By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people. Exodus 13:21-22
The approach of Easter has me thinking of the first redemptive act of God. Not the cross, but the Exodus. God rescuing his people with the blood of a lamb. God leading his people out of slavery into a life of the unknown; a life of freedom and wildness; a life of mistakes and forgiveness. A life of real relationship.
They would have doubts, they would have questions. They would have outbursts of joy and trust, followed by outburst of anger and doubt. They would have their ups and downs (some really big ones too!), but they would be God’s people and he would be their God.
Relationship. That’s what the Exodus is about. The freedom that comes from real relationship with God. Freedom from oppression and the freedom of access to God.
And as I read of the great exodus I paused over the words found in Exodus 13:
“…the Lord went ahead of them…to guide them on their way…”
And it says that the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night—that was God’s presence—never left them.
He never left them. They didn’t always feel him there, didn’t always believe he was there, but God was always there. Always with them.
The gift of redemption is in many ways the gift of God’s presence. It means he doesn’t wander off or forget to be involved in where we are and what we are going through.
Some days are lonely. Some days we look around and feel like we would follow God anywhere if we just had the slightest idea where he was at the moment. Or where we wanted us to go. But we feel left alone.
There are days when I would pay top dollar for a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day to guide me! Sure the Israelites had to live in the desert for forty years and nightly shake the sand out of their underwear. And sure they never knew where tomorrow would lead them and if they would ever see this promised land. And sure they were, on more than one occasion, on God’s list of things to completely destroy before the end of the day, but at least they woke every morning to see God’s presence in the cloud and they feel asleep each night to the glow of his presence in the fire light. They knew he was there because they could see him.
And sometimes I am envious. I want that too.
But then I recall that they also became somewhat de-sensitized to it. The presence of God became common-place, casual, expected and no big deal. They lost, it seems, a sense of the value of God’s presence.
Maybe the fact that God’s presence is less visible, less “easy” means we appreciate him more. Maybe.
But it also means we experience the hurt of not feeling him, not seeing him. Of wondering where he is and why we are so alone. I am drawn to the guttural cry of Jesus from the cross, a cry that I can at times relate to.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Mark 15:53
Even Jesus, God Himself, felt the pain and doubt of loneliness that can come at times. And it is true that when I question where god has gone I look for him, and when I wonder why I don’t see him I listen for him and when I doubt if he’s watching I cry out to him.
So perhaps the sometimes elusiveness of God’s presence is the gift.
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” Hebrews 13:5-6