Face to face
Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.
Psalm 80: 3 (NIVUK)
Imagine for a moment that a teenager is not behaving as his parents would like. He is spending his time at parties instead of studying. He is taking money from the household budget and using it on alcohol and drugs. No matter how much they speak with their teenager and try to get him to change, he continues on an irresponsible and self-destructive path. They still love him, are still concerned for him, are still there for him, but he has turned his face away from his parents.
That scenario helps us to understand the Hebrew term hester panim, ‘it means “hiding face,”
but it refers to concealed Divine Providence, not the lack of it, just concealment of it.’ 1 It’s a term often used about the book of Esther where God’s name isn’t mentioned, yet the hidden presence of God is realised and revealed in the outcome of the story. It’s somewhat like the sun on an overcast day. Just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there. God’s providential care is there for us whether we perceive it or not.
In Deuteronomy 31:17, God told Moses that the Israelites would eventually abandon him, and as a result, he said, ‘I will hide my face from them’. Unlike the re-assurance that hester panim refers to God’s hidden presence for good, in this case, it refers to the terrifying prospect of the withdrawal of the divine presence. In other words, sin and selfishness cause the divine presence to be hidden from us, but that is because we have removed ourselves from him. God ‘hides his face’ from us because our own desire for evil blinds us to the truth of his presence; hester panim is not only ‘absence of divine presence’ but ‘presence of divine absence’.
In Adam, this is what all humanity has done. Adam sinned, ran, and hid himself from the divine presence, and as a result, and for his own good, he was banished from the garden. Human beings have been hiding ever since. What hope is there for Adam’s race? The Apostle John gives us a clue: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.’ (John 1:1-2). John tells us that the ‘Word’ or logos was ‘with’ God. Here he uses the preposition pros which means ‘towards’. In other words, the logos was towards, or ‘face to face’ with God.
Here is the solution to humankind’s dilemma. Even though we have turned away from God, Jesus Christ came to undo Adam’s sin and reconcile us to the Father. Through his vicarious life, death, resurrection, and ascension the ‘Second Adam’ has taken humanity into himself and restored us to a ‘face to face’ relationship with the Father.
Truly the cries of the Psalmist have been heard: in Christ we have been restored; in Christ we have been saved, and in Christ, God’s face shines upon us.
Father, thank you that in Christ you have included us in the circle of your relationship with the Son and the Holy Spirit. May we glory in the light and love of your face forever. In Jesus’s name, Amen.
Study by Barry Robinson
About the writer:
Barry Robinson is a minister in Grace Communion International and Regional Pastor for Southern England, the Midlands, and Wales
Grace Communion West Hampstead
Sidings Community Centre
150 Brassey Road
London NW6 2BA
Sunday 12.30 pm
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