When God Hides His Face


The Scripture often presents God anthropomorphically, attributing to him human features and characteristics, that we may better understand who he is andwhat he does. One of the most common and important anthropomorphisms is when we read of the “face” of God.

Of course, God is a spirit (Jn. 4:24) and therefore does not literally have a face. The face of God typically represents his presence and favor. His face is turned toward his people to bless and sustain them (Ps. 67:1; Dan. 9:17). The believer’s desire is for the face of God to “shine” upon him or her. Many of you have no doubt hear your minster pronounce a benediction at the end of worship that is drawn from Numbers 6:24-26.

The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

Yet the Bible also speaks of times when God “hides” his face, or “turns” his face away from his people. This is typically an act of discipline or judgment, where God pulls back, experientially, from his people that they would sense their need for his grace and power and seek him afresh (Deut. 31:17; Ps. 27:9). This is why the psalmists will sometimes cry out, “How long will you hide your face from me?” (Ps. 13:1) God is hiding.

In the course of the Christian life the face of God will shine upon us in blessing, and turn away from us in discipline. In those days when God hides his face, we must remember, though he may feel distant, and his grace may be delayed in coming, he is not far off, nor is his love fading. God’s love is everlasting and there is nothing that can separate us from it. He is always with us and promises to never forsake us. So when, because of our sin or God’s mysterious purposes, we cannot sense his closeness or do not experience temporal deliverance, we must remember we are not chasing the forgiveness of sins or the love of God. We have all of that in Jesus Christ. We are seeking is intimacy with God and the intervention of God in our lives at the present time.

But how do we seek the Lord? We have a great example in Daniel 9:3-20 where the prophet finds himself and Israel in exile, away from the temple and their homeland, and in need of God’s intervention. This is when Daniel says, “Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes.” This seeking involved fasting, earnest prayer and pleading for mercy, all while mourning over and confessing sins.

There is no seeking God’s face and favor apart from “mourning” and being “poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3-4). We cannot turn toward God without pleading prayer. Fasting should, at times, be a component of such seeking. What should we do when we find ourselves afflicted, downcast, and distant from the help of God? We should seek him diligently, and anticipate his gracious response. This is what seeking God truly is, reaching out to the Lord in anticipation of undeserved grace. And though at times God may hide his face, you can still hear his voice in the Scripture.

Seek the Lord and his strength;
    seek his presence continually!
— Psalm 105:4