The Lord said to Moses: “I will make all my beauty pass before you. … You may see my back; but my face is not to be seen.” Exodus 33:23
For all those who wonder where God is as they go through life, I would like to point out that if we could see God as we go along, we would not need faith. We walk by faith and only then can we look back and see that God has been there all along. We see God, like Moses, not face to face, but from behind.
When it comes to the Bible, many think that some writer was there taking notes as God did his thing or that God was dictating what to write down as things were happening. It’s not that simple, of course. Holy Scripture is the written down experiences of God, by God’s People, after the fact.
In my own experiences of God, and there have been several, his guiding presence was not all that clear in the moment, but only from hindsight. Let me share a few of the times I have seen God from behind.
I suppose the whole world knows by now that my dad and I had a conflicted relationship. As I was going through it, it was a cause of deep pain. God seemed absent sometimes. But now, looking back so many years later, I can say that my dad taught me, without either of us realizing it at the time, some of the skills that have been most useful to me as a priest. From hindsight, I realize that God was there all the time.
Growing up, I could never seem to do things the way I thought other kids got to do them. The normal doors seemed to be always closed to me.
Because of that, I was forced to be creative, to find alternatives and to be imaginative. As a result, I have been quite successful in creating innovative ministries — whether it was in the home missions, at the cathedral or now at St. Meinrad Seminary.
When I received my first assignment to the home missions, I was completely distraught. I was sad, angry and very disappointed. God seemed to be deaf to what I really wanted. That assignment turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. From hindsight, I realize God was there all along.
2005 was the worst year of my priesthood. God seemed to be so absent. The sexual abuse scandal was raging in Louisville. My ideas for the Vocation Office weren’t even looked at back then. It was right after I hit bottom that I started writing this column and my ideas attracted a $2,000,000 gift from the Lilly Foundation. From hindsight, I realize that God was there all the time.
Never give up! “Often it’s the last key on the ring that opens the door.” Just because you cannot see God acting, does not mean he is not acting.
Father J. Ronald Knott