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The Biblical Quest to See the Face of God

One of the most extraordinary moments in the beginning of the Gospel of John is when Jesus attracts his first followers.

Unlike the other three gospels, where Jesus goes out looking for disciples, here the disciples take the initiative. Here is the account in John:

The next day John was there again with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about four in the afternoon (John 1:35-39).

What is most striking about the above vignette is that Jesus asks them, What are you looking for? This seems surprising to us because it’s obvious what the men were seeking: Jesus! On one level, Jesus is interacting with them as any normal person would — if someone starts following you around, you would ask them what they’re doing. But we can also read his question on a deeper level: in following Jesus, were the two men looking for the right thing?* In other words, were they looking for a worldly messiah who would liberate Israel? Were they looking for a mere prophet? Were they even truly seeking?

What should we really be seeking?

As Christians, we know the answer is God.
But the Old Testament offered a more specific answer than this.

One of the most memorable expressions of this seeking is in Psalm 27:

One thing I ask of the Lord;
this I seek:
To dwell in the Lord’s house
all the days of my life,
To gaze on the Lord’s beauty,
to visit his temple.

“Come,” says my heart, “seek His face”;
Your face, Lord, do I seek!
Do not hide Your face from me;
do not repel Your servant in anger.
You are my salvation; do not cast me off;
do not forsake me, God my savior! (vv. 4, 8-9).

The psalms are full of variants of this plea for God to show His face to His people. For example, Psalm 4:7 states, “Many say, ‘May we see better times!/ Lord, show us the light of your face!’” And Psalm 44:25 says, “Why do you hide Your face;/ why forget our pain and misery?”

This petition to see the face of God is driven by a related set of desires and concerns. First, asking God to turn his face is another way of beseeching God to listen to him. Intriguingly, research has shown that for humans our inner ears move with our eardrums. Of course, God is a spirit, not a body, but the psalmist is speaking through metaphor.

Second, the turning of the face is a sign of favor. This is a universal fact of human interaction. Think about what happens when you do the opposite: what does it mean to turn your back on someone? It indicates that they have fallen out of your friendship — that you won’t share in fellowship with them or extend any favors.

Third, there are specific favors that are sought. Often the prayer to see the face of God is accompanied with a cry for redemption from sin or relief from some misery.

Read more at Catholic Exchange. 

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