What face do you bring to God? In the Hebrew scriptures, the word for face, panim (H6440), is always plural. “The face identifies the person and reflects the attitudes and sentiments of that person,” and of course there is no single facet to the self. Our faces are “a combination of a number of features” and so are our personalities (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, entry 1782).
God is even more complex, multi-faceted, and wonderful than us. He is the God of all our faces, and He offers to show His faces to us if/when we seek Him.
When you said, “Seek my face,” my heart said to you, “I will seek your face, Yahweh.” Don’t hide your face from me. Don’t put your servant away in anger. You have been my help. Don’t abandon me, neither forsake me, God of my salvation. (Psalm 27:8-9, WEB)
Our God wants to be known. He wants to let us see Him. Whether or not we can see Him partly depends on us, though, because there are things we can do that prompt Him to hide His face. So how do we get into a “faces to faces” relationship with God, and what does it mean if we do?
Faces of Friendship
In Exodus 33:11, we’re told “Yahweh spoke to Moses face to face” (panim el panim) “as a man speaks to his friend.” Being face to face with God is part of being friends with Him. If you’re wondering how to become a friend of God, Jesus gave us a succinct guide when He said, “You are my friends, if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:14). Friendship with God requires mutual interests, goals, and morality. We need to commit to following Him if we want to have a relationship with Him.
Behold, Yahweh’s hand is not shortened, that it can’t save; nor his ear dull, that it can’t hear. But your iniquities have separated you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. (Is. 59:1-2, WEB)
Sin separates us from God. There can’t be face to face relationship where there is disobedience. Thankfully, God graciously allows repentance and restoration of relationship. If you “turn away your faces from all your abominations” you can turn your faces toward Zion and “join yourselves to Yahweh in an everlasting covenant” (Ezk. 14:6; Jer. 50:5). He’s happy and eager to have us face toward Him instead of away from Him.
Faces of Messiah
This restored relationship and everlasting covenant are made possible by and through Jesus Christ. When we turn to the Lord, it’s like a veil is taken away and we’re able to turn our faces to Him with nothing in the way (2 Cor. 3:16-18).
For we don’t preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake, seeing it is God who said, “Light will shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor. 4:5-6, WEB)
Remember, in Hebrew thought (and Paul, who wrote this. was a Jew), faces have to do with the attitude and sentiments of a person. It’s a substitute for the whole self. “In the New Testament, God is manifested in Jesus who alone has seen the Father (Jn. 1:18; 6:46; 1 Jn. 4:12). Christ is not only the Word through whom God is heard. He is the image through whom God is seen” (TWOT 1782a).
Faces in Hiding
Several times in Psalms, people cry out to God, “How long will you hide your face from me?” or beseech Him, “Don’t hide your face” (Psalms 13:1; 88:14; 143:7). There are times when we won’t feel as close to God as others, and it may not always seem like there’s a good reason for that disconnect.
For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when that which is complete has come, then that which is partial will be done away with. … For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, even as I was also fully known. (1 Cor. 13:9-10, 13, WEB)
One of the things it’s important to realize as a Christian is that the spiritual fire in us waxes and wanes (which is why we’re told to stir up or rekindle the gift of God in 2 Tim. 1:6). Sometimes God seems close and and sometimes farther away. In those far away times when it feels like God is hidden, we need to keep turning our faces to Him.
Seek Yahweh and his strength. Seek his face forever more. (Psalm 105:4, WEB)
Faces to Faces
The Lord longs for relationship with us and Jesus’s sacrifice opened the door for us to ask Him to remove sin and anything else that’s keeping us apart from Him. Now, through Jesus Christ, we can live in the blessings of having God’s face turned toward us.
Yahweh bless you, and keep you. Yahweh make his face to shine on you, and be gracious to you. Yahweh lift up his face toward you, and give you peace. (Num. 6:24-26, WEB)
I have a whole post on this amazing blessing, but let’s just focus on the faces part right now. In Hebrew, when your “face shines” on someone it carries the idea of having favor on us. It means the Lord is paying us close attention, investing Himself in blessing and guiding His people. When he “lifts up his face toward” us it involves taking us into His presence. In fact, the phrase “appear before the Lord” that’s used in places like Exodus 23:15 and Psalm 42:2 is literally “to see God’s face” (panim in these places is softened into “appear before” by the translators).
Back in Ezekiel, the Lord promised, “I won’t hide my face from them anymore; for I have poured out my spirit on the house of Israel” (Ezk. 39:29). We can claim that promise today, as well as His promise, “You shall seek me, and find me, when you search for me with all your heart (Jer. 29:13). We can be faces to faces with God. All we have to do is respond to His call by turning our faces to Him and continuing to seek His face.
Featured image credit: Aravind Kumar via Pixabay