The Bible reading plan I’m going through with a friend had us reading Exodus 1-3 today. It’s a remarkable story, start to finish. Exodus 3 is one of the most famous passages in the Bible. It tells the story of Moses’ encounter with God at Mount Sinai in the form of a bush that was on fire, but not being consumed. God tells Moses to return to Egypt and lead the Hebrews out of there and into the land that God promised to give to them.
After a brief conversation, Moses asks what name he should give if people ask who sent him. Huge question, right?! Moses is essentially asking, “God, who are you?” “God replied to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.” (Exodus 3:14)
Wow. That’s… ambiguous.
The notes in my Bible (Life Application Study Bible, NLT) say that God’s answer could also be translated as, “I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE.”
That’s… also ambiguous.
We don’t deal with ambiguous very well, do we? It makes us uncomfortable. We like to have everything defined. We like for everything to have a name and a definition and to fit into our world just so.
But God’s not interested in fitting into our reality just so. What I’m learning is that God’s answer to Moses is essentially, “I am God. You cannot define me. Because if you defined me, it would limit me. And you definitely can’t limit me.”
That’s a strange concept, at least for me. In essence, a definition is a limit. A definition is a clearly defined set of parameters that the thing being defined can’t escape from. To say what something is also makes a statement about what it isn’t. Take, for example, pasta. Pasta (n.) is a fresh or dried food of Italian origin made from a dough, usually of flour, eggs, and water, and produced in a variety of shapes and forms. That is what pasta is. Pasta could never be made of fruit, or meat, because then it wouldn’t be pasta.
I think that, in our hearts and in our minds, we want desperately to define and limit everything in existence so that we’ll know where we stand in relation to it. But God tells Moses that he can’t be defined or limited. God tells Moses that he is infinite. And that alone makes God difficult to deal with. To say exactly what God is would also make a statement about exactly what God isn’t, and would limit his existence. But God is the infinite God.
To allow for something in existence that we can’t really define or explain; to take it a step further and allow for that something to be a being, a personality; and to go even one step further and have a personal relationship with that undefinable, unlimited, infinite being… It’s difficult. It’s incomprehensible. It’s… awesome, in the truest sense of the word.