The Bible tells us that we cannot live if we look into the face of God. God said to Moses “You cannot see my face, for man may not see Me and live” (Exodus 33:20). We read of Elijah covering his face with his cloak in 1 Kings 19:13 to avoid seeing God when he stood before Him on the mountain. He stood and experienced earthquake and fire, but God was in the whisper, the still small voice. There are more than 70 Scripture references about seeing the face of God. I find that they are not only frightening but also awesomely encouraging. After all, our whole purpose on the earth is to enjoy and serve God that we might see Him face to face in heaven.
Many saw God in Jesus Christ on earth, even though most did not believe that He was and is God. I find the first Bible reference about face to face with God encouraging. In Genesis 32:30, after Jacob has wrestled with a man (God) all night over fear about meeting his own brother Esau, it turns out that he lives even though maimed for life. He realized, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared” (Genesis 32:30) that his life and name were changed. He became Israel or “chosen,” no longer “deceiver,” after this intimate encounter. God not only does not want to annihilate us but to love and transform us into someone new through His grace. We read in Exodus 34 the incredible story of Moses spending 40 days in the presence of God where the 10 Commandments were chiseled on a mountaintop. “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding with love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7). This does not sound dangerous, yet overwhelming for Moses indeed. We are admonished in Proverbs however, that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7). This is not a fear that He will kill you, but that He has unlimited power and sovereignty, full of mercy and grace.
In Numbers we read the iconic Aaronic Blessing, ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:23). This comforting blessing is full of God’s face shining grace and peace. So what does God want us to do about His face? Perhaps one of the most powerful blessings in Scripture by Solomon in the dedication of the temple gives us another clue. “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” 2 Chronicles 7:14). Most dramatically for me was the repeating of this blessing at Stand in The Gap: A Sacred Assembly for Men in Washington, D.C. in October 1997. I led an expedition of some 100 men from our men’s Bible study Faithwalkers to join some 1.3 million other men to pray and seek God’s mercy and for revival for our country. God was present and yet our country has continued to decline morally and spiritually since then.
I love the Psalms and have written about them in my book Great is God’s Faithfulness. They reference, “Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord” (Psalm 4:6). This plea is for God’s blessing and actual face to shine out of heaven on all of us. In Psalm 27:8 we read, “My heart says of you, ‘Seek His face! Your face Lord, I will seek.” This psalm is full of metaphoric language describing God as light and waiting upon His mercy. Again in Psalm 31:16 we read, ”Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love.” In Psalm 105 we are admonished to “seek His face always.” In Psalm 119:135, the psalmist proclaims, “Make your face shine upon your servant and teach me your decrees.” Clearly the Psalms want for us to know that the shining face of God is healing and full of merciful teaching and love.
Now we move into the New Testament and the Mount of Transfiguration when Jesus was transfigured before the disciples, “His face shone like the sun and His clothes became as white as the light” (Matthew 17:2). I can try to imagine this in my minds eye as a blinding vision that was Christ the Lord being changed to the form He has in heaven. You know there is no need for light in heaven because He is the light.
“Now we see but a poor reflection in a mirror; then we will see face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12). We do not see God clearly now, but we will when we stand or lie prostrate before Him in heaven, if we trust in Him. Interestingly, in 1 Peter 3:12 we read of a God who has had enough of darkness in mankind, “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” Yes, God is actively involved in earthly affairs and will take action against the disobedient and evil.
God said as written in 2 Corinthians 4:6, “Let light shine out of darkness, made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” There it is, the glory of God shining in the hearts of believers. This vision and reality gives us the strength to withstand the trials and pressures that Paul continues to speak of as ever increasing persecution that has and will continue to increase in this dark world. But we carry around in our broken bodies the all-surpassing power of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We may be cracked jars, but His power is being made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
So keep looking into the face of God through prayer, His Word, other godly people and circumstances and know that His face is shining back at you.