Seeing God


A few weeks ago, a group of young people visiting our church sang the popular worship song, "Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord." As I listened and worshiped with them I started wondering whether we really understand what  we are asking in a song like this.

The song goes:

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord.
Open the eyes of my heart, I want to see you, I want to see you.

To see you high and lifted up
Shinin' in the light of your glory
Pour out your power and love
As we sing holy, holy, holy.

Most of this is repeated, with some variation, and the line "I want to see you" is repeated a number of times.

At least two things are notable here. First, the insistence on wanting to see God. While I like the impulse - I hope to see God someday too - I wonder what would happen if a congregation suddenly did see God. After all, this is YHWH, the Holy One of Israel, the one who told Moses that no one could see his face and live. (Ex. 33:20)

It all just sounds so cavalier to me. Israel does not see God, but trembles in fear at the base of Sinai while Moses is on the mountain with God. In fact, God instructs Israel not to touch the mountain and if they did, they would die. Only Moses and Aaron may go up Mt. Sinai, although the people could hear God's voice at the base. Sounds like fear is the right response to me.

If every instance that an angel appears in the Bible the persons involved are fearful, how much more fearful must it be to see the living God?

The second notable thing in this song is the repetition of the word holy. The song rightly recognizes that the God we seek is holy. But what does that mean?

In a very basic sense, to be holy is to be set apart. In other words, God is not a big, powerful version of us. God is other. We are like God in certain ways but only God is the Holy One. The Holy God cannot dwell with sinful people. Thus, to ask to see God is in some way to ask to be destroyed.

My hunch is that our rather thoughtless singing of these simple words rarely has the appropriate amount of fear mixed in.

Annie Dillard once wrote about worship:

"Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies straw hats and velvet to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return."

She's right, of course. To ask for an audience with YHWH is to ask for God to change you, to strip you of yourself, and to rebuild you into what God wants you to be not necessarily what you want to be. Encountering God guarantees having to let go - and keep letting go - of all kinds of little idols that we all hold dear. This is indeed a fearful thing. A good thing, but a fearful thing.

There is an old saying, "be careful what you wish for." Perhaps we should add, be careful what you sing for.

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I love this blog that reminds us so eloquently of God's holy otherness, and that to be casual in worship is dangerous.  And yet, and yet....  I want to remember also the psalm writers who longed and prayed to see God's face, and even more important to me is our ability to see the Holy God in the face his image - his son Jesus.   there is something so beautiful and so biblical about this song's longing ....