I’ve been thinking about the transforming power of God’s love lately. How does knowing we are loved change us? What does experiencing God’s presence do to us? How does it effect our thoughts and actions? Do we look different? If so, do people notice?
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of commandments in hand, he was not aware that his face was shining (Exodus: 34-29-35). Apparently, the skin on his face was glowing because he had been talking with God. It must have been a dramatic change — like a sunburn or a blinding spotlight, because when Aaron and the other people saw Moses, they were afraid. His appearance frightened them. So he put a veil over his face. He only took off the veil when he went to talk with God again. That was really too bad. It makes me wonder what would have happened if Aaron and the other folks would have put up with the glare. Maybe the glow of God’s love and presence shining through Moses would have transferred to their faces, too. Perhaps it would have encouraged them to talk with God as well.
Shining faces got me thinking. I see faces light up all the time. I’m a substitute teacher, and children in the elementary schools often want to tell me something that is special to them. They light up as they tell me about their dog or maybe their family is taking a trip. Children are really good at letting the spirit shine in their faces. I often feel the best part of the day is listening to these special moments of sharing with kids. Rather than being afraid, I carry a glow away with me every day after spending time with children.
Fears can make us want to cover our eyes or turn and run the other way. But if we can face them, they diminish in power and we learn to grow beyond them. My daughter and her family are visiting from San Francisco this week. Her young sons have never experienced fireworks and she thought our local festivities would be a good way to introduce them to the Fourth of July tradition. She remembers being a little girl burying her face in a blanket near Selby Field as the fireworks boomed in the sky overhead. I don’t remember saying this, but she recalls that I told her if she would just look up and see the beautiful lights, she would be less afraid. It must have worked.
Moses was chosen by God to lead his people. When he came down from the mountain, people listened for once. He held their attention with that bright and shiny face. Once he figured out it was his face that frightened them, he covered it to protect people. Bright and shiny, glorious light seems to be something that holds people in awe and can overload them with fright. Scripture tells us when an angel of the Lord appeared and “the glory of the Lord shone around them,” shepherds watching their flocks near Bethlehem were “terrified,” when Jesus was born (Luke 2:9). God is light. So there we have it. God is amazing light and terror all at once. God can unsettle us and leave us feeling confused, shake us up, and make us forget our carefully constructed thoughts about God. But as bright as Moses’ face was or any child’s or even the fireworks in the sky on the Fourth of July, these are only mild imitations of the glory of God. People are called to reflect it. For God is, as Karl Barth reminds us, “the one who makes us radiant. We ourselves cannot put on bright faces. But neither can we prevent them from shining. Looking up to him, our faces shine.”
Rev. Patricia A. Stout is a retired Presbyterian minister and a substitute teacher in the Delaware City Schools.