It’s a word we don’t hear too often, but one I remember from the benediction used in the church in which I grew up,
The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you.
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
– Numbers 6:24-26
Countenance is one’s face or facial expressions. And it’s a powerful thing. The human face can display over 10,000 unique facial expression combinations, communicating everything from fear to favor, joy to disgust. Research has shown that by 12 months, babies use visual information from the faces of their caregivers to make sense of situations that are new or unclear. And we continue to understand ourselves and our relationship to others through their countenance. Remember that look your mother could give you that would stop you in your tracks? Yeah, you know the one I mean. That’s the power of countenance.
Last week my wife, Nancy, picked me up at the airport. We’d been apart for several days and when I got in the car I looked at her, and her countenance said it all. I was missed. I am loved. I belong. All that before I even got a kiss. That’s the power of countenance.
Yesterday I was shopping in Target and waiting in line to check out. In front of me was a dad on his cell phone and his three-year old in the shopping cart. She was drawing a picture, smiling and singing to herself. When she was done drawing she cried out, “Daddy, daddy, look!” The radiance in her face was precious. She was obviously proud of what she’d drawn and hungry for her father’s affirmation. But instead her father simply glared at her with a look that said, “Can’t you see I’m on the phone?” In the light of his countenance, her countenance crumbled. That’s the power of countenance.
So here’s my question: How do you imagine God’s countenance? Close your eyes and imagine looking directly into God’s face. What do you see? Is it a look of anger? Accusation? Disappointment? Or is it a look of affection? Sheer joy? Even adoration?
I believe that Jesus entered this world to proclaim the smile of God upon all creation. That doesn’t mean that God approves of everything we do, but it does means that nothing can separate us from God’s love. No matter how badly we’ve blown it when we turn to God we are met with a countenance that assures us that we are loved and that we belong.
What does God’s countenance look like to you? Leave a comment and let me know what you see.
Then take a moment and listen to the Westminster Abbey Choir sing, “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” and let these words fill you up and remind you that you live in the light of God’s smile. You can watch the video here.