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On the Face of It

Exodus 33:18, 20, 22-23
Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” … He said, “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live … I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

If someone were to ask you the question today, “Why can’t we see God’s face?”, say that person was an inquisitive son or grandson, or maybe even a neighbor you’d been witnessing to who just started reading through the Bible for the first time, or perhaps an agnostic acquaintance who liked to stump you whenever the chance arose, how would you answer? Think about that for a moment. Ponder the mystery. Spin it around in your mind. What would you say?

This is the paradox of spiritual yearning. Like Moses, we long to see God’s undiluted glory; we wish so badly that we could gaze into the one face that has remained invisible for all of history. And whenever some sublime phenomenon captures our full attention, bathes our sense perception in a sea of emotions too deep for words—like the outline of my bride against the setting sun over the Grand Canyon on our wedding day, or the moment my newborn son opened his eyes and looked up at me for the first time, or the sight of hundreds of teenagers at my high school church camp singing and weeping together after a week of spiritual revival—our soul is breathless, and our tongue is wordless, and our body is weightless, as if an omnipotent hand has swept us up from our little cleft-of-the-rock existence into the breeze of heavenly beatitude. Yet the momentary wave of theophany always leaves us wanting more.

Why is this a paradox though? Because in our present life of faith, though we can’t see God’s face and live, we can’t live without seeking His face either. Ultimately, the Christian life is a pursuit of the face of God. “You have said ‘seek my face’—Your face do I seek!”, wrote the Psalmist. So we don’t pitch our tent on Sinai, seeing the manifold marvels that Providence washes over us, and say, “That’s it! I’ve arrived! I can rest now!” Because we know the best is yet to come.