Seek God’s Face

Love hides its face from two classes of souls: the false lovers and the true. The false confuse appetite with love, and so fail to recognize the real thing when it comes to them; the true are kept in darkness about their love, and so add faith and hope to their search for it. The search in faith and hope for the love that seems to be always out of reach is in fact love already discovered.

Those, on the other hand, who look only for the gratification of their appetite are in exactly the opposite condition: they think that they have at last found love when in fact they have found only sensation. Instead of searching in faith and hope, they have searched in greed, and so have searched in darkness.

Face of God

This article is from a chapter in How to Find God. Click image to preview chapters as an ebook or paperback.

To be always looking in faith and hope for what is known to exist but evades discovery is not only of the essence of religion, but is also the motive of every generous adventure and the stuff of heroism. The search for the Christ-life is the supremely generous adventure, the one completely worthwhile heroism. But it would be a mistake to see in this the call merely to explore. Souls are not invited to experiment in di­vine love; they are invited to give themselves to it.

Love and sacrifice are not the same thing, but they are inseparable. To think of Christ and to think of the Cross is not the same thing, but the association is so close that the implication is immediate. Where love has been preached without sacrifice, it has led not to love but to license. Where Christ has been preached without the Cross, such preaching has led not toward Christ, but away from Him. And because the crucifix is to us Christians the symbol of our Faith, the service that we render as Christians is seen in terms of the crucifix. The love that we bring to Christ and the sacrifice that it costs us to bring it to Him are thought of together.

A price must be paid. The price of love is normally the price of faith. And this is as much the case in human love as in di­vine. The cost is the suffering of believing against all outward evidence that the prolonged search is in fact a progressive discovery. If the price of loving Christ is the pain of having to look for Him, the price of finding Him is the pain of having to share His loneliness in the Garden of Gethsemane. Loneli­ness is the worst suffering, and if we can endure this in faith, we have as good as won our way to Him.

To be cut off from other human beings and their love, to be cut off from all sense of God and of His love, to be cut off from what one believes to be one’s real self and to be lodged in the body of a ghost who has lost the power to love: this is loneli­ness. But loneliness is only one of the accompaniments of love. It is a sign, not the substance. Nor is loneliness the in­variable sign: if it were, one might be able to recognize it more easily for what it signifies. What peace is to the right use of lib­erty, loneliness is to the service of God in prayer.

What costs the soul most is not the service itself, or the love itself, or the suffering itself, but the sense of serving badly, loving badly, or suffering badly. What God wants is not only the acts of service, love, and suffering, but the acts of resigna­tion to personal insufficiency. For the soul to know that the whole purpose is to search for God, and at the same time to see how half-hearted its search is, must lead either to dependence or to defeat. If the soul makes use of this knowledge and trusts in God, it learns humility. If the soul makes use of the light only in order to be miserable, it exchanges the darkness of faith for the darkness of self. The grace of true humility is sac­rificed for the false comfort of self-pity.

When a man sinks himself in his pain, all he is doing is try­ing to find pleasure. He is running away from the pain that was designed to be the means of his happiness. When a man ac­cepts the humiliation that his suffering brings him, he is look­ing not for pleasure but for reality. Just as it is weakness to rest in one’s own misery, so it is strength to make of one’s own nothingness the material for confidence in God. Just as self-pity is the only kind of pity that is entirely useless, so confi­dence in God is the only kind of confidence that is sure proof against disappointment.

Confidence in one’s power to go on indefinitely searching for God in faith is not confidence in God. Confidence in the sufferings involved in such a search is not confidence in God. Confidence in “the future” is not confidence in God. There is only one confidence in God, and that is the kind that com­bines faith and hope and expresses itself in works of love. If souls were allowed to feel whole-hearted in their search for God, they would begin to feel self-confident as well — self-confident not necessarily in their ability to find, but certainly in their ability to look.

There is nothing that human nature will not turn to for a sense of security, and there is satisfaction to be found even in unsatisfied striving. It is because there is so little satisfaction in this striving of faith that those who persevere in it are proved to be souls of love. If there were satisfaction in the work, what would there be to show that they were not persevering for the sake of the satisfaction? What would there be yet to look for if the mere search brought the satisfaction of discovery?

But God keeps souls fumbling and stumbling, always on the edge of discovering the object of their desire, but always painfully aware of their empty-handedness, precisely because He wants them to go on in the work for His sake, and for His sake alone. Perseverance is conditioned not by satisfaction, but by dissatisfaction. If we were satisfied that we had found what we wanted, we would stop wanting.

“Seek for the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near.” Yes, but in faith we must find Him; in faith we must call upon Him. The relationship between the loving soul and God is such that presence is taken for absence, light for darkness, nearness for separation, and discovery for loss. “My soul has thirsted for the strong living God,” cries the psalmist. “When shall I come and appear before the face of God? My tears have been my bread day and night while it was said to me each day, ‘Where is thy God?’. . . Why are you trou­bled, my soul?. . . Hope in God.” And in the same psalm, there is the suggested explanation of this troubled search: “Deep calleth upon deep. . . . With me is prayer to the God of my life. I will say to God, ‘Thou art my support.’ ”

Moses and his followers were continually within a few days’ journey of the Promised Land, but for forty years they had to look for it. The Magi were in Jerusalem when Christ was only a few miles away from them at Bethlehem, but they had to look for Him. The love of God was not far from the zealous Saul of Tarsus, but before he could be Paul, he had to look for it.

“Yes,” you may say, “but there was always the light from God to guide these people in their search: the Jews in the wil­derness had their pillar of fire to lead them through their dark­est night, the Magi had their star, and Saul was enlightened on the way to Damascus. With us it is different: our way is hid­den, and it seems just a matter of chance whether we find it or lose it.” The Jews, despite all the light that they received, for the most part walked in darkness; indeed theirs was all the deeper because of their disobedience, superstitions, and lack of faith. The Magi enjoyed the light of the star while they were in the desert, but when they came to the Holy City, they had no star: it was then that they had to inquire and make their acts of faith. The light that brought conversion to Saul brought also blindness for a time: the light was too strong for him, so he had to find his way in darkness.

We look for Christ in darkness, and in darkness He reveals Himself. We flounder in unsatisfied longing, and in our floundering we discover love. We think we have lost faith and hope, when in our seeming faithlessness and hopelessness we discover true faith and hope. Would not our eyes even get used to the face of God if they saw it all the time?

To the searcher in faith, nothing is purely temporal, purely material. Every outward thing reflects the eternal, the supernatural. Nothing of the creature is insignificant when the ori­gin of its being is seen to be God. If its end is seen to be the expression of the glory of God, everything is significant. Taken in themselves only, without relation to their meaning in God, all things might be said to be valueless. Significance and insignificance, truth and falsehood, reality and unreality: these qualities are determined solely by the relation they bear toward the being of God. Leave God out, and nothing has any meaning whatever.

Through the thicket of material cares, human activities, and secular and distracting circumstances, man must search for the light of supernatural purpose which shines in the sky behind it. Once he sees the twigs and branches lit up from the far side, he knows that the cares were material only because he made them so, that the activities were human only because he failed to see them as divine, and that the circumstances were secular and distracting only because he let in the world and failed to make use of it as a mounting block to God. In the design of God, all these things are as supernatural in purpose as the light that falls upon them.

But man is so busy looking at the objects immediately in front of him, that he misses the light that gives them their true quality. Without this light, there are no perspectives: all is seen in the dimension of the senses — flat and entirely false.

You must persevere in your search for God

“Let all who seek Thee rejoice and be glad in Thee; and let such as love Thy salvation say always, ‘The Lord be magnified.’ ” We search in this life for truth, goodness, beauty, and love. When we come across these things on earth, we see a little (but only a little) of God in them. Although we know we must leave no stone unturned, no landscape unexplored, we are easily disappointed. We know that God is under the stones and in the landscape, but the temptation to substitute other things for God is too much for us. And then, when we have made the substitution, we are more disappointed than before. We find ourselves with nothing but a stone and a landscape.

If we are humble and have a grain of hope left, we begin again in our search for the real and the lovable. It is harder the second time. But for all our failure to discover what we want, we do in the end discover one thing: the only thing in life that is worth doing is searching. Experience teaches us nothing else. The man in the Gospel who went digging for his buried treasure had already found it.

Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter in Dom Van Zeller’s How to Find Godwhich is available from Sophia Institute Press. 

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Dom Hubert van Zeller (1905–1984) lived a life of spiritual adventure and holy renunciation. He was born in Egypt when that nation was a British protectorate, and entered the Benedictine novitiate at age nineteen. His soul thirsted for an austere way of life; at one point he even left the Benedictines to enter a strict Carthusian monastery. However, he soon returned to the Benedictines. A talented sculptor as well as a writer, his artworks adorn churches in Britain and the United States

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