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The Beaming Face of Love
This is one of my earliest reflections from when this Substack was just a small newsletter for my counseling practice. I’m reposting it since most of you probably haven’t read it, and because I needed extra time this week preparing to teach dual credit high school psychology. This intersection of neuroscience, Scripture and theology gets me really excited, and I’m thrilled to be able to dive into this kind of material 5 days a week with students!
I love how The Message, by Eugene Peterson, translates Numbers 6:25-26:
“God smile on you and gift you, God look you full in the face and make you prosper.”
Or as the NET translation notes,
“The picture is of divine favor – the beaming face of a parent for his beloved.”
We were made for this kind of “beaming face” interaction with one another, most especially with spouses and children. On the basis of neuroscience research, psychiatrist Dan Siegel explains that
“The motivational drive to seek proximity to a caregiver and attain face-to-face communication with eye gaze contact is hard-wired into the typical brain from birth.”1
That is, God made us for “beaming face” connection!
The beaming face of love communicates delight in the beloved, a deeply felt sense that can say, without needing words, “I’m so glad to see you!” As with other metaphors in Scripture, God uses an aspect of our creatureliness to help us understand his love for us.
Or perhaps our capacity for this “beaming face” delight in fellow humans is a creaturely sign of the inner divine delight among the persons of the Trinity:
“and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).
When we walk into the lives of those who are hurting, we bring healing by reflecting God’s delight. Joy enters the darkness when sufferers see in our face, our eyes, our smile, that there’s nowhere else we’d rather be than right here, with them, in all of their sorrow.
Quotes from Wilder & Hendricks, and John Owen
The human brain was designed to look for and run on joy. My joy drops when I sense few faces shining on me and few people happy to be with me. I am isolated and lonely. If my community is not in the habit of expressing what God sees as special in each of us, our eyes do not meet and our faces do not shine when we see each other. Our soil becomes depleted. When we do not understand how joy works, we miss the treasure before our eyes.2
I remember how it was with us, when it was a joy of heart to behold the face of one another; — wherein there was love without dissimulation, in sincerity; love attended with pity, compassion, condescension; yea, love attended with delight.3
The Other Half of Church: Christian Community, Brain Science, and Overcoming Spiritual Stagnation, by Jim Wilder and Michael Hendricks.
When was the last time you saw and felt someone greet you with “beaming face” joy?
Dan Siegel, The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are, 2nd Ed. (New York: The Guilford Press, 2012), p. 163.
Jim Wilder and Michael Hendricks, The Other Half of Church: Christian Community, Brain Science, and Overcoming Spiritual Stagnation (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2020), p. 65.
John Owen, “The Use of Faith, in a Time of General Declension in Religion,” sermon preached May 21, 1680, in Works of John Owen 9:511.