Augustine as the consummate pastor-theologian studied for the sake of his own soul and then sought to pass on the food he received. “I nourish you with what nourishes me,” he said. “I offer to you what I live on myself.” Seeking the face of God helps protect us from pride, from seeing the Bible as a book to be mastered, or from assuming we have the last word on all things biblical or theological, as if it were possible to put an end to study.
Psalm 105:4 was a favorite verse of Augustine. He cited it four times in his work on the Trinity. “Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his face always” (CSB).
For this reason, Robert Louis Wilken chose Seeking the Face of God as the subtitle for his book The Spirit of Early Christian Thought. Wilken believed this phrase, more than any other passage in the Bible, captured the spirit of early Christian pastors and theologians.
Revisiting Wilken’s work and the legacy left by the early Christians, I couldn’t help but wonder why it’s so easy for those who study the Bible or engage in the task of theological reflection to dismiss or downplay the desire to seek the face of God.
Ways We Approach the Bible
We can’t help but be shaped, at least in some measure, by Enlightenment rationalism and the tools of modernity.
We come to the biblical text and the task of theology with presuppositions about what we are to find in the sacred Scriptures, and our assumptions shape the goal and purpose for our study. Someone might think that our personal devotion should be cordoned off from our theological study; otherwise, we’d fail to be “objective” in the task.
And so, we approach the biblical text looking for our next sermon outline, or we study theology in hopes of passing the exam, or we peruse journals and book reviews so we can stay on top of current conversations in the academy.
Perhaps most Christians read the Bible to glean a little insight and inspiration for the day ahead, a morsel of wisdom to strengthen us in the life we’ve already chosen for ourselves.
How many of us consciously open the Scriptures or engage in the work of theology as a way of seeking the face of God himself?
Education and Exultation
On my shelf sits a commentary on the Gospel of Mark written by a solid, well-respected evangelical scholar, renowned for his work over decades of study. The bulk of it deals with questions of redaction criticism, textual variants, and the like—important issues to grapple with, certainly helpful for scholars who specialize in those fields. But somehow, lost in all the study, Mark’s portrait of Jesus receives little elaboration. Mark’s purpose in showing us Jesus seemed to run counter to the commentary, which focuses on everything else.