2 Corinthians 4.6:
For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
The face is the most important part of the human body. Four of the more important biological functions happen in the face: we see the world through our eyes, we have an (often unconscious) sense of smell that triggers our memories, we communicate through the usage of our mouth, and we also eat and drink through our mouth. Not too far off at the sides are the ears that allow us to hear. What happens in the region of our face is, to say the least, critical for our human survival.
Yet, the face is important for more reasons that given above: it is also the region of our body where the most information about ourselves is visibly displayed for other people to see. Our emotions are expressed through our faces, meaning that people come to know where we are and what we are like through our face. The face is one of the most important regions of the face when it comes for forming social bonds with another person. When we want to find people who are warm, friendly, and receptive to us, we will look to the face to determine if they are people we can draw near to or if we should stay away. When it comes to social bonds, what we see on each other’s faces proves to be one of the most important aspects of building relationships.
Yet, the face isn’t the only important place when it comes to building relationships. For instance, it has been observed that when people are looking for potential mates, those looking more for sex will spend more time looking at the rest of the body at the more “sexual” regions whereas those who are looking for a long-term partner will spend more time looking at the face. Additionally, potential relationships, romantic or non-romantic, are also often evaluated by signs of wealth and status on their person, such as their clothing, their body posture, etc. The relationships we seek to form with others are impacted by the various parts of the body. Depending on what it is we value, we will pay attention to the bodies of other people in different ways. In addition, we may pay attention to other, non-bodily aspects of the person such as their voice, knowledge we have about their relationships with other people, signs of their intelligence, evidence of education, etc. All told, we can come to evaluate people for potential social relationships based upon a whole host of bodily and non-bodily “information” that provides signals of personality, character, wealth, sexual appeal, status and authority, etc.
Yet, for those who are most concerned about the type of emotional bond with another person, whether it be that of mutual love, that of leader-follower, etc., the face becomes one of the most critical regions of the body for us to pay attention to. While the other bodily regions and non-bodily knowledge about a person may still be noted, when people value the emotional bond with another person, the face will be one of the most important region we look to. Thus, it is through the face of another that we find what triggers something deep without our own hearts, at the deepest recesses of who we are. The gaze of two (potential) lovers is an example where the face of another person can imprint deeply on us as a person, stirring up something deep within us that we may never have aware that we wanted.
So, when Paul talks about the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ in 2 Corinthians 4.6, we are not just getting a fanciful metaphor of the incarnation that says we see God’s glory visibly through the person of Jesus. Paul’s meaning is much deeper here connected to the way a person perceives Jesus, as he earlier describes “all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror.” For Paul, the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ is not just a description of the person of Jesus alone, but it is a description of what happens to those who believe in and worship Jesus through the Spirit. Our own faces radiate the glory of the face of Jesus Christ, as our own faces as we are transformed by the Spirit become a mirror reflection of Jesus’ glory.
The glory of a person in the ancient world could be found in many other sources. It could be found in their social status and authority, in their impressive acts demonstrating their power and skill, in their wealth, in their beauty, etc. The magnificence of other people was evaluated based upon a lot of factors. Yet, for Paul, the ultimate place where God’s glory is to be found isn’t in all the other sources that we use to evaluate people’s glory, but the face. While God is all-powerful, has riches in heaven that surpasses all human imagination, has legions of angels reading to do His bidding, it is the face that demonstrates what is most fundamentally important about God as the region o the body that tells us more about personality, character, and relational openness than anything else. The face of a worshipper of Jesus in the Spirit is the zone where knowing God’s glory is most evident and made known. It is there where the emotional bonds of love, joy, affection, compassion, and concern for us are made known. As Paul says, this stirs up something within us that we were unaware of, shining light into our hearts.
Just as we can fall in love with someone through seeing the beauty of their face, we who are being led by the Spirit can also be stirred up to deep love of Jesus through the glory of a person’s face who has been transformed by the Spirit so that their face provides a demonstrative glimpse into the glory of God.