The Face of God

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A friend recently asked me why I feel alive making peace and building bridges
between people.

His question caught me off guard and made me stop and think.

I believe every person is a precious diamond made and loved by God. The Bible
teaches that every person is an embodied reflection of their Creator (Genesis 1:26). To
see a person aright is to catch a glimpse of God.

But if there’s a wall between us, we can’t see that precious value.

When the walls come down and a bridge is built, we have the chance to move closer
and see one another’s profound beauty and complexity. Perhaps we even experience
the joyous shock of loving someone we were tempted to hate or of learning from
someone we thought was totally wrong.

My most poignant experiences of God have happened on these bridges, in these shaky
in-between places of peacemaking with others.

These moments always remind me of Jacob’s astonishing words after he saw a vision
of a bridge connecting heaven and earth: “God is in this place, and I didn’t know it”
(Genesis 28:10). Shortly after this bridge experience, Jacob encounters his bitter
enemy and shockingly says, “Seeing your face was like seeing the face of God”
(Genesis 28:10; 33:10).

Since my youth, this prayer has burned in my heart: “Your face, Lord, I will seek”
(Psalm 27:8). Like Jacob, I have discovered God’s face not only by closing my eyes
in prayer but by opening my eyes in peacemaking with others.
Several Jacob stories fill my memory.

I met Eyob wandering the streets of Addis as a thirteen-year-old boy. The wound on
his head was horrific to behold; I could see his brain quivering through his rotting
flesh. The nurse at the Christian hospital where I took Eyob told me he was a dog who
belonged in the street and that I should take him away.

But then Eyob revealed the love of God to me like no one I had ever met before. He
became a healing presence in my life and in the lives of other suffering children in the
hospital.

I saw God’s face in the rejected street boy’s face.

I met Abdi in eastern Ethiopia when he welcomed me as a complete stranger into his
home. I had heard of his city’s famous hospitality, and so I knocked on the gate of a
random home to see if they would welcome me in.

Sure enough, a woman came to the gate, warmly welcomed me in, and offered me
food. She introduced me to her husband, and Abdi sat and talked with me over tea. He told me that he loves Allah because Allah has made each one of us with equal value and desires justice and peace for every human being. That’s precisely why he
welcomed me in as a complete stranger.

I was touched to my core by Abdi’s hospitality. As I walked away, I was filled with
intense reverence and thought, “God is in this place, and I didn’t know it.”

I saw God’s face in the Muslim stranger’s face.

“John” said that I was the first person he told he was gay. I grew up thinking of
homosexuals as slaves of animalistic lust and dangerous hedonists ruled by perverse
impulse. And yet John embodies the most painstaking pursuit of God and Christ-
revealing character. He told me that his life’s mission is to “radiate Christ” rather than
a sexual identity.

I saw God’s face in my gay neighbor’s face.

I have had similar experiences like this with other people considered outsiders,
terrorists, and racists. Like Jacob, I was shocked: God is here, and I didn’t know it. I
can see God’s face in the face of the other when we cross the bridge of peace toward
one another.

The Psalmist prayed, “Many, Lord, are asking, ‘Who will bring us prosperity?’ Let
the light of your face shine on us” (Psalm 4:6). What if the truest prosperity is the
peace that comes when God’s face shines on us in the face of someone we would
never expect—even the face of our enemy?

These unexpected revelations have been the moments that have convinced me that it’s
good to be alive and that I’m called to build bridges between people. Through
peacemaking, we see the face of God revealed where we least expect it in our
neighbor.

Peacemaking doesn’t mean agreement. In fact, we may still have deep disagreements.
But we can say, “Yes, this person has precious value. This person is my neighbor. I
refuse to demean or humiliate them. I can see glimpses of God in their face.”

Have you ever discovered God in an unexpected place or person?

God, bring us closer together and open our eyes!

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Jesus
(Matthew 5:9)

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