The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace (shalom). (Numbers 6:24-26)
I’ve always been fascinated by the phrase “The Lord make his face to shine upon you.” God’s blessing, God’s protection, God’s peace, God’s grace—all part of that same benediction—are great goods, and if I had to choose between them and God’s shining face, I might well opt for them. But God’s shining face outdoes them all. For God’s blessing, protection, peace, and grace concern the things that we possess, do, and suffer, while God’s shining face concerns our very being. It stands for God’s sheer delight that we exist and live before him. Yet I rarely “see” God’s face shining upon me, and given that I am an inveterate sinner, it is not easy to know exactly why God’s face should shine on me.
I know what I am missing. Our second son, Aaron, is a sweet little boy who loves to cuddle, to the point of hugging hardwood floors if his parents are not conveniently around. When I pick him up, he buries his head into my shoulder and holds tight around my neck. Then he suddenly lifts his head and looks me straight in the eyes, his face beaming with delight, and says, “Tata” (Croatian for “daddy”) for no other reason than that I am with him.
Aaron delights in me because he does not remember my transgressions against him and does not know in advance what will happen. But could we imagine God as a child, in blissful forgetfulness of what was and naïve ignorance of what is to come? What would happen to Aaron’s shining face if, when he looked me in the eyes, he could remember a big daddy hand pulling him away from the joy of scattering plant dirt all over our oriental rugs? What if he could, sometime in the future, catch a glimpse of daddy’s mighty frustration descending upon him for no reason other than that he happened to be there? Unlike Aaron, God knows past, present, and future, and his gaze penetrates below surfaces to the dark chambers of our deceitful hearts. We are all sinners. How then can God delight in us? …
[For the] priestly benediction is given for the here and now, not for the there and then. It speaks of a God who can make God’s face shine on people in the midst of the darkness of their sin … Miracle of miracles, it turns out that God is not completely unlike my son in the moment when his face shines upon mine. What does the forgiving God do with our sins? Here is what the scripture says: God covers them, God disperses them like mist, God puts them behind his back, God hides them, God forgets them. Ω
Imagine: You are knocking on a door, turning the handle, and walking into a room. God is there, and, as you enter, God’s face lights up. Notice how you feel, then rest in God’s delight at the sight of you.
What is this? Lent is the 40 days, excluding Sundays, before Easter. Traditionally it is a time of intense reflection and pilgrimage. To help you on this journey, Sanctuary has put together 40 stories from people both within and beyond the congregation, with associated questions for reflection and prayer. A reading will be uploaded every day of Lent.
From Miroslav Volf. From ‘God’s Delight.’ The Best American Spiritual Writing 2004. Boston/New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2004, p 254-256. #Lent2021. Real People, Real Stories: 40 Readings for Lent, Sanctuary, 2021. Image credit: Rachel Coyne on Unsplash.
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