The Face of Forgiveness (Psalm 4)
In perhaps an awkward way of putting it, one of the psalms has us asking a favor from a face – the face of God. “Lord let your face shine upon us” and a little later, “Let the light of Your face shine upon us.” (Ps. 4). The phenomenon the psalmist draws on here is our life long experience of having different faces look at us and of learning to read the expressions on these faces. At that first glance we register different messages — “that person likes me, is angry at me, is ignoring me, is curious about me, really loves me.” To a sizeable extent, we read what’s going on inside a person through the face, as if it’s a kind of a medium or window onto his or her inner thoughts as well as a light projecting the shapes of what’s stirring inside.
And that’s the petition. “Would you, Lord, show me your disposition, your attitude toward me, your face.” Still further, “I ask that the face you show me shines out with care, compassion, understanding, and abounding kindness.”
It’s easy to understand why so many saints and writers have identified Jesus as ‘the face of God.’ As The Father’s person in the world, the way he looks at us in the gospels is the way God is looking at us. So we note the delight in Jesus’ eyes looking at the little children, or his raised eyebrows at the money changers in the temple, or the downturn of his mouth in disappointment at the young man who walked away sad, or the glint in his eyes at the exquisite lilies of the field.
In many ways, the gospels draw us to one special face that God, in Jesus, is making – the face of forgiveness. Though registering hurt, this countenance much more gives off the message of welcome back. It’s a look saying the offense is not the last word and is not going to stand in the way, that the reparation due has been cancelled.
Pause a moment to bring up a memory of some face or other that has looked back at you with forgiveness — someone you offended who one day said, “It’s ok, come on back, we can begin again. It’s over, you don’t owe me anymore, new things now can happen between us.”
Recalling that gracious look, you sense what a gift and a treasure this countenance is. It brings on liberation, a door opening on the future, a weight taken off and a fresh path laid out. In the language of faith, it can feel like grace.
With this pardoning face in memory, think of all the times this forgiving look comes off Jesus’ face.
- to Peter after his denials,
- to the so-called sinners and outcasts who came to The Lord,
- to his disciples who over and over don’t get what he’s trying to say and even run away from him,
- and most vividly there on the cross, the forgiveness pouring out of his suffering eyes as he pardons not only the criminals hanging next to him but indeed the people who are executing him.
Following up, the mission the Risen Lord gives his disciples is this — “Go out and proclaim forgiveness!” Go out and present this face of God to all the world. Spread it around to everyone that the Creator is forgiving and takes you back and loves and cherishes you. And what Jesus asks his disciples is not just to speak forgiveness, but to be forgiveness. He’s telling them to be his own forgiving countenance in the world. He’s missioning them to radiate that merciful message from the center of their own selves, to give off the no-conditions welcome-back that the Prodigal Father gave to his Prodigal Son.
How does God’s forgiving face shine upon God’s people? It’s through the faces of Jesus followers. Ow HGod’s forgiveness comes through the eyes of God’s people, believers who take on themselves the sometimes next to impossible task of pardoning the other who has hurt them. Once given, it unlocks that miraculous feeling of freedom, of new air coming into the room, of reprieve from isolation.
Someone once observed that one of the most convincing proofs for God’s existence is the sight of one person really forgiving another. And that’s because for especially deep hurts forgiveness is beyond our power and we can’t do it on our own. It needs the potency of the living God come to us in the Risen Jesus as present in his compassionate Spirit. Two faces are needed for forgiving, the face of the forgiving disciple and the merciful face of God shining through the eyes of that believer. And isn’t this the case for saints like our Vincent and Louise who radiated God’s compassionate face to so many of their time.
Lord, let your Face shine upon us. Let the grace of Your saving forgiveness shimmer out through the eyes and faces of your followers.