God's Presence in the Darkest Moments
God's appearance in a burning bush teaches us to be present with and provide comfort to all who suffer.
Just as Israel is enslaved and confined, so also is God, as it were, enslaved and confined. The bush, with its injurious thorns, represents Israel's situation--cast low and hurt in manifold ways. The fire in the very heart of the bush represents the presence of God amidst Israel's suffering and humiliation.
Exodus Rabbah, a Midrashic text, makes a similar point. It tells us the burning bush is meant to teach us that "no place is devoid of the divine presence, not even a lowly thornbush." As the emerging leader of the Jewish people, Moses has to know and believe at the very core of his being that there is no place in the world in which God is not present (leit atar panui mineih
). This is one of the most fundamental--and radical--claims of the Jewish tradition, one that the Jewish people will have to learn and teach the world.
It is this very insight that Jacob had discovered through the revelation of God in that "certain place," namely that, "God is in this place, but I did not know it" (Genesis 28:16). Now it is Moses' turn to learn Jacob's--Israel's--lesson, the fact of God's total presence in every place and at all times.
But Judaism is less concerned with theological abstractions than with lived religious realities. So the Jewish people are entrusted not merely with telling the world about God's presence, but also, and more critically, with making it manifest in the world.
Thus, it is not enough simply to state that God suffers with those who are in pain. Rather, we are obligated to be present with, and to bring comfort to, those who suffer, and thus to serve as the "manifesters" of God's love in the world.
To tell someone who is hurting that God is present in their pain can be less than helpful; to demonstrate that she is not alone by doing what God would have us do and loving her as she hurts--this is the deepest theological testimony we can offer. There can be love even in the lowest of places, and even amidst a seemingly endless array of thorns. And where we make that love real, there we make God present.