God’s Face

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.

Cain’s Face

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.

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 3.30.12 PM
Cain by Henri Vidal, Tuileries Garden, Paris, 1896

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)

 Next post: God’s New (Testament) Face

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5 Comments on “God’s Face

  1. I’m sensing that just digging into the word “face” in the Bible will yield incredible fruit in overcoming the gap in cultural understanding between the tribe I hang with and the rest of the world. Truly, we need to discuss these stories together in the light of shame. Or, better put, to expose the light of focusing on honoring each other and honoring God.

  2. Intriguing thought. I previously worked in Thailand; this concept would have been helpful. I wonder what connection you might see between “face” and the concept of “name” in a shame culture.

    • Dave,

      The notions of “face” and “name” are metaphors of shame and honor (esp in SE Asia). A person is known by others according to their face and their name, so they relate to a person’s social reputation. I’ll probably do another similar series about name, at some point in the future. -Jayson

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