Psalm 105:4 was Augustine’s favorite verse. He quoted it four times in his work on the Trinity. “Seek the Lord and his strength; always seeks his face” (CSB).
For this reason, Robert Louis Wilken chose Seek the face of God as the subtitle of his book The Spirit of Early Christian Thought. Wilken believed that this phrase, more than any other passage in the Bible, captured the spirit of early Christian pastors and theologians.
As I revisit Wilken’s work and the legacy left by early Christians, I couldn’t help but wonder why it is so easy for those who study the Bible or engage in the task of theological reflection to reject or to minimize the desire to seek the face of God.
Ways We Approach the Bible
We can’t help being shaped, at least to some degree, by Enlightenment rationalism and the tools of modernity.
We approach the biblical text and the task of theology with assumptions about what we are to find in the Holy Scriptures, and our assumptions shape the aim and purpose of our study. Someone might think that our personal devotion should be isolated from our theological study; otherwise, we would be unable to be “objective” in the task.
And so, we approach the Bible text in search of our next sermon outline, or we study theology in hopes of passing the exam, or we browse through journals and book reviews in order to stay on top of the conversations in progress in the academy.
Perhaps most Christians read the Bible to glean some insight and inspiration for the day ahead, a piece of wisdom to strengthen us in the life we have already chosen for ourselves.
How many of us consciously open the scriptures or engage in the work of theology as a means of seeking the face of God himself?
Education and exaltation
On my shelf is a commentary on the Gospel of Mark written by a solid and respected evangelical scholar, renowned for his work over decades of study. Most of it deals with questions of editorial criticism, textual variants, etc. – important problems to solve, certainly useful for researchers specialized in these fields. But somehow, lost in all 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.
I heard John Piper once express his frustration with many comments: they rarely turn into chanting and worship. Education rarely connects with exultation. He writes,
“If education does not lead to exultation in God, it fails. If seeing glory does not lead to savoring God, it fails. If thinking the truth does not lead to feeling love, it fails. Education, knowledge, sight, thought, all these are for exultation in God. And if they don’t produce it, they are not what they were created to be.
Knowing and loving Christ
Travel back to the days of the Puritans and Reformation theologians, or go further back to the early church fathers and Augustine’s writings – yes, you’ll find puzzling aspects of biblical exegesis, and yes, you will see them scholars engage the thought and philosophy of their time, sometimes badly and sometimes well. But you will also feel how palpable their desire was to better understand the mystery of Christ, to honor and receive the treasure of the gospel, and to bask in its glory personally and corporately, hoping to shine as witnesses to the world. outside.
The task of Christian theology is not one of invention or establishment; it is about discovery and explanation. We have stumbled upon something real, and as we gaze in awe at the wonders of that reality, we seek to exhibit it faithfully, confident that what we have seen will change us. “We are changed into the one we see,” said Gregory the Great.
Wilken describes the task of the early Christians:
“They not only wanted to understand and express the dazzling truth which they had seen in Christ, but in thinking and writing they sought to know God more intimately and love him more ardently. The intellectual task was a spiritual enterprise.
Seeking the God of the Scriptures
This desire for God, a thirst to know him, to love him and to adore him, permeates the first Christian writings. This desire propelled them deeper into the scriptures. “For now, treat God’s Scripture as the face of God,” Augustine wrote. “Melt in his presence.”
Augustine, as an accomplished pastor-theologian, studied for the sake of his own soul, then sought to pass on the nourishment he received. “I feed you what feeds me,” he says. “I offer you what I live from myself.”
Seeking the face of God protects us from pride, from seeing the Bible as a book to be mastered, or from assuming that we have the final say on everything biblical or theological, as if it were possible to put an end to it. in the study. Augustine told his readers:
“Whenever you are as sure of something as I am, go ahead with me; whenever you hesitate, seek with me; each time you find out that you have made a mistake, come back to me; or if I was wrong, call me back. In this way, we will walk the street of love together, walking towards the one of whom it is said: “Always seek his face”.
At the end of his work on the Trinity, Augustine admitted that he had struggled and struggled in his pursuit of the intellectual search for God, but this work inspires more prayer:
“Give me the strength to seek you. . . . When we reach you, there will be an end to these many things we say and fall short of, and you will remain one, but all in all, and we will say one thing in unison praising you, even ourselves being also made one in you.
So open your Bible, pick up a theology book, and remember the ultimate goal: union with the one who saved us. “Always look for his face.”
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