Sunday, February 10, 2013

God's Face

At church this morning, the pastor's sermon was about seeing God's face.  The pastor addressed a variety of issues pertaining to this topic: the parts of the Bible that say that human beings cannot look on God's face and live; II Corinthians 3:8's statement that believers behold as in a glass the Lord's glory, with their faces unveiled (whereas, in Exodus 34, Moses covered up his illumined face with a veil in the presence of the Israelites); how Jesus was God's face before the world; and how the church is now God's face before the world.

The topic of God's face is a little confusing to me, to tell you the truth, perhaps because there are concepts about God's face that I need to disentangle within my mind.  Sometimes, within Christianity or the Hebrew Bible, seeing God's face is regarded as literal: we cannot see God's face because that would be like looking at a solar eclipse----we'd go blind.  More than that, we'd probably die were we in our human state to look on God's face!  And yet, there seems to be some hope within Christianity (if I'm not mistaken) that believers will one day be able to look on God's face (I John 3:2), presumably in the afterlife.

But, often, seeing God's face appears to be metaphorical for becoming intimate with God, understanding God's purposes, or learning about what God is like in terms of his character.  I think of a song that Paul Wilbur sang, Show Me Your Face, Lord, which is about intimacy with God and God's presence helping us to make it to the end.  Or Paul's point in II Corinthians 3 that Jews who don't believe in Christ do not fully understand the Torah, whereas believers do.  Or the notion that Jesus and the church are God's face before the world, showing people what God is like (i.e., loving, kind, etc.).  I can see why the face came to symbolize these sorts of things----intimacy, knowing someone----for our face is what we show to the world, the first thing that people usually see when they look at us, and what people look at when they speak to us. 


  1. James consider Isaiah 6:2: שְׂרָפִים עֹמְדִים מִמַּעַל לֹו שֵׁשׁ כְּנָפַיִם שֵׁשׁ כְּנָפַיִם לְאֶחָד בִּשְׁתַּיִם יְכַסֶּה פָנָיו וּבִשְׁתַּיִם יְכַסֶּה רַגְלָיו וּבִשְׁתַּיִם יְעֹופֵֽף׃
    (translate it before you look at modern translations - what is the antecedent of the vav 'his' re covering face and feet.

  2. That wasn't an easy passage to translate. I even pulled it up on BibleWorks and tried to avoid looking at the translations, and it was still hard. I'm not sure what vav you mean----are you asking whose face and feet are being covered? Is it God's, in your view----the seraphim are covering God's face?

  3. Yes - I could have just pointed out that the Hebrew is ambiguous, but as I think of it, the seraphs covering the face and feet of God is much more likely. Jerome in his Isaiah commentary explicitly points out the ambiguity.

    Having face and feet covered puts Isaiah in a 'safer' place.Remember also that face and presence are the same work in Hebrew. So there may be some questions to ask the Invisible when considering these things.


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