Lectionary, Preacher Group, Psalms

The Face of God

I’m reading a very fine study of Psalm 27, or rather the portions of it that are in the lectionary this week, and I looked to see if there will be an answer to the question raised by one of my friends (Hi, RevFun!) at Preacher Group this morning, but there was not, so here it is: what is up with God having a face?

It seemed awkward to me, too. Isn’t it the case that seeing God’s face would pretty much set a person on fire, in a not so good way? Wouldn’t God’s face be too much for us?

And do we really want to go around thinking of God as having something so human as a face in the first place?

I suspect I’m missing some important piece of exegetical material here, but since it’s only Tuesday I’m not worried about it, not yet. Maybe some smart preacher out there can tell me what all that stuff about hiding the face means. Does it refer to the social shame of being rejected by someone above you on the pyramid of power? Or is it more like having a parent who refuses to make eye contact with you? (And aren’t those DaVinci eyes a little scary?)

We went on to discuss finding some way to say it that doesn’t depend on having God be the Big Giant Head. Still pondering.

9 thoughts on “The Face of God”

  1. Hey Songbird; been enjoying your blog through the CCBlogs network.I don't really have a problem with God having a face. The claim in Genesis is that He's the original, and we're the copies. In that sense it pretty much freaks me out that we have faces.I guess the other thing to say is that Hebrew is a really, really richly idiomatic language. Just like English, I suppose. If we read that somebody had "lost face", we wondering where they had left their face behind and how horrible they must look without one – we'd just know that their esteem had fallen. I think it's more or less the same here.Big quote from TWOT: In the Bible the “face” (along with the other parts of the body) is described not merely as an exterior instrument in one’s physiology, but rather as being engaged in some form of behavioral pattern, and is thus characterized by some personal quality… To make a person’s face “sweet” is to conciliate him or seek his favor (of God: 1 Kgs 13:6; 2 Kgs 13:4). The KJV translates freely this last phrase “X sought/entreated the Lord.” But the Hebrew runs literally “X made sweet the Lord’s face.” Similarly, this idiom is used of man (Prov 19:6).The phrase “to hide one’s face” means to show aversion or disgust (Isa 53:3) and “to turn away the face” is to reject (Ps 132:10). Conversely, “to raise the face” of another is to show favor, respect, acceptance (1 Sam 25:35), or show partiality and favoritism (Lev 19:15). Most of these idioms and phrases are also applied to God. God’s face “shines” (Ps 4:6 [H 7]) as a sign of favor and good will. His face may “fall” in anger (Jer 3:12). God may “hide” his face (Ps 13:1 [H 2]).

  2. Thanks, Diane!Hi, Simon. Thanks so much for the quotation. It's fascinating to me how 21st century people incline toward literalizing idioms we don't understand, and that is perhaps what worries me about saying God has a face. On the one hand, I believe fervently that God became one of us (a person with a face) in Jesus, but on the other hand I worry about the way we anthropomorphize God. I think the latter concern is the one my friend was getting at, that God is so much more than a great big old man in the sky who might deliver to us the cut direct. (And how's that for an idiom people don't know anymore?)

  3. When we "put a face" on something (someone) we do so to help us come to know and understand the thing/person better. It is an act of familiarizing yourself with that which you are trying to "put a face" to.However, there's a catch to that…we also put a face on things in order to label them. To assume that all _____ people are like the face we have labeled in such a way. (Put anything you like in the blank…poor, homeless, any minority, any "not like me".) We pigeon hole the people and narrow our view.I guess I tend to see the face of God in breathtaking, expansive views of nature….and especially in sunrises and sunsets.(ps. deleted the first draft because of nonsensical typo…then again perhaps this may nonsensical to some.)

  4. What a fascinating discussion! I was doing research a couple of years ago on the terms people used to describe each other's faces in the 16th-17th centuries, and there's the same kind of idiomatic richness there too, faces meaning much more than just the front of your head.This also reminds me (with no particular point) of C.S. Lewis's novel "Till We Have Faces," a retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth – in which Psyche was not allowed to see Cupid's face, precisely so that she wouldn't know him as a god. Lewis's version focuses on the anger and jealousy of Psyche's sister Orual, who wants to challenge the gods for having messed with them… and the title comes from her question, "How can the gods meet us face to face, till we have faces?" It's an interesting reversal of the faceless god – but faces there are all about direct interaction.

  5. Valerie, not at all. I like the direction you took the conversation.And P/H, I am almost embarrassed to admit that's one Lewis title I've never read. (Off to see if I can get it for Kindle!)

  6. I read it years ago, and it left me with the impression that it was saying some very important things that I wasn't quite getting… or that I needed to be in the right spiritual place to get, or something along those lines. But it's been lurking in the back of my brain ever since, like a littel tasty nut waiting to be cracked open. I'd love to hear what you think of it!

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