The Face of God (Part One)
Written by David Kennedy Bird
The importance of faces
The expression on a person’s face matters: the alertness of the eyes, the hardness or gentleness of the features, the movement of the mouth and brow, whether there is a receptive or listening aspect in the person’s expression.
We all understand this based on our past experience with people and relationships. What is going on in someone’s face, the expression of the face, the eyes, the mouth, has everything to do with how we interpret the things that we hear the person saying.
What we see happening on the person’s face also has everything to do with how we believe the person is hearing what we are saying.
And finally, what we see happening on the person’s face has everything to do with what we believe the person is thinking about us.
Does God have a face?
Does the question seem odd to you? In fact, can we have a show of hands… how many of you thought, “Of course not!” in response to that question? ‘Fess up.
The fact is, God does have a Face.
Before I go on to illuminate what may seem a shocking assertion to have made about a purely spiritual being, we need to talk for a moment about the many unhelpful ways in which so many of us have learned to think of God. These are not ideas that we’ve gotten from what God reveals about Himself in the Bible. We got them from religious tradition, popular representations of divinity, perhaps even caricatures devised by the Enemy to put us off the scent of Who God really is.
It may be that one of the following will seem uncomfortably familiar to you.
Many people tend to picture Him as an abstraction, a Vast Cosmic Idea, or as an energy force evenly distributed throughout the universe. Right? “The Force is strong with this one.” Lots of folk conceptualize Him as what we might call ‘the galactic God,’ off being all impassive and sovereign and whatnot way out at the farthest reaches of the universe. There’s also ‘the amorphous God,’ sort of shapeless and indistinct and ooey, gaseous, foglike, ghostlike… not someone that you could really imagine having a conversation with. And what about ‘the pantheistic God’—so deeply embedded in the workings of nature that It’s difficult to understand Him as a Person.
Yet He is a Person.
In fact, He’s the one Person in the universe to Whom the term ‘person’ most truly applies. He’s an Infinite Person, which complicates things a bit, but that doesn’t mean He’s somehow less than personal. Oh no. He is the origin, the source, the fountainhead of all personhood. He’s the reason why there are any other persons at all, why you and I are persons. He’s the original and archetypal Person. He is the model of personhood; we are the copies.
When God represents Himself in the Scripture, it is usually in strongly personal terms. He speaks of being girded about with His garments; He speaks of having a strong right arm, and a heart, and eyes that see what is going on around the earth.
He speaks of having a face.
Now, when God talks of His Face, we can choose to regard this as a metaphor, a literary use of language to depict things that are too lofty and marvelous for us to understand. But if God is using metaphors when He represents Himself as having a body and a face, we certainly must appreciate that they are strong metaphors—selected by God Himself—and should be taken seriously.
Or maybe He isn’t using metaphors at all, and really wishes to be taken at face value, as having an actual face. He certainly does use this kind of imagery again and again, over and over, throughout the Scriptures. Maybe he has a face and a body in some esoteric, pan-dimensional way that we cannot even hope to grasp or picture accurately.
At any rate, it is evidently important to God that we envision Him as having a Face. I think this has a significance far greater than what we generally assign to it.
When we relate to God, He wants us to imagine ourselves relating to a real Person: A Person Who has a Face.
Christmas, the Incarnation, and the Face of God in Christ
We have now entered the Christmas season: the period from December 25th to January 5th. During this time of the year, we are accustomed to focus attention on how the Son of God assumed human form in order to carry out His cosmic work of salvation, liberation, and warfare.
There is one aspect of the Incarnation, however, that is (I think) of particular importance to the way we relate to God the Father.
It is in Christ that God reveals to us His Face.
The sacrificial system that God furnished His people with in the Old Testament gave them an opportunity—albeit temporary—to know that their sins had been atoned for. However, that system did not enable the people to look upon God’s Face. They were terrified at the very thought of the Face of God, and rightly so; His Face, surging with holiness, passion and power, was too overwhelming for any human individual or community to encounter without being overwhelmed, disintegrated.
In Christ, we have a Great High Priest—as the writer of the book of Hebrews is quick to point out—Who also happens to be the One Supreme Sacrifice offered on our behalf, an infinite, eternal and final sacrifice. Praise be to God for His infinite mercy!
But more to our purpose, we have something in Christ that the Old Testament believers could only dream of…
We have permanent access to the Face of God.
And in Christ, that Face, so overwhelming in its passion, power and holiness, is revealed to be a Face of Infinite Love.