And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord
as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same
image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:18
“I miss seeing your face!” That’s something I have thought and said and these COVID weeks grind on into months. I acknowledge that masking is necessary, but still am sad when I venture out and see the human face masked. We cannot see a human expression of joy, pain, confusion, and longing. It feels like a blank. Deep down we know that the face is more than a physical image. That’s why we so miss seeing faces, even those of strangers.
I am finding the Bible helpful in getting a handle on my dis-ease with seeing the human face masked. In the Old Testament the Hebrew word for “face”, panim, is often translated “presence”. Perhaps that gives clues as to why we might feel a person’s presence is not fully with us if we can’t see the face. Significantly, the Hebrew word panim is plural, i.e. “faces”. Hebrew scholars explain that this plural/singular word denotes the many facets of a person seen in the face. We realize that no face can fully define or express the essence of the person we see. Perhaps that is what poet Rainer Maria Rilke is getting at when he said, “There are qualities of human beings, but there are many more faces, for each person has several.”
The word “face”, (panim), is used extensively throughout the Old Testament to signify the presence of God (e.g. Genesis 3:8; 4:16; Exodus 33:15). The Biblical expression “face-to-face” denotes the highest degree of intimacy with God. Think of Jacob, after wrestling with an angel, who named the place Peniel – “God’s face” – saying, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life is preserved” (Genesis 50:20). Then we read that in the Wilderness “the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (Exodus 33:11). The soul-thirsty psalmist longs for yet greater face-to-face intimacy with his God: “My soul thirsts….When shall I come and behold the face of God?” (Psalm 42:2) We are promised, “the upright shall see his face” (Psalm 11:7). The Aaronic Benediction blesses God’s people as He makes His face to shine upon them (Numbers 6:25).
Now as I see people wearing masks and miss their faces, I try to think of God who comes to us, face-to face, without a mask. God desires the closest, most intimate and honest relationship. Paul writes of this unmasked, or unveiled, relationship with God in today’s scripture. “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image…” Note Paul does not say, “Some of us,” but says rather, “All of us, with unveiled faces” get to behold the glory of God face-to-face. Greater even than what Moses experienced, believers under the New Covenant find that God “has shone in our hearts to give the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). In the face of Jesus, God comes to us wanting to love and give Himself to us. So, in these days of COVID, masks and distancing, we keep our eyes on Jesus until that day we will be like Him for we will see Him as He is (1 John 3:2).
A fellow traveler,