Deuteronomy 34:10 says, “And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face…” This detail is given to us to illustrate how different Moses was from everyone else. Everyone else sat at the foot of Mt. Sinai while God thundered from the peak in fire and smoke, but not Moses. Everyone else was restricted from the Tent of Meeting where God revealed Himself and made His will known, but not Moses. Moses spoke to God as one might speak to a friend or family member, a relationship few would ever be able to claim.
This sort of relationship was one people had with God once upon a time, back in the garden of Eden, but sin has made that a near impossibility. Sin is the opposite of God’s will, so to be a sinner means to be one who is opposed to God, who is an offense to everything God is. Sin is intolerable to God and so God destroys it, even if that means destroying the one who commits it.
To speak to God “face to face” then becomes quite the feat. It says that the sin in Moses has somehow been dealt with, which allowed Moses this rare privilege. God would continue to be present in the tabernacle and later in the temple and He would be present there in a special way. It was here, and only here, that God would be present in grace and mercy. God could be found anywhere in His creation, but it would only be here that you could speak to him face to face, like a member of the family.
Things continue like this for quite some time, with God only being found in His temple, the one place in the world where God’s mercy is conveyed. Things continue like this until God appears to His people in a new and different way. God becomes incarnate, “enfleshed.” John’s Gospel tells us God comes and dwells, or, more properly, “tabernacles,” among us. The place where God is present in mercy is no longer a tent. It is a person. God in the flesh.
Now many people can speak to God as one might speak to a family member. While it might have seemed commonplace to many who met Jesus, it was nevertheless a radical change from how God had operated in the past. With His divine glory hidden under the flesh of His humanity, sinners were able to interact with God in a way that was completely impossible before.
In his book, “On Liturgical Theology,” the Catholic theologian, Aiden Kavanagh, describes the difference between what he calls Primary and Secondary theology. Secondary theology is what I do here on this blog. I talk about the things of God. I discuss how God works and some of the things He has revealed to us. This sort of theology is vital and necessary to the work of the church, but it is not the same as primary theology.
Primary theology, by contrast, is not where we talk about God. It is where we meet God. Discussing the wonders of communion is very different than celebrating the meal itself. One can talk about God anywhere. But, it is only within the church, within the liturgy, that one can come face to face with God. Jesus is God in the flesh and His flesh is only found in one place: on the altar. It is around this altar the church gathers in worship because it is here, and only here, that God is present in grace and mercy.
There are many Christians who believe they can be faithful without ever setting foot in church and never participating in worship. This statement makes as much sense as claiming to be a part of a family you’ve never seen and never talked to. There’s a reason the church is defined by those who gathered together in worship. Without presence in grace and mercy you are left in your sin. If that is the case, you will still meet God someday, but the only presence you will find is that which brings judgment against your sin.
God gifts His church with something truly unique and special: the ability to speak to Him face to face without fear. This happens only where He chooses to reveal Himself and make His grace known to the world.