Paul explained.
Since we have such a hope [in the Spirit’s ministry], we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. . . . Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:12-18
In the next few verses of this text Paul goes on to explain that the object of this Spirit-based gaze of faith is “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” [4:4]. So while the glory Moses had—from going to meet with God face-to-face—would subside over time, our own glory of being transformed actually increases over time.
What I take from this is that Christ’s coming has given us a portrayal of God in human terms. His life and teaching as portrayed in the Scriptures are what the Spirit now uses to make us more and more like Christ. The change is ongoing and constant; and the Word is his voice to us in this continuing process of communication.
The difference between then and now—between the time of Moses and our day—is that Moses would go to God to speak about the challenges he and the nation were facing. So, too, Paul addressed challenges in life. In fact, in the rest of 2 Corinthians 4 he wrote of the challenges he was facing because of his devotion to Christ. Each challenge for Paul was like a new spiritual weight-lifting exercise, and his ambition was to be able to bear the “eternal weight of glory” [4:17-18] that was yet to come.
So what about God and the BBC broadcaster? The television figure was certainly not God’s presence to me in the sense that he would serve as God’s agent or image to lead me. That image is found in Christ alone—both in the Old and New Testaments. What the TV news offers me are pressures that cause me to ask of Christ’s Spirit in me, “Okay, Lord, what’s next? How will this make me more like Christ?”
He answers that his ambition for me is that “what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” [2 Corinthians 5:4] and that our ambition towards him should be to “make it our aim to please him” [5:9]. It’s now up to me to apply these values to my current trip planning.
What about Moses, then? He lacked the Bible and needed to go to the tent to hear God’s new words of revelation. We, on the other hand, now have God’s fully-developed revelation—Scriptures—to coach us in how to please him whenever we meet new challenges.
To sum up, the Bible is our point of access to God’s heart and the Spirit is our encouraging and transforming companion. Our highest commitment—in a love inaugurated through new birth—is to delight him. The challenges of life are what we need in order to start asking questions. And, after asking, we can start learning new dimensions of God’s care and provision for us, with the Scriptures serving like a headlamp along the way. The TV simply tells me what the trail ahead looks like: it’s sometimes dull, sometimes exciting.
A familiar verse that comes to mind at moments like this says it well: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths” [Proverbs 3:5-6].