There Israel encamped before the mountain, while Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel”…And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.”
On Mount Sinai, the LORD descended with a power never before witnessed by the people of Israel. Not even Moses had seen God on display like that. The mountain was enveloped by black, kiln-like smoke—thick and dark, wrapping around from base to peak. No doubt such a sight was beautiful, but even more so—terrifying. Thunder rolled from within and was heard without. When Moses returned from communing with the LORD, the people of Israel stood trembling in fear, begging Moses to return up the mountain lest they be destroyed. And so Moses did; walking towards that thick darkness to commune with their God whose glory was terrifyingly beautiful.
Through Abraham, God covenanted that He would set the world to rights through His newly formed people. In Exodus, He remembered His promise and set His people free through Moses to be a blessing to all nations. Israel witnessed God’s resolve and might through the smiting of Egypt. And yet there at that mountain, the people saw their Rescuer God in more power than they could ever have imagined. Their God was a God of authority and glory beyond anything they could possibly fathom.
The glory and power of our God is too vast, too cosmic, too eternal to be limited by the archetypes of light and dark representing good and evil. There is a thick darkness around God, but it does not exist due to any evil, for there is nothing bad or evil or corrupt in Him. But rather, in God exists a holy mystery infinitely outrunning our finite minds. John Owen expressed it in The Mortification of Sin when he wrote, “Can the mind of man, which is as nothing, do any more but swallow itself up in an infinite abyss?... That infinite and inconceivable distance that is between [God] and us, keeps us in the dark as to any sight of His face, or clear apprehensions of His perfections.” (Owen, 125-126) In his prologue, John writes that “no one has ever seen God” but also that “truth came through Jesus Christ.” And so we rejoice in the person of Jesus whom God has chosen to reveal to us. He is the Deliverer of things into which angels long to look. As followers of Christ, we hold these two truths in tension: that our God is eternally beyond us and that He came intimately near us in Jesus Christ. The God Who descended in glory on Mount Sinai, the God we worship, has revealed Himself to us in Jesus Christ and yet remains an infinite mystery.
And so this thick darkness surrounding God means something different for the follower of Jesus. In a world and life without God, there is a darkness we dare not approach. It is frightening in a completely lifeless way. But in living with God there are dark mysteries of His glory with a wholly different meaning. They are mysteries that draw us in. Like a painting by Rembrandt, the dark mysteries of God reveal as much as they hide. As a viewer stands before one of his paintings, she must stare more deeply into the dark places to know what the artist is doing. As she peers into the dark shapes and figures appear, there she learns more about Rembrandt than if she hadn’t pressed in. The mysteries of God’s glory are something like that. They are deep and rich and textured beyond imagining. Rather than retreat in fear from the deep mysteries of God, we press in to look more closely because He came close to us. And there we see depth and dimension of which we could have never dreamed.
The apostle Paul wrote that his union with Christ began to “show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7). Amongst an infinite number of things, union with Christ means we have the opportunity to stare deeply into and contemplate the unfathomable riches of Christ—a mystery hidden for the ages, but now shown to us in Jesus. Life in Christ means we can now begin the search that will continue for all eternity.
We glimpse this on Sunday morning as we gather with other believers. A vision of the exaltation in which we are participating is shown to us in Revelation 4. There John describes for us worship without cessation around the throne of God. He describes worship images so vivid to him they could only be described as being like something else. Even more, the author of Hebrews tells us that we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses. And so, in worship something wildly mysterious happens. We commune and partake with that glorious fellowship around the throne of God. Every Sunday we are given the opportunity to search out the immeasurable riches of Christ together. In corporate worship we participate with the saints worshipping before the throne of the King of Glory. Such a reality is too lofty for us to comprehend. So, let the search party begin.