Friday, April 27, 2007

the face in hebraic theology

Last week I did a little word study in my Hebrew class on ~ynIP'. (panim or "face"). It was fascinating to begin to unpack the theology of this concept in the Old Testament. One commentator noted that to have a face is to be in relationship. The face, as the portal to the total person, is loaded with nuances as we turn towards or away from one another. Something that caught my attention was the connection between the ideas of "face" and "presence." To seek the face of YHWH is to go to the temple, the place of his presence. To "face" someone is to offer total presence. Abraham Heschel has written about the absence of presence in panim in his book God in Search of Man. His way of understanding the holocaust and other atrocities is to name the "eclipse of the face of the Divine" (hester panim). This takes me to a christology of "face"- just as sin has to do with a breaking between faces (fractured relationship), so the hope of the Messiah is really YHWH taking on a face of flesh and blood- Christ is the embodiment of panim, restoring the hope of full presence in the interpersonal realm. A Christian theology of relationship will always look like two people painting each other's faces back on- just as they ought to be- restored to glory.

7 comments:

nate said...

Great stuff Phil. I can't wait to do similar things in the future when I get a Bible program for my computer. I'm heading back full time to school. I just preached about Moses yesterday and how he was called a friend of God and that he spoke with God "face to face". It was interesting to note that the first time he saw God's glory, he only was able to see God's back. It seems that there must have been a transition at some point in which God allowed him to draw closer and closer to him until they were face to face. What do you think - was there a progression in Moses's relationship with God and a change from being hid in the cleft of the rock to being face to face at some point? Blessings!

Lian said...

great Post, Phil.
Nate, that's a really interesting one to me because I have often thought of Moses' view of God's back in isolation - "No one can see the face of God..."
Is there a difference between the face Moses interacts with in the tent of meeting and the glory he is able to see only from the back?
It's kind of a challenging thought.
And how does that fit in with Phil's Christological suggestions? It seems as though YHWH has a face all through the OT - how does Christ enhance or change this conception?

Swift said...

Nate, It struck me that, given what Phil described of "face" as person or relation then it is acurate to say that he saw God "face to face" while never seeing is face as we would understand it in our non-nuanced English reading.
This is random, but I'd be curious to know how aware of this meaning of "face" C.S.Lewis had when writing "Til we have faces".

elnellis said...

ooh, hadn't made that cs lewis connection, swift. that seems right in line with the rebuilding of faces...
chad, i wonder if there is something unique about the human face that YHWH seeks to embody uniquely in Christ? and how does that face offer presence to all of humanity?

nate said...

Wow, I don't know where to go from here. Phil's post is only the tip of the iceberg for a subject like this and it seems that one could spend endless amounts of time on this theme. I would love to trace all throughout Scripture and gather extra-biblical and classical understandings and nuances of what "face" meant in the world surrounding Scripture. It seems that in Scripture, O.T. and N.T. that Moses, Paul and others seem to take for granted the readers understanding of what is really meant by the word, "face". I feel like my English understanding does no justice at all. I am interested in building a personal theology based around relationality, community and divine progression and maturation of the Bride of Christ and how salvation history fits into God's cosmic and eternal plans. Phil, I think you've given me the theme to begin with in "face" as well as teleology to guide. Interesting - face to face = unbroken relationship. I Cor. 13. Exodus 33 -

vs. 11 Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses returned to the camp, his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.

vs. 20 - But He said, "You cannot see My face, for now man can see Me and live!"

vs. 23 - Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.

What does this apparent contradiction mean - is there a different Hebrew word for "face" from verse 11 to vss. 20 and 23 like was suggested above by Chad I think? If anyone has access to the Hebrew good stuff, I would be deeply interested. I am not able to at present because of my travels. I may run into something.

What's happening here and are the events in sequence to each other the way they are in the verse progression? It may be as at other times that this is just a general accounting without logical sequence. Not sure! Oh to be an O.T. theologian

pedro said...

The human face is a very curious thing, when you think about it. I've been noticing facial expressions lately. My sister-in-law had a baby a few month ago, and it has been amazing to see his "facial expressions" develop over the past few months. My wife works with four women with different disabilities, and they have a range of abilities, including in facial expression and communication. Sometimes when I look at my wife's face and see the nuances of her expression, I can really begin to understand what it means to be in her presence.

In the context of 1 Cor. 13 (Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face; now we know in part, but then shall we know as we are fully known), being in someone's presence - seeing someone's face - is knowing and being known. Knowledge in this sense is intimate relationship. Here on earth, people often have two or more faces, and sometimes impairment means that the face does not have the ability to reflect the true essence of someone's being. On occasion, however, we can look into someone's face and glimpse the divine.

It's amazing how much someone's eyes can tell us. When you think about it, it's amazing that the eyes can communicate so expressively when they are essentially sensory organs - they are a means of receiving communication.

swift - I love that connection to Lewis.

elnellis said...

well put pedro!