Where is God when you need him? That’s the theological question of the ages, and attempting to answer it with some kind of unifying theory risks putting God in box. But there is an interesting incident about where God went and why he went there. At least in this one instance we know why he was where he was.
The tribes of
Israel had escaped from just a few months before. Moses had disappeared into the clouds that sat atop a mountain to confer with God, and they hadn’t seen him for some time. While they wait, they craft a golden calf, substitute it for the true God, and then start a ribald celebration complete with debauchery. Egypt
God was not amused. But he was also merciful. Instead of destroying the nation in his anger, he simply got up and left the room. “Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” (Exodus 33:3)
Put differently, their behavior was so disgusting that God couldn’t stand being around them. “You go on up to your inheritance, and I’ll send an angel in front of you, but I’m out of here.” The stench of sin was so bad that God had the Tabernacle moved completely out of the camp. If people wanted to confer with God, they had to leave the camp to do so (Verse 7).
Two lessons among many can come from this. First – and remember not to put God in a box on this one – sometimes when we wonder where God is when we need him, it could be that he’s not around because we act like we don’t want him around. But remember that box. We shouldn’t discount the possibility that he has gone off someplace, but we should also not despair. God in fact could be right there with us and we just don’t recognize it.
But here’s another lesson. If God is not in the midst of your camp, he’s just outside of it and waiting for you to step outside the camp to approach him. It doesn’t matter that you might have done some disgusting things. He’s waiting outside the camp for you. Go out there and find him.