Bible for Thinkers

Liberals love the Bible, too. We just look at it differently. This is a place to discuss the Bible where you don't have to check your brain at the door. There are many ways to see it, and many ways to have it come to life.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The face of God

I'm working on a third book. It's coming along all-too-slowly, but I am learning as I go. The book deals with the way in which our human relationship issues often transfer to our relationship with God, so I'm working through all the different types of human relationships in turn.

Most recently I've been working on the Sibling Rivalry chapter, and the biblical example I chose for this is the story of Jacob and Esau. While working through the reconciliation of that relationship at the Jabbok River in Genesis 33:1-11, I saw for the first time a broader parallel to another story.

In the Jacob and Esau narrative we have two brothers, sons of a wealthy man. There is an inheritance issue, and one son grabs the inheritance and runs to a far off country. While away from home, that son serves another man as a servant for many years. When he finally decides to return home, he sees the one whom he has wronged and approaches him bowing and scraping in submission. But Esau ignores that and in Gen. 33:4 "But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept." Jacob then says to his brother, "For truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God--since I have received such favor."

What other Bible story does that remind you of? I'm sure I'm not the first to discover this, but all of a sudden it struck me how like the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32 this was. It has so many similarities, in fact, that I wonder if Jesus--who like any good student in Hebrew School would have been steeped in the Jacob and Esau story--wasn't giving his listeners a midrash on the story when he told the parable. Some of the details are changed, of course, but the issue of inheritance, feuding brothers, forgiveness, and the grace of God are still dominant themes.

The truth of both stories are the same--contrasting the way we typically act in human relationships (especially in our families) with the unmerited grace and unconditional love of God. In the story of Jacob and Esau, it is the wronged brother whose face mirrors the face of God. In the story of the Prodigal it is the wronged father who runs to welcome his errant son. But in both cases, the Gospel message is told. The Kingdom of God is here...standing in our midst, wearing the most unlikely of faces. The face of a sibling. The face of a parent. The face that we are afraid to look at directly because we know the wrong we have done them.

And yet, when we muster the courage to look, our fears of punishment are washed away as fast as that other person can run, and we find ourselves not in hell, but in God's loving embrace. The God of the Old Testament is no different than the God of the New. Maybe that's part of what Jesus was saying in that parable. I don't know how I missed it.

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