“I want to see Your face.” That line and derivatives thereof are a common request in modern worship songs. We are often telling God we want to see Him. Some notables:
“In the Secret,” by Andy Park: “I want to touch You, I want to see Your face.”
“Better is One Day,” by Matt Redman (albeit from Ps 27): “One thing I ask and I would seek, to see Your beauty.”
“Open the Eyes of My Heart,” by Paul Baloche: “Open the eyes of my heart, I want to see You.”
“Show Me Your Glory,” by Third Day: “Send down Your presence, I want to see Your face.”
I myself have added a refrain to Isaac Watts’ great hymn, “Come, We That Love the Lord,” which reads,
We have come to give You praise
Almighty God, lift up our gaze
Lord, we long to see Your face
Won’t You come and fill this place?
No doubt some of my theologically conscious worship-leading buddies, especially those in the hymns movement, are rolling their eyes…maybe even furrowing their brows. Not only have I added to the already perfect hymn of the greatest hymn-writer, I’ve inserted some spurious theology, capitulating to the likes of mainstreamers like the four aforementioned songwriters.
The seriousness of the request of seeing God/God’s face/God’s beauty/God’s glory (they’re all pretty much the same request) was first pointed out to me by Michael Horton in a book that was very formative for my theology of worship, entitled, In the Face of God. In it, he wrote,
Any aspect of worship that attempts to take the seeker into the Holy of Holies without going through the Mediator and the sacrifice leads to judgment. Israel’s faith was filled with a sense of awe and respectful distance, fearful even to spell out the divine name. his reverence stands in sharp contrast to today’s ‘God is rad; he’s my dad’ informality. We must beware of scandalous familiarity with God. Perhaps we do not know him as well as we thought we did.*
This resonated in my soul at a time of life when my view of God’s power, glory, and sovereignty was rapidly expanding, concurrent with my increasing dissatisfaction with how carelessly some in the modern worship camp seemed to approach Yahweh Sabaoth. That was the early 2000’s, and I’m happy to find modern worship nowadays being steered in a direction of higher praise, loftier theology, and a more transcendent Deity. So why have I seemingly come full circle, to the point of inserting a “face request” in one of my own songs? (Ooh…just had a revelation of a new cheesy book title: The Bible: God’s Facebook…actually there’s a lot of analogical substance there…anyway.)
The answer is that I find “face time” with God to be a scripturally sound concept: (1) marked as a blessing of the new covenant to be fully realized at the eschaton; (2) encouraged in portions of the old covenant, where one would think such talk would be banned.
He prays to God and finds favor with him, he sees God’s face and shouts for joy; he is restored by God to his righteous state.
~Seeing God’s face here is framed in a positive light.
For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice; upright men will see his face.
~Seeing God’s face is a reward for (ultimately Christ’s) righteousness. We can conclude that we who are in Christ do and will partake of that reward.
And I—in righteousness I will see your face;
when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.
~Here the Psalmist seems to be speaking of the hope of the eschaton, and through a righteousness which is ultimately not his, but Christ’s…nonetheless a moment of face-longing.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek your face, O God of Jacob.
~Face-seeking is a positive thing, a habit esteemed and encouraged.
My heart says of you, “Seek his face!”
Your face, LORD, I will seek.
~Much like the previous, but an even bolder claim of commitment to seek His face.
Then I will go back to my place until they admit their guilt. And they will seek my face; in their misery they will earnestly seek me.
~Repentance and the pursuit of justice, mercy, and godliness is summarized in the concept of seeking God’s face. Seeking God’s face is not only a good thing, it is the right thing.
1 Cor 13:12
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.
~I understand that interpretive directions could lead to a variety of ends, but given the rest of the “face talk” of scripture, I see warrant to interpret at least part of “face to face” as our face and God’s face.
2 Cor 3:18
And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Besides biblical quotations about seeking God’s face, the modern worship request is backed by a biblical theology of the new covenant (see especially the book of Hebrews). The veil is torn in the temple. We have access to God’s very throne-room through the meritorious blood of Jesus Christ. So biblical soteriology (salvation theology) supports this kind of face talk.
Christology (the study of the person of Jesus) also supports it, for in Him, we behold God incarnate, the face of the eternal One. We read the eyewitness accounts of the gospel writers and of Paul, and by the Spirit we mysteriously behold the face of God through the Word of God.
Sacramentology (a biblical understanding of the sacraments), at least for the Presbyterian/Reformed, Catholic, Lutheran, and Eastern Orthodox, also supports face talk. For in the Lord’s Supper there is a genuine communion between Christians and Christ (however that happens)–authentic “face time,” seen and experienced with the spiritual eyes of faith (1 Cor 10:16).
The biblical evidence, to me, is overwhelming. Requesting and expecting the face of God not only seems to be allowable, but encouraged. But, as Horton has reminded us, there’s a scriptural balance of, in Matt Redman’s words, “the friendship and the fear.” Depending on your disposition, you will be inclined toward one or the other, and your inclination will often cause you to subtly discount the other end of the spectrum. Stately, fear-minded worshipers might scoff at face-statements as too brash, too disrespectful, too irreverent, too assuming. Casual, face-seeking worshipers might balk at overly transcendent worship language as too distant, too cold, unworshipful, and mood-killing. The reality, as in many instances, lies somewhere in between. And perhaps a good marker of being somewhere in the middle is a fully authentic willingness to say or sing, “Lord, I want to see your face,” while in the back of your mind remembering, “but I know that is a potentially dreadful and awesome request.”
Such balanced face-seeking in worship actually makes the face-seeking all the more rich and meaningful. It ups the ante of the request instead of cheapening the manifest presence of the Almighty One. It’s my hope that we all can grow in seeking God’s face together.
*Michael Horton, In the Face of God (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1996), 16-17.
And somewhere in all of that we must factor in that no one can see God’s face and live. But I suppose it just wouldn’t be the same if we sang about wanting to see his back, like Moses did, whatever reality was behind that anthropomorphism. 🙂
“I want to see your back” doesn’t quite have that ring. Still, it’s the more appropriate request!
You forgot to mention, what I believe is, the most important aspect of longing to “see God’s face”. The eschaton.
No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
God will no longer hide his face. We will worship “Coram Deo”. Similar to the pre-fall garden state. But much more than Eden offered actually.
As for now, what if we simply start trying to see the face of Christ in the face of our neigbors?
Thanks for posting about this, I would love to read more about this topic.