[my paper for Personal and Interpersonal Development just happened to intersect with the notion of facing discussed by LeRon Shults at ec05 in San Diego]
An important component of identity development is our reflection in the face of the other. This notion of ‘facing’ is found throughout Scripture. Four truths can be derived from a theology of facing in Psalms. First, God’s face brings good (Psalm 4:6; 22:24; 31:16; 44:3; 67:1; 80:3; 80:7; 80:19; 89:15; 119:135). A look from God’s face brings comfort, steadfast love, and deliverance. Second, when God’s face is turned away we feel forsaken (Psalm 13:1; 27:9; 30:7; 44:24; 69:17; 88:14; 102:2; 104:29; 143:7). More than that, when God turns his face utterly away, we are forsaken and all is lost. Our very existence is threatened because life itself is in him. Third, God’s face is against those who choose evil (Psalm 34:16; 80:16; 143:7). This is more than the removal of God’s pleasure. This is the presence of God’s wrath. Fourth, the righteous see God’s face and are satisfied (Psalm 11:7; 17:15; 24:6; 27:8; 34:5). In his face, we find wholeness (God’s shalom). In his face, our needs are met.
God’s face declares and actualizes human identity. For those who are his people, the pleasure of his face declares their identity in him and actualizes it, finding completion in eternity. For those who are not his people, the wrath of his face declares their identity apart from him and actualizes it, finding completion in eternity.
Where do we see the face of God? The first place humans encounter the face of God is when their newborn eyes behold the face of Mom (James Loder talks about this notion). As we mature, we begin to distinguish other human faces, until we finally distinguish our own face. This is the moment of self-awareness, when the identity that has been shaped by the face of God in the face of the other is revealed.
An identity formed by being face-to-face with God has an astounding impact on ministry—both for the minister and for those ministered to. For the minister, experiencing the face of God’s pleasure enables her to risk, to freely join community, and to have a more accurate self-knowledge. She is able to risk loving care and loving confrontation because, as Paul says in Romans 8:31, since God is for her, who can be against her? She is able to freely join giving and receiving in community because the face of God’s pleasure gives wholeness and fills need. Finally, she is able to have a more accurate self-knowledge because she has seen herself in the face of the One who sees all, reflects truthfully, and loves best. With these three abilities, she is free to use her particular calling with a particular people at a particular place and time. Ministry itself flows from the face-to-face with God and others.
An identity formed by being face-to-face with God also has an impact on those ministered to. While God’s face is always reflected in the human face (imago Dei), due to sin, that reflection is always a distortion. The greater the distortion, the more harm comes to the other. Severe harm can be done to those under our care when we have not spent sufficient time gazing into the face of God in the Word, in prayer, and in the faith community. This harm takes the form of not only a distorted view of God, but also a distorted view of self. A distorted view of self is very difficult to overcome.
Great care must be taken by those of us in ministry. We must take care to spend sufficient time gazing at the face of God. We must take care to discover and articulate the distortions we may have, leaving those distortions in the care of a healing God. We must take care to be the face of God for the other.