The Face of Eternity

5 03 2009

“On that day I will become angry with them and forsake them; I will hide my face from them, and they will be destroyed. Many disasters and difficulties will come upon them, and on that day they will ask, ‘Have not these disasters come upon us because our God is not with us?'” Deuteronomy 31:17

My very earliest memory comes from a foggy time in my life when I was passed around like a prized trophy.  My whole world consisted of faces.  It was a specific memory of my grandmother; it was, in fact, my only memory of her.  I only remember it because my mother was looking with me at pictures of her when I was still very young, and she asked if I remembered Grandma.  Yes, I remembered a face.  I didn’t know who it was.  My life was a flood of faces, all without names or much meaning.  Some occurred more than others.  One of them, my mother, was the most familiar and seemed like a sense of being home.  I’m convinced that the earliest and most important thing learned outside of the womb is facial recognition.

One of the hardest things for an artist to draw is a face.  It’s not that a face is particularly complex.  It’s just that everyone is a critic, and everyone is an expert on faces.  They may not be able to draw one very well, but they sure know one when they see it.  In fact, they not only recognize it as a face, but they recognize it as a specific face.  The fact is that, measurably, the differences between faces is actually rather small.  The demand on the artist, therefore, is quite high.  It takes an especially daring artist to attempt a person’s portrait.  People are quick enough to criticize what they see in the mirror.  They’ll certainly jump at the chance to blame it on artistic inaccuracy.

We see faces where they do not exist.  That monster in the dark, hiding under the bed, always had a face.  A lower-case e looks rather like a smiling face, doesn’t it?  Schizophrenics tend to hide faces in their art.  We tend to look at each other’s faces when we talk.  When we tell a joke, we glance at the face of the listener to gauge the person’s reaction.  Faces are everything. We can hardly fall in love with someone without gazing at that person’s face.

Yet, who has seen the face of God?

I hear people talking about having a personal relationship with Christ, and it always makes me think.  When I look into someone’s eyes, I feel like I am tapping into their very soul.  I usually don’t make eye contact with people, because it just seems too personal and way too intense.  If I ask someone a question, and I have eye contact, then I have an answer.  It can’t be held back.  Silence is its own answer.  The twitch of an eyelid, or slightly wider eyes can tell secrets never spoken.  I know when I’m being lied to, if I can see the person’s face.  I know where I stand with a person, if I can see that person’s face.  If I could see the face of God, I would look right into the depths of eternity.

Does God laugh?  Do you know what his favorite joke is?  When he smiles, does his whole face smile, or is it just a crescent mouth?

The problem with seeing the face of God is that it enables mortal men to force a dilemma on God.  As it stands, if I ask God a question and he does not answer, then it means nothing.  Silence says absolutely nothing.  I can’t force an answer out of him.  Even when people saw the face of Christ, they weren’t getting the whole picture.  They asked him when he was returning and he replied that only the Father knows.  So, then, an answer could not always be had, because the human mind of Jesus didn’t necessarily contain it.

“‘But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.'” Exodus 33:20

Moses made the mistake of forcing a dilemma on God.  He knew that it was God’s will to provide water to the people.  God told him to speak to the rock, and it would produce water, but Moses preferred the tried method of hitting the rock with a stick, the way he had done earlier.  God was forced to choose between two bad choices: either to obey (actually compelled to serve) a disobedient mortal human, or to shame his own name and let his people wander away or die of thirst.  Now, apparently God is content to let us wreck our own lives.  We have the freedom to make our own choices here on earth.  We don’t get struck dead the moment we commit a sin, though we may pay for it later.  However, God draws the line when it comes to us deciding what he will do.  We can pray.  We can ask.  We can’t make him choose between two things.  Abraham learned what happens when we try to force a miracle out of God.  He got Ishmael, when he should have been expecting Isaac.  A man who threatens to kill himself if God doesn’t do something is a man who has cursed himself to death.  God will not be pushed around.  Nothing will be forced from him, because he is a perfect being, and he will not deviate from a perfect way.

Therefore, to see his face is to die.  To see his face is to know more than we should.  It is to be within grasp of omniscience, to know things that he might not want us to know, and to use that knowledge in our own imperfect human way.  What did Eve think she was hitting upon when she ate the fruit?  She expected the knowledge of good and evil.  She expected it to make her god-like, and she took it without God’s permission.  That’s why she died.

God will not be forced into affecting the world in any way which he does not choose.  Those who try fail.  Those who come too close to succeeding die.

Still, there is another aspect to the face, which is relationship.  I have always longed to gaze upon that face.  The hideous realization of my separation from my maker lies in the desperation of not being able to see his face.  It’s easy to imagine that Jesus was hanging upon the cross screaming, “Father, Father, why have you forsaken me?!” when the Father’s face turned away from him, that he was more tortured by the rejection,  the curse of hanging from a tree (Deuteronomy 21:23) than from physical wounds.  I could see him only just beginning to suffer the horror that we face every day without even realizing it.  We cannot see the face of God.  We are disastrously separated and lost.

But we have a hope.  It is written all over the face of God.





One response

5 03 2009

I know how to make God laugh. All I have to do is tell Him my plans.


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