What is it about a face? When we meet someone, we study that person’s face. The face gives away the soul. We can read so much in a person’s facial expression. So much of the texture of what she’s thinking, feeling, and experiencing can be sensed in the face. When we want to be honest and direct, we look someone in the face. When we resolve to meet a difficult situation, we face up to it.
On other hand, standing before the face of another can be threatening and shaming, but also sometimes enlivening.
In the book of Numbers, the Lord instructs Moses how he wants the priests to bless the people: “Speak to Aaron and his sons and tell them: this is how you shall bless the Israelites. Say to them: The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace” (Numbers 6:23-26).
This is all about the face of Yahweh. We often speak about man’s search for God. But the thrust here is in a different direction. It is much more interested in God’s quest for us. God looks upon us with love and searches us out when we run from him.
Think of Psalm 139 in this context: “Lord, you search me and you know me; you know my resting and my rising; you discern my purpose from afar. Before ever a word is on my lips, you know it, O Lord, through and through…”
Many of us are, despite ourselves, deists. That is, we think of God—if we think of him at all—as a distant force, a creative power indifferent to the world.
But that just isn’t biblical religion. God knows us, loves us, searches us out, and makes his face to shine upon us, looking upon us kindly.
Think of the experience of being gazed upon by someone who loves you and whom you love. In that gaze—penetrating, knowing, benign—you find, not oppression, but joy and peace. That’s how God looks upon you.