Face to Face
On this mountain He will destroy the veil that covers all peoples,
the web that is woven over all nations.
He will destroy death forever
The Lord will wipe away
the tears from every face
The reproach of His people He will remove.
Perhaps every person is born hearing snatches of a melody the words of which he cannot quite comprehend and longing for a face whose outline we can see only dimly. There is a veil or covering over the soul of the human race that prevents our seeing that face and hearing that voice. This is puzzling and challenging, sometimes a cause for skepticism, perhaps there is no voice, no face; and sometimes a cause for hope; the intimations are persistent and sometimes fill the soul with gladness. For we do see, but in Saint Paul’s words, as in an imperfect glass, obscurely. This inability to see God face to face is part of the curse earned by the rebellion. The last words God speaks to the children of Adam in the Genesis account are addressed to Cain, who in the murder of his brother Abel had revealed the character of fallen man, which issues first in envy and then in murder. God said: “You are cursed from the ground,” and Cain replied, “Behold thou has driven me away from the ground and from thy face I shall be hidden.” Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord (Genesis 4:14).
And that is the last message we receive from God until Christ comes to say, “He who believes in me believes not in me but in Him who sent me” (John 12:44). We will not hear God’s own voice again until He says to each of us either, “Come ye blessed of my Father, take possession of the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world,” or, “Depart into the everlasting flames” (Matthew 26:24–25). In the meantime there are messages and signs that poke through the puzzle. God gave the law; He sent the prophets; He made His presence known over the Ark of the Covenant, and in the fullness of time He sent His Son, who was neither a messenger nor a manifestation but the Second Divine Person, of one substance with the Father, and finally He sent His Spirt, not an effect but God Himself again to reveal and indwell. In Christ the eye of faith could see God. Thomas said first, “Unless I see I will not believe,” and then, “My Lord and my God.” And John said, “Blessed are those that have not seen and have believed” (John 20: 24–25, 29). And the day when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess is not yet. Then Jesus will destroy that texture of light-obscuring shadow that Isaiah calls a covering over all peoples and which Irenaeus described as the fashion or schema of the world, the skein of sin and rebellion.
In the meantime there are many who do not and will not believe. Our Lord himself asked (Luke 18:8), “When the Son of Man comes, will He find, do you think, faith on the earth”? The reasons that the veil separating us from the vision of God will challenge faith until He returns are not obscure. Because of the fall, because of our betrayal, Satan has a claim on all the sons of Adam, and God’s attempt to break through the veil to touch every elect soul is opposed by Satan with all the energy of an eternal spirit who writhes beneath his own condemnation, and whose only solace it is to deny souls to God who calls them. In the parable the seed sown, when the disciples ask how it can be that the good seed sown in the world are surrounded by tares, rank weeds. When men were sleeping, when they were attending to lesser things, the enemy came and sowed these weeds among the wheat. The tares are not inanimate irritations or hindrances but lost souls gone wrong who appear in Satan’s service and whose presence in the Lord’s field chokes out the wheat that is God’s redeemed. An enemy has done this. That enemy is Satan, who, cast out of heaven by the birth of a child (Revelation12:13–17), works relentlessly to sow knowingness and complacency, to direct our attention away from God and the hope and challenge of the blessedness Jesus taught to the field we have bought or the wife we have married.
And if this is the case with the Church, the power of the enemy in the world is indeed terrible, for there the enemy is feebly opposed if at all. The covering that is over the world is a texture of lies that prevents any attempt to see beyond the veil before the attempt is made. There are veil-spinners aplenty. Most commonly Satan’s success is realized in promoting ignorance as wisdom. Education in 2017, save in exceptional circumstances, is education for life in a godless world. What can seem wisdom for a friction-averse political world, the exclusion of God from the public square, effectively argues the irrelevance of religion for life. It was Newman who pointed out that when a school does not teach about the truths of God, the typical student or citizen reasonably concludes that nothing deserving the name ‘knowledge’ can be known about Him, that purported knowledge about God and Christ must be sentiment masquerading as truth, religion being properly a private possession must never obtrude upon the public domain. Add to this knowing ignorance the active and earnest solicitation of the senses that goes on relentlessly day by day. And add further the practical collapse, now at the margins, proceeding toward the center, of the Church bored with God and the four last things and only mildly interested in His personal and political effects.
These things alone, taken together, will cast a veil between the soul and God that only the Holy Spirit can penetrate. What we know is that this side of the veil takes its meaning from what lies beyond. The promise is that in the end the darkness that covers the earth will give way before that light in whom we see light. Beyond the veil lies the source of the intimation that there is a land where death has been swallowed up in victory, where the veil has been rent, where our partial insights are perfected as we see “face to face” (I Corinthians 1:12). As Paul says, “For we all, with face unveiled, reflecting as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into His very image as through the Spirit of the Lord” (II Corinthians 3:18). And John the Evangelist says: “We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (I John 3:2).
And the Prophet John saw through the door that was opened into heaven something of the same vision that Isaiah had recorded, for he saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold the dwelling of God is with men,” and He will wipe away the tears from our eyes (Revelation 21:1–4).