What does the face of God look like? Could you recognize it if you saw it?
When I consider this question, I remember the story of a little girl who was drawing a picture.
When her teacher asked her, “What are you drawing?”
She looked up and said, “I’m drawing God.”
Then another little girl said, “But no one knows what God looks like.”
To that the little artist replied, “Well, they will when I finish this picture!”
That little girl was confident. She just knew that she — and others — would know the face of God when they saw it.
This Sunday we continue our Listen for Grace Lenten Worship series with “The Face of God: Grace is Reconciliation.” Our scripture reading is the well-known story of Jacob and Esau — a story that clearly illustrates grace extended. This is a story of wrestling with God — and with oneself. It’s about the grace extended when Jacob really doesn’t deserve it. And even though that grace is being extended by another person, it is such a powerful experience that Jacob recognizes in it the face of God.
The idea of “God’s face” is a mixed bag in scripture. In some places, to look upon God’s face is to die. And yet, it takes on another meaning in most places — the image of God’s face is also a metaphor for grace. Consider the priestly blessing: “May God lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” Or the words of 2 Chronicles 7:14: “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and seek my face . . . ”
In this story of Jacob and Esau, you’ll remember that Jacob gets a name change after he wrestles all night with God. His new name is Israel, which translates to “one who struggles with God.” So here’s Jacob, about to face the brother who has vowed to kill him, wrestling with God. And by now, Jacob is probably struggling with himself, too. Jacob has not been the most upright, forthright person, and of course it was probably weighing heavily on his mind that the last time Jacob saw his brother, Esau vowed that he would kill him.
So with all that’s gone before, Jacob is facing quite an ordeal the next morning, and he’s up all night in this well-known, epic struggle. And then, the next morning when he does face his brother, Esau instead embraces him and accepts him. This was such a profound experience for Jacob that he felt like he was looking right into the face of God.
What’s surprising in this story is how Jacob recognized this grace in the moment he experienced it: “Seeing your face is like seeing God’s face, since you’ve accepted me so warmly.” I think that phrase really speaks to this idea of grace as reconciliation.
In this passage, Genesis 33:1-10, Jacob recognizes the face of God — the favor of God — and therefore the grace of God in this brother because of how graciously Esau accepts him. And, because of this grace-filled moment, these brothers are unexpectedly reconciled, which was the farthest thing from what Jacob was expecting when he was doing all that wrestling. So the whole experience captured in this scripture was infused with God’s grace and how the experience of God’s grace comes in the struggle — and in the reconciliation with another person.
Have you ever experienced this kind of reconciliation with another person? A time of reconciliation in which you experienced the grace — and the face — of God? Have you ever experienced that kind of reconciliation within yourself?
I look forward to exploring with you all these levels of grace as reconciliation this Sunday in the Sanctuary.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster
Genesis 32:22-31, 33:1-10
Jacob got up during the night, took his two wives, his two women servants, and his eleven sons, and crossed the Jabbok River’s shallow water. He took them and everything that belonged to him, and he helped them cross the river. But Jacob stayed apart by himself, and a man wrestled with him until dawn broke. When the man saw that he couldn’t defeat Jacob, he grabbed Jacob’s thigh and tore a muscle in Jacob’s thigh as he wrestled with him. The man said, “Let me go because the dawn is breaking.”
But Jacob said, “I won’t let you go until you bless me.”
He said to Jacob, “What’s your name?” and he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name won’t be Jacob any longer, but Israel, because you struggled with God and with men and won.”
Jacob also asked and said, “Tell me your name.”
But he said, “Why do you ask for my name?” and he blessed Jacob there. Jacob named the place Peniel, “because I’ve seen God face-to-face, and my life has been saved.” The sun rose as Jacob passed Penuel, limping because of his thigh.
Jacob looked up and saw Esau approaching with four hundred men. Jacob divided the children among Leah, Rachel, and the two women servants. He put the servants and their children first, Leah and her children after them, and Rachel and Joseph last. He himself went in front of them and bowed to the ground seven times as he was approaching his brother. But Esau ran to meet him, threw his arms around his neck, kissed him, and they wept. Esau looked up and saw the women and children and said, “Who are these with you?”
Jacob said, “The children that God generously gave your servant.” The women servants and their children came forward and bowed down. Then Leah and her servants also came forward and bowed, and afterward Joseph and Rachel came forward and bowed.
Esau said, “What’s the meaning of this entire group of animals that I met?”
Jacob said, “To ask for my master’s kindness.”
Esau said, “I already have plenty, my brother. Keep what’s yours.”
Jacob said, “No, please, do me the kindness of accepting my gift. Seeing your face is like seeing God’s face, since you’ve accepted me so warmly.