We began our Lenten journey considering what it means to “seek His face”. This is a consistent theme in the Psalms and throughout the Old Testament, suggesting an intimacy and love between God and His people unknown in the other religions of the Ancient Near East.
Most human religions focus on gaining favors from the divine realm, with man trying to figure out how to coerce the gods into bestowing blessings. In contrast the God of Scripture initiates relationship with His people in order to bless them, freely. And He invites His people to trust and obey Him, not on the basis of superior power or domination, but because of His steadfast love. Again and again He invites His people to seek His face. Of course this is a metaphor. But the message is powerful; God wants a personal relationship with His people. In our fallenness we would seek his “hand” (and handouts!); for our salvation He invites us to seek His face.
In 2 Cor 4:6 St Paul picks up this same theme and applies it to God’s ultimate self-revelation in Jesus Christ. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” This is amazing! The Almighty Creator God who in the beginning said “Let there be light,” has now given Himself as the “Light of the Word” in Jesus Christ, more specifically, in the face of Jesus Christ.
The human face communicates in ways too complex for us to fully understand. Infants begin reading faces from the moment they start nursing. We draw life from our mother’s loving eyes as much as from her breast. Later when we encounter faces of hate and rejection we feel the chill as life drains out of us. A kind face and warm, accepting smile can restore our spirits without a word being said. We are “wired” for face-to-face interaction.
Where do we see the “face of Jesus Christ”? Surely we meet him in the gospels as we “see” him moving in a rich variety of human interactions. Artists have tried to help us see him. Usually their Jesus is visually attractive by the standards of the culture and time. But the Scriptures plainly say, “… he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Is 53:2). For those who have come love Jesus this is hard to imagine. But perhaps this is why so many people had a hard time believing he could be the Messiah. Perhaps in their own first century way they too were image conscious.
Could we too be missing Him, or a message from Him, because of preconceived notions of what Jesus must look like? Are we open to “seeing” Jesus, and hearing from Jesus, in unexpected places, even in what the world might consider ugly? Often the Holy Spirit speaks to us through face-to-face encounters with others. If train our eyes we will meet Biblical characters today on the street, at the grocery, at work, at Starbucks. There is Zacchaeus, there is Peter, there is Mary Magdalene, and Martha, the blind man and the leper, the centurion. In every human face we see some expression of our need for Jesus, and our longing him, though it is often buried deep and disguised. And sometimes we may even encounter Jesus himself.
This music video by Chris Rice captures some of what I am talking about. I hope it will inspire us not only to seek His face, but to be more attentive to the faces of others. In fact, I think the two go together. As we seek His face He enables us to see with His eyes the faces of others. And having seen, how might He be calling us to respond?