Living in the Tension

Read: Exodus 33:15-34:9

The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty. (vv. 6-7)

If I want to know God better, it’s important to study what God says about himself. This passage seems to present a series of contradictions. Is it too dangerous to see God, or can Moses look at him? Is God forgiving and full of steadfast love, or full of vengeance even to three or four generations?

Humans have low tolerance for ambivalence, our minds seeking refuge from the tension of opposing thoughts we cannot reconcile. And we often prefer black-and-white thinking—either it’s all this or all that—all mercy and no judgment, or vice versa—not this messy both/and. God is not hampered by either black-and-white thinking or ambivalence. Moses asked to see God’s glory, and God responded by talking about his both/and character. In the virtues with which God names himself, I see a perfect mix of strength and tenderness, judgment and mercy, and self-control yet ability to act decisively. This is God’s glory.

To keep God’s ability to re-decide, relent, or repent in perspective, remember that although he changes strategies, God cannot act in a manner that is untrue to his character, something for which we can give thanks every day. —Amy Clemens

As you pray, reflect both on how God changes and how God is unchanging and give thanks.

About the Author

amy clemens
Amy Clemens

With a bachelors in journalism from Texas Tech University and a masters from Western Theological Seminary, Amy Clemens enjoys all things writing, particularly about the life of faith. She is blessed with a family that includes husband Fred, five children, and five grandchildren.

Amy has just published her first book, "Walking When You'd Rather Fly: Meditations on Faith After the Fall," which weaves her journey from childhood abuse toward healing and spiritual growth with a practical theology for the big story of God. You can find out more about the book and author at walkingwhenyoudratherfly.com.