Does God have a face?
Is there a personal God?
Someone recently told me that on this point Christianity (and Judaism) were a minority among world religions. Most religions, he said, simply talk about a great power. Something like “the Force.” The Bible, on the other hand, teaches that God intensely cares for his creatures. He knows us by name, he hears our prayers, etc. That kind of thinking, asserted my friend, is in the minority. Consider many of the eastern religions or New Age thinking. God is often identified with the universe. In their view, he’s not an actual being outside of it, interacting with it. Not a “he” at all.
Pieces and Puzzles
Now on a few levels that doesn’t make sense to me. We’re personal beings – and it would seem strange if creatures have something the Creator doesn’t. If even tiny specks like you and I have personality and consciousness, then God must have that in spades. C.S. Lewis writes somewhere in his little book The Problem of Pain that our billions of little personalities are in fact just little pieces of the Great Personality. We are all made to reflect a unique part of the vast terrain that is the personality of God. The doctrine of the Trinity, that God is somehow one God and also three persons, may also be an indication of God’s greatness in this regard. It seems to teach that we as persons have only have a creaturely version of the divine personhood, which exists in more dimensions than we can get our mind around.
Love and War
I can think of a couple of other reasons why the thought of God’s personhood is not some relic of a primitive pagan past – as if the God of the Bible was merely an Israelite Zeus or Baal. God is love, for instance. Even the New Age gurus teach that. But a “force” doesn’t love. If God is just the sum of the universe, you can’t really in good conscience talk about divine love anymore.
Justice also requires it. We all know that justice must be impartial to be fair. But we also know that evil in this universe also deserves anger. Personal anger, even. A wife has every right to lose her cool if her husband cheats on her. The proper response to evil is to get hot and bothered. But if God is just some faceless force, the long and short of it is that evil will never adequately be answered.
There’s also a few reasons why the thought that God is not a person is so prevalent.
First, to a certain degree that’s what you and I would prefer. Deep down, we don’t want a personal God. Then we don’t have to face our rebellion and our sin. No one feels embarrassment or shame before a force. But if there is a personal God, that means I will be undone one day, as I am known and revealed before the mind of God. I will know that someone hasn’t been happy with what I’ve done. That’s putting it mildly.
Secondly, this is also an effect of sin. Sin destroys personhood. Sin is defacing. It does that in our relations with each other. Selfishness goes hand in hand with devaluing the selves of others. Sin doesn’t want to know others as persons – it simply wants to treat them as things. And that translates into the vertical relationship as well. Sinners also want to treat God as a thing. That leaves them, it leaves us, at the centre of the world, really. Then we can do with “him” – or should I say “it” – as we want.
Jesus – the Face of God
Now turn to Jesus Christ. He enters our world of facelessness also to reveal the face of God.
He shows so clearly that God is a personal being, with an anger and a love greater than we think. His cross shows the fury of God against our sin, which is so great that Jesus has to even die and have God’s glorious face turn from him. And his cross shows the greatness of God’s love, not something vague and general, but a love that sacrifices for specific persons like you and me, that bears our sin and curse. A personal love.
On so many levels, Jesus destroys our own ideas of God, constructed with a sinful bias. He tells us that God is like a father, yearning for his long lost son to come home. And when the son makes his way home, the father runs out to greet him. Jesus talks about the immense joy of God himself in our salvation. Despite the fancy special effects, the “force” is actually pretty dull. Jesus reveals there is a God who makes heaven tremble with his joy when you and I are freed from the power of sin and Satan.
Jesus speaks about a God who has wants and desires. He goes to the cross with the consciousness that this is what pleases his Heavenly Father. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” he quotes at one point to religious leaders who want to buy God off with rituals, and avoid giving him their heart. The “I” in that quote is God, of course. The “Force,” after all, is a very convenient idea of the divine. Then you no longer have to deal with what Someone may want from you – and what you’re not willing to give.
But Jesus not only awakens us to God’s desires for our lives, he also comes to make our lives places where God’s desires are met. Where we do what pleases the Great Person. Jesus gives his life and is raised to a new life that we might receive new life through the Spirit of God. A life that pleases God. And that’s not something slavish. To give pleasure with your life to God, to have God’s personal joy reverberate through your life, is nothing less than our greatest joy as well.
Know and Known
In his first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul pens that famous poetic piece about love. Maybe you’ve heard it at a wedding. At the end of that chapter, he says, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
That’s the promise Jesus Christ holds out to you. “Then we shall see face to face.” Jesus Christ conquers the defacing power of sin. He brings us to know God, to know ourselves, to know others. When sin is fully removed, then we will finally know fully. Then we will know the face of God.
But notice what Paul specifically says. “Then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” We might have stopped after the first bit. But he goes on. “As I am fully known.”
Know by who? By ourselves? More than that. Known by God himself.
It is one thing to come to know God, and to know his personal glory. But there is something more. To have God know you as a person.
Our Special Joy
C.S. Lewis describes this as the creature’s special joy. It’s similar to the joy a dog might have in his master knowing him. Or an artist’s knowledge of her painting or sculpture. Our knowledge of ourselves is always still a creature’s knowledge. But God’s knowledge of us is far greater. To be known by your Maker, your Creator, and to know that knowing, is something beyond our wildest dreams.
This is Paul’s great conclusion to his chapter about love. God has made us, personal beings, to be able to love other persons. And he’s made us to know his own love, that sees us as persons, that fills us as persons.
That’s what I look forward to in Jesus Christ! First, to know God in his personal glory, to see God’s face, and tremble before him. But even more, to have the Great Person look upon me, upon a huge multitude saved by Jesus Christ, and to know us all inside out and backwards, as a unique reflection of part of his infinite majesty. Through his grace and power in Jesus Christ, through the chisel blows of a dark world, even the devil, he will have sculpted part of his infinite personality into each one of us. Reflecting the depths of who he is, his love, his loves.
Thanks for reading!