The Face of God

by Jerry Senn

"For if you return to the Lord ... the Lord your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him."
—2 Chronicles 30:9

Over and over in the Bible the Lord is described as a God of mercy. There are about as many references in the Bible to God’s mercy, as there are to His love.

But, in fact, we often confuse the two or use these words interchangeably. The Bible says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). But, the Bible also says, “The Lord is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face … if you return to him” (2 Chronicles 30:9). Seeing God’s face isn’t possible physically, of course, but the text speaks of knowing his presence as we seek his favor.

God’s love is grace (favor0 unmerited. Mercy is God’s love withholding His wrath from guilty sinners. Mercy is often not appreciated as is “grace.” Both God’s grace and His mercy are involved in his love of mankind. He turns away his face (favor) when we sin, but to all who “return to him” his “face shines” upon them with acceptance.

The prophet Jeremiah put it this way, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him” (Lamentations 3:23-24).

The mercy seat in the Old Testament temple was the place God and sinners met annually. Sacrificial blood made atonement possible. Today the atoning blood of Jesus is our permanent atonement. His mercy isn’t in any way due to our best efforts or good deeds. God’s grace and mercy allow us to stand in the God’s holy presence, as we continually “return to him” in genuine repentance and faith.

“The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed … The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 103:8-9). Do we value of our access to the face of God?

God told Moses to speak to the people regularly with these words:

"The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you; … and give you peace."
— Numbers 6:24-26