Christian workers will never eliminate social face, nor should they attempt to. A better approach to “face” is to reorient cultural face around God’s face. Fortunately, the Bible has much to say about face; it is a significant concern for God and his people.
The first story of humanity living under sin involves the tragic loss of face. Cain does not receive the face he expected when God disregarded his sacrifice (Gen 4:4-5). Consequently, Cain “lowered his face” in anger. Cain inherited his face-hiding tendency from his parents who in shame hid their (social) face from God’s Face.
But God offers restoration of face to Cain.
“If you do good, will there not be a lifting up of your face?” (Gen 4:7).
Cain’s countenance and status could change! Some versions translate this as “If you do good, will you not be accepted?” to capture the communal and relational meaning of face. But Cain’s longing for face became recklessly uncontrollable and he removed his brother’s face from the picture altogether. Consequently, Cain lost access to God’s face. “My punishment is greater than I can bear! Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face” (Gen 4:13-14).
Seeking Our Lost Face
Cain’s story is a tragic reminder of face’s dark side—humans fear being seen so hide their face, reject God’s offer of face, and ultimately forfeit access to Gods’ face (cf. Isa 59:2). The absence of God’s face is the greatest shame (Ps 143:7), in so many ways. I once heard someone say, “Every human comes out of the womb looking for someone who sees them. And that search never ends.” Every soul cries out to be seen. Not just to be noticed, but to connect with another eye-to-eye, face-to-face. We long for face…not simply our own face, but The Face. The cry of Psalm 27:8-9 comes from the heart of every human:
“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, Lord, do I seek. Do not hide your face from me.
God’s Face as Salvation Fortunately God’s face is not forever hidden from humanity. God’s gifts His face to the human family. God reveals his face—“Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love (Ps 31:16); and we behold God’s face—“Look to him [God], and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed” (Ps 34:5). Seeing God’s face gives radiance to our own face. The Bible often portrays salvation using the language of God’s face. On three occasions Psalm 80 says, “Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved” (cf. Ps 22:24). (View all 37 occurrences of “face” in the Psalms) To see God’s face implies royal access. God’s face is his gracious and honorable presence. God’s people stand in God’s presence, and connect intimately with the God of glory. Seeing the face of God is our greatest honor, in so many ways.
The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)
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