God's manifest presence builds
to an unprecedented crescendo of revelation to the nation of Israel at Mt.
Sinai, in spite of human weakness and unfaithfulness (see Exodus 31-34). In
the midst of this weighty interchange between Moses and the Almighty, Moses
entreats, "Show me your glory" (Exodus 33:18). "Show me the fullness
of who you are."
God responds by calling Moses up the mountain again. Then, while Moses
remains hidden in the cleft of the rock, the Lord descends from heaven and
passes by, climactically proclaiming the name of the Lord, proclaiming the
fullness of His nature ... "YHVH, YHVH merciful and gracious,
longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for
thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means
clearing the guilty ..." (Exodus 34:6).
The opening word with which the Master of the Universe describes Himself is
worthy of special attention. Rachum can be translated as merciful
or compassionate. It has the same root letters as the word for womb
(rechem). God proclaims who He is, and the first thing out of His
mouth is "I am like a mother having mercy and compassion on the baby in her
womb!" We could paraphrase the word and hear God calling Himself the
"wombed one." That's how the grammatical form sounds in Hebrew.
This is central to God's identity. God is characterized by the same
loving compassion that nurtures the tiny, invisible, developing baby,
though the baby has no achievements, no good deeds in its present
state, no earned honor. At conception a baby exists purely as potential,
and the baby's potential has no chance of being realized except for a
prolonged period of receiving total provision, care and protection. As
adults, can we still allow ourselves the luxury of this level of dependence
on Him? This level of neediness?
Even those of us who had amazing parents, probably did not get the full
download of this with our mother's milk. The embryos that we once were,
existed in total dependence in our mothers' wombs and even after
exiting the womb. Can we overstate such dependence? Can we outgrow it?
Most relevantly, can we recover it, together with a continual awareness
of God's care for us?
As we internalize who God is, we will begin to understand: "I am loved
unconditionally, even if I stumble." "I am loved without measure" means "I
am not under pressure to prove that I am better than anyone else." It
means, "I don't have to exaggerate to gain respect. I don't have
to put others down to feel good about myself." This begets healthy
self-confidence born of deeply knowing that I am loved, as opposed to
desperately striving to prove that I am likable.
As an overflow of receiving God's mercy toward us, we can become those
who show mercy to our "fellow neighbor" human beings, who are often living
out of their "wounded-ness," out of their "womb-lessness," out of their
feeling of being abandoned in a harsh, cold world (Luke 10:37). We can
allow ourselves to be moved with compassion toward them (Matthew 9:36).
"But the people of Zion said: The LORD has abandoned us! He has
forgotten us. Can a woman forget her nursing baby, and not have compassion
on the son of her womb? Even if mothers should forget, I will never forget
you" Isaiah 49:14-15.