DarknessMercy is my favorite Bible word. Some would say that mercy differs from grace because grace deals with giving for the sake of love while mercy deals with withholding something. After all, to be merciful typically means to not give someone what they deserve. Mercy does not mean withholding love or affection, rather it is withholding something usually punishment, to better demonstrate love. Mercy is God not treating us as our sins deserve. Yet if I am honest with myself God is terrifying because of the things He withholds. Yes, every good and perfect gift is from above, this is one way he demonstrates his grace, but also from above comes the things that he refuses to give or reveal and the things he removes or takes away for the sake of his love. In God’s discipline, mercy is present in sparing us from a mostly self-inflicted judgment that would have left us much worse off.
For today though the question of how God can both be terrifying yet merciful is on my mind. In Exodus 20:19-21, God had just given Moses the Ten Commandments, and after thunder, lightning, a trumpet blast, and smoke coming off a mountain, the people are rightly afraid. It reminds me of the scene in the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy and her companions are confronted by the not so great or powerful Oz and are standing, trembling before him while listening. That is until the cowardly lion takes off running down the corridor and jumps out a window.
The people stay at a distance not wanting to hear directly from God while Moses is willing to stand and listen before His presence. Yet Moses says to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” I don’t know if you notice the contradiction but Moses says don’t be afraid when you’re supposed to afraid so you won’t sin. The people remain, while Moses approaches the thick darkness where God was. This is a curious thought. 1 Timothy 6:16 says God lives in unapproachable light; in Exodus, God is in approachable thick darkness. From the thunder to the lightning to the smoke to the thick darkness, it all seems intentionally terrifying.
They should be scared, but why isn’t Moses? The difference could be that Moses knows God is full of mercy. God makes himself approachable in a darkness that Moses can’t see through or past or even into. The only thing Moses knew was that God was in the darkness and that God in the midst of darkness is merciful. The knowledge of mercy tempered fear enough to approach God boldly. Mercy should have the same effect on the Christian. One can approach God even when everything before them seems dark. Although that in itself can be difficult.
At least in Egypt when the people were enslaved, and at least when we were enslaved by sin and other passions we could see what was coming next. At least when we disobeyed we had an idea of the consequences. Here walking towards God in obedience sometimes means you only get to hear his voice, not a guarantee of what’s in store next. If you know the story of Moses you know leading the people was the furthest thing from easy or full of light. Yet because of God’s mercy I’m not sure that difficulty mattered. That’s the discussion for next time.

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