Face to Face, Glory to Glory

by Rev. Nick Chambers

The small town in Illinois where I went to college had an inexplicable wealth of thrift stores, and I quickly developed a thrifting habit. (“Habit” sounds better than “problem,” right?) I shared this secondhand lifestyle with my roommate, and we would do the rounds at the local shops at least once a week. For me there was (and still is) something deeply satisfying about the treasure hunt, the searching and discovery. During one of our forages among the dusty shelves, my friend found a light therapy lamp—one designed to mimic sunlight and shine on your face to combat seasonal depression. Given that Illinois winters are a reality for which my wife reserves her most fiery rage, this was a treasure—especially at ten bucks and a 50% off color-of-the-week sticker. When he got it home, however, he discovered it needed a new bulb, which was going to bring him right back up to the original price. It was never used.

Our two sacred stories—and Paul’s synthesis—also feature illuminated faces, but here from basking in the very radiance of God. Not only is this probably a pretty good cure for seasonal depression; theologians have used this image to talk about the ultimate goal and good of human life: "beatific vision”—to see God face to face, to fully behold and enjoy his glory. This is true happiness. Everything else in life that we pursue and possess, every sense of meaning and belonging, every desire and search, every discovery and delight is a reflection of this vision—something like a therapy-lamp's simulation of the sun. Where that analogy breaks down is that everything good and beautiful actually shines from God as its source, making every glint a glimpse his glory, which is everywhere hidden and everywhere revealed.

But as Paul says, "when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed" (2 Corinthians 3:16). When we look at Christ, we see God. Though at the Transfiguration he is still surrounded by thick clouds, and though he only brings a few closest friends into this moment, Jesus Christ is the person where this happens, where the glory of God dwells whole and perfect in humanity. And for a moment on the mountain it shines through. 

So now when we search for God, when we seek humanity, when we pursue happiness, we turn to Christ: “All of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). We are transformed by what we take in. We are made to reflect God, which also means we are being made more human. As image-bearers of God, we are being restored by gazing on God through Christ. It is good for us to be here before the face and voice of God. Let us look and listen.