Easter is upon us. The passion of Christ that defines this event is arguably given its requisite identification by the cry of Jesus on the Cross. His shout of sorrow that the Father God has abandoned him gives meaning to Jesus becoming sin because he took the sin of the world upon himself, and thus God, the Father had to make justice prevail by making him suffer. This essay shall explore the cry of Jesus in Mark 15:34 as His experience of the hidden countenance of God per the Aaronite blessing formula as recorded in Numbers 6:24-26. This essay thinks that it is the shining face or presence or countenance of God that the people of God and nations need for life and godliness. We are kept by the brightening face of God. It is our experience of the shining face of God that causes us to walk in the shalom of God. This can be seen in our everyday life; in the religious and public spaces including in the political and socio-economic life of a nation. If God could shine his face upon his people, then, the concealment of His face presents as the dark face of God. Considering the manifestations of the shining countenance of God, the converse is true for the dark face of God. In the present socio-economic life of Ghana, the essay imagines an experience of the dark face of God but holds that the Spirit of God still dwells among His people. “God” is used in this essay to refer to the Father in the Godhead.
THE SHINING FACE OF GOD
God called the Patriarchs and walked with them in a time in which many were struggling to know who God, the creator of the universe is. In doing this, he had a nation in view. Though the nation went through great challenges of slavery and later colonisation, His purpose for raising the nation of Israel remains sure. He saved the nation from Egypt and called them into a certain priesthood. Worship became a key reason and consequence of their walk with God. During the Exodus, they worship along the journey. The Lord ordained the Aaronite Priesthood to oversee the worship of God including the sacrificial system (Exodus 28). One special aspect of the ordination of the priesthood is to pronounce blessings on the congregation of Israel (Deuteronomy 21:5). In Numbers, the people of God gather in their numbers (congregations) in many instances. The Lord laid down a formula for blessing the congregation. That is what is located in Numbers 6:24-26. Benediction has become an important aspect of Christian liturgy. In the New Testament, it is usually called the words of grace. When we are asked to share the grace together we usually recite 1 Corinthians 13:14: “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ…” When someone is asked to bless the congregation there are a number of verses in Scripture that the person uses. The person also chooses to recite their own words of blessing through the spectacle of the Bible. The Aaronite Blessing Formula reveals an important thing about God.
The manner in which God expects his people to be blessed by the priesthood emerged in the light of the many instructions of worship for the priests of the people of Israel. Moses was charged to inform the priests, Aaron, and his sons, on the way to pronounce the benediction on the congregation of God’s people. Numbers 6:24-26 records it thus: “The LORD said to Moses, Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: The LORD bless and keep you; the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace” NIV.
The face or countenance of God is known to shine. Moses, after spending some time in the presence of God to receive again the tablets that bear the commandments of God, came back with his face shining such that the people were afraid to come near him (Exodus 34:29-35). The presence of God has impacted him such that he became a career of His presence. Apostle Paul alludes to this in his comparison of the Old and the New Covenants saying that the New shines with ever-increasing glory, unlike the Old whose glory passes away like the passing of the shine of the face of Moses (II Corinthians 3:7-13). Scripture attests that God “dwells in the light that is unapproachable” (1 Timothy 6:16). In the transfiguration phenomenon of Jesus, we see a glimpse of the shining face of God (Matthew 17:2). When Jesus was glorified proper, John could not behold His; he fell as dead (Revelation 1:12-17).
The benediction of the Lord comes with blessings and security. It is the Lord’s face that brings enlightenment, graces, and glory. When the face of God shines upon you, your life is consumed by glory. The Benediction reveals the providence of God. All good and perfect gift comes from God indeed (James 1:17).
The dark face of God stands antithetic to what is usually known. If in the Aaronite priesthood benediction, the Lord is prayed to cause his face to shine upon his people, then, he can also withhold his face. The result is that his dark face would be experienced. Put another way, he (God) can conceal His face from His people. The Jews call this Hester Panim (The Dark Face of God). Woe to the man to whom the Lord turns His dark face.The people of Israel have a good understanding of what it means for God to shine His face upon someone. They, therefore, dread the concealment of the face of God from them. They dread Hester Panim. They would strive to avoid the dark face of God.
The national history of the people of Israel in the Bible accounts shows that God has earned the nation many victories. In warfare, agriculture, security, politics, and other aspects of their socio-economic life, Israel was known as a nation favoured the Most High God. These realities are evidence of the shinning of the face of God upon the nation of Israel. Against this backdrop, God forewarn them of an impending rebellion that the nation would be guilty of. He told Moses that:
Behold, you will rest with your fathers; and these people will rise and play the harlot with the gods of the foreigners of the land, where they go to be among them, and they will forsake Me and break my covenant which I have made with them. Then My anger shall be aroused against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them, and they shall be devoured. And many evils and troubles shall befall them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?’ And I will surely hide My face in that day because of all the evil which they have done, in that they have turned to other gods (Deuteronomy 31:16-18, NKJV, emphasis mine).
The above text shows that the people of God are able to surmount the evil of this life because of the presence of God. The revelation of the face of God upon them is the secret to their national progress. He cautioned them of the hard life they will experience if they disobey God. Indeed, the people in several times forsook God and suffered many losses.
But why would the Bible speak of the face of the one who does not have any form (Deuteronomy 4:15-16)? God is Spirit (John 4). Despite this, the Scripture sometimes talks of God having human parts—we call this anthropomorphism: the use of human features for God. This is an act of grace. Whenever we encounter that in the Scriptures, may that provoke us to worship. Anthropomorphism is a pointer to the Christ who is to come. The coming of the Lord in full human form in whom dwells fully the Godhead bodily is the grace of God extraordinaire. It is the anthropomorphism of the highest order. Praise be to God for revealing himself this way so we can relate with Him.
THE DARK FACE OF GOD EXPERIENCED IN THE CROSS OF CHRIST
God has been with the Christ throughout his earthly ministry. Jesus showcased a mighty ministry because God the Father was with him. Jesus could say that “And he who has sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him” (John 8:29, NKJV). The loving relationship with the Father God became sour when the sin of the world was laid on him as he hangs on the tree. Evangelist Mark accounts, “And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34, NIV). The pain in this statement is almost tangible. It is a statement of one who has been disappointed and in great agony. The Father who has always been with the son has sadly deserted him. He looked for salvation but to no avail. God the Father has hidden his face from Jesus the son at that critical moment of his life and ministry. God was nowhere to be found in the experience of Jesus. He turned His dark face towards Jesus. This is because, at that moment, Jesus has become sin. Indeed, instead of calling the LORD “Father” as he used to, he called Him “God”. There was a broken relationship with the Father. God allowed his only begotten Son to be bruised and crucified in a most brutal manner.
GHANAIAN SOCIO-ECONOMIC EXPERIENCE
The Christian fortunes of Ghana have been appreciated far and near. Roman Catholic and Protestant missionaries have done good pioneering work in Ghana in planting the Gospel of Christ. The Ghanaians desired Christ and longed to worship Him in their primary religious thought-forms. From that time till the emergence of classical Pentecostal, the charismatic movement, and the new prophetic churches, the name of Christ was shared abroad in Ghana. There are numerous socio-economic markers of the presence of God in the nation of Ghana. From the education sector, language development, and governance, it is not difficult to find testaments of Christianity. Even our national independence tells a story of God, for it is the Christian schools that have nurtured the leaders of the nationalist struggle for the regain of political independence. The place of God in the struggle for political independence even manifests in our national anthem. The presence of God is strikingly felt in our pneumatic world hence we could put God at the very heart of our nation. The knowledge that the Ghanaian people have concerning the Supreme Being, the flicker of truth, which spurred on an embrace of Christ by the people, translates into their expectation of the blessings of God in every facet of their community life. Ghana is aware that God cannot be noncommittal with respect to its public life. Ghana looks to God to shine his countenance on her so the blessings of God fall upon her like a latter rain.
Recent developments in Ghanaian political, economic, and social life are painting a portrait of a nation that is not in the good books of God; a nation that is not experiencing the shining face of God. Ghanaians are bemoaning hardships. Disastrous events are happening. Corruption is on the rise. Economic failure is plain reality. Political tension is everywhere. Heinous crimes are on the increase. Many people are apprehensive. Considering these realities, a conception of the idea of God turning his dark face on the Ghanaian socio-economic fortune must not be ignored.
The Ghanaians must begin to ask critical questions concerning the future of the nation. What am I doing wrong? Am I engaged in an anti-god expedition? Is my work as a civil servant pleasing to God? Am I stealing from the poor? Is evil being perpetuated by me per my politics? Am I in the name of God, deceiving innocent people? “Dear God, do not hide your face from us;” this must be our humble plea.
It is a fearful thing to experience the dark face of God. The Ghanaian people must strive to earn the shining countenance of God. However, amidst the economic hardships and discomforts in present Ghana, the people must be assured that God is working in the background of His concealed face. The Sprit of God is still dwelling in Ghana. In the Bible for instance, though the name of the LORD is not found explicitly in the Book of Esther, we cannot deny that He was working in the world in the context of the Book. I suspect that God is looking for someone or a nation on which to shine his face. This must awaken in us the fear of God in all our endeavours. Our socio-economic fortune could see the light of God and Ghana would walk in the benediction of God.
Written by Elder Dr. Stephen Ofotsu Ofoe