Magazine article The Christian Century

Face to Face

Magazine article The Christian Century

Face to Face

Article excerpt

Your face, Lord, do I seek. Do not hide your face from me.--Psalm 27:8-9a

BE CAREFUL what you pray for, good psalmist. When Moses asked to see God, the Lord refused to show his face: "I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, `The Lord'; and I will be gracious on whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But," he said, "you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live" (Exod. 33:19-20).

Good psalmist, God heard your prayer and hears it still. It reverberates through the ages. It echoes our heart's deepest desire, "to behold the beauty of the Lord," to "seek his face." Even if it kills us.

Good psalmist, did you know your prayer would last through the ages? Did you know that millennia later translators would write it in languages you never imagined, that pilgrims would pray it in places beyond your dreams? Did you know that the Holy Spirit would breathe this prayer continually into us despite our foolishness?

We walk in darkness, in a shadow cast by our fear of letting go of this life, of dying in the fiery, consuming splendor of the One whose face we live to see. Yet you said, "Darkness is as light" to God (Ps. 139:12), and the light sought us and found us. Isaiah cried, "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light," and that light illumines the face of God that you prayed to see.

The light shines on hot, slow days at the lake as we fish for halibut or grouper or perch. It shines in an afternoon of counting change and enduring the tired, resigned resentment of the taxpayers. It shines even when our eyes grow so accustomed to the. darkness that we don't particularly want any light, don't particularly care whose face we see. There it is, that face calling us to follow him, and anyone in his or her right mind would laugh him off except his is the face we've been waiting for all these dark years of our lives.

Do you realize, good psalmist, that the appearance of his face turns our world on its head? Even if we pray your prayer hourly, the face we see confounds us. We expect the ruddy, scrubbed face of young King David, his eyes full of wonder and the fire of battle. Instead we see the leathery face of an itinerant rabbi, his eyes strained and wearied by dusty roads. We expect a hero's face, a handsome face with a scar on the chin from a victorious struggle with the enemy. …

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