"For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me."
I recently had a conversation about forgiveness which triggered some icky memories...memories in which people hammered me with "truth" when I needed wisdom and encouragement. One time I asked for prayer in a Sunday School class concerning a painful situation our family faced daily in our neighborhood. I wanted God's wisdom in how to handle the situation and wanted to know how to help my children deal with pain. One man who didn't know me came up to me afterward and asked me if I had ever heard of forgiving because Jesus had forgiven me. I experienced humiliation and shame and left believing I was defective for experiencing emotions over the situation. I never asked for prayer in that class again. As I write on the topic of forgiveness, I fear I will shame readers who are hurting. Please know if I were sitting across from you I would want to hear your story, understand how hurtful events have impacted you, cry with you, and then and only then move on to discover where you are in the process of healing and forgiveness.
After I had that conversation on forgiveness, I contemplated doing a word study on the topic, but decided it was for another day. Instead, I read the Bible reading for the day which happened to include the story of Jacob and Esau. Jacob was a deceiver who cheated his brother out of his birthright blessing by dressing up as Esau and feeding his dying father a meal Esau was supposed to have prepared. Esau was so angry he declared that he intended to kill his brother, causing Jacob to flee.
Jacob then spent years working for his father-in-law who frequently gave him a taste of the medicine of deception, leaving him with a mess to deal with for the rest of his life. Jacob heads for home at the prodding of God. Home to the land where Esau lives. Home to the land possessed by the one who had wanted to kill him.
He comes up with elaborate plans, hoping to placate Esau's anger. When he hears Esau is coming to meet him, he falls on his face and prays, acknowledging that he was not worthy of God's steadfast love and faithfulness, revealing that something new had taken root in his deceptive heart. Something called humility. In fear, he begged God to deliver him from Esau's hand. Jacob ends up in an all night wrestling match with a "Man" like no other. As dawn broke, the "Man" touched Jacob's hip and told Jacob to let Him go, but, Jacob said he would not let Him go until He blessed him. The "Man" blessed him and changed his name to Israel, and Jacob declared that he had seen God face to face and lived. Many people believe the wrestling match represents our wrestling in prayer with God over difficult things. For many years that was what stood had out to me most about this story.
Jacob then looked up and saw Esau coming and went to meet him. He was not faced with anger as he expected. Instead, Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and they both wept. This passage is very familiar to me, yet, a couple of days ago something new jumped out at me in the midst of the familiar words. Jacob said, "...For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you accepted me."
This story is about forgiveness, but God didn't demand forgiveness at the moment of wounding like we often do (and like I did with my children when they small and fought)! Instead, He taught Jacob how his deception impacted Esau by subjecting him to his own medicine. God also used Jacob's fear to humble him, taking him to his knees before he came face to face with his brother. I am curious as to how God softened Esau's heart to prepare him for that day. We aren't told, but I believe the forgiveness Esau displayed could only be given through the power of God's Spirit.
I have often prayed that other's would see Jesus in me and it hit me, as I read this story, that if I don't forgive others, I am depriving them of the opportunity to see Him! I honestly don't know another person in the world that doesn't long to be accepted, not based on performance, but on who she is behind her mask with her weaknesses, her frailties, her imperfections, her mistakes, and her sins.
Oh, how I fear I have denied people an opportunity to be accepted and to look into the face of God by not forgiving and by living in a self-protective mode that keeps others at arms length.
I wonder how different our churches would be if we were more willing to listen to people's pain, hear their stories, and walk with them, allowing them life lessons and time to wrestle with God. In stead of remembering they were shamed by judgmental people, they would remember Him who humbled their hearts, healed their pain, and prepared them to forgive what feels unforgiveable.
One of my granddaughters recently asked what God looked like. It was Christmas and we talked about the baby Jesus. But after reading this passage again, I think I would have answered her differently. I would tell her, "My God looks a whole lot like forgiveness!"