Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Save Face?

You can tell a lot about someone by their face. It is said that the eyes are the window of the soul. But people can become very proficient at superficiality. At best, reading someone's countenance is not a sure-fire way to diagnose their soul. Still it is a start. Have you been noticing people's faces recently?

I have been thinking about faces lately because I have been reflecting upon Psalm 42 again. This is the Psalm that encourages us to talk God's promises to our own souls when we are on the hamster wheel of discouragement and affliction. If you haven't encountered this concept, I would encourage you to pick up Spiritual Depression by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones or at least listen to this message on Psalm 42 by C.J. Mahaney. Or just read the Psalm reflectively. That's the best place to start.

If you use a modern translation, as I do, you won't seen anything about faces in Psalm 42. If you read the KJV, you will find that in that Psalm the line translated "my Saviour" or "my salvation" in verses 5 and 11 are "help of his countenance" and "health of my countenance" respectively. The range of the Hebrew in the original allows for either. Woodenly, I guess you could say that God is the one who can save my face by showing His face.

Note the progression captured in this Psalm in verse 5 and verse 11 in the KJV:

42:5 Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.

42:11 Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.

The way the KJV has it, the recovery that the Psalmist needs - his salvation from his soul trouble - comes from the countenance of the Lord. In the parallel verse at the end of the Psalm, this God is the help of his countenance. God shows His face and the man is restored so that health is restored to his own face in the midst of his troubles.

Now I know that the word "countenance" carries more freight linguistically speaking than the mere word "face." That line about the eyes being the windows to the soul gets at "countenance" more profoundly. Countenance includes our whole aspect - character, attitude and personality.

So what about suffering and faces? If our suffering is caused by our own sin, we ought to feel shame - we'll want to hide our face. If our suffering is external to us, imposed upon us, yet public, we can become conscious of the fact that we are "those people." Our faces are noticed in the grocery store or even in church. This can be uncomfortable. If we let it, it can accentuate our suffering. Either way, we need help.

Our face in this metaphorical sense as well as literally is bound up with our identity. In suffering, our identity can be overwhelmed by whatever grief or despondency has gripped us. Our face will show our suffering. Our face needs saving. We need to see God's countenance. He is the lifter of our head. We need to know that God is willing and able to save us in His mercy by His grace. We learn this in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In Him there is life. In Him there is now no condemnation. There is health and salvation in His healing look.

When I read Psalm 42 in the KJV, I had an image of an old Western wanted poster in my mind. I saw the Psalmist as one who is hunted and in a state of near panic as his enemies without and his fears within are overwhelming him. His own face accuses him. He sees that poster everywhere. Like a hunted criminal, he knows he has to get out of Dodge, but he can't. He needs a Saviour. He needs more than a witness protection plan, he needs a perpetrator protection plan. That is what God - the God who saves sinners - provides.

Saviour / salvation are fine words in Psalm 42:5, 11. Sometimes, however, it pays to reflect upon the old English ways of putting things so that we can look at things from a different angle. The countenance of our Great God and Saviour is my help. His face is health for my countenance.

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