In my job as an editor, one of my biggest joys is receiving notes from readers and hearing how a certain book touched them. Of all the notes I’ve gotten over the years, though, there’s one that especially stands out.
The e-mail came to me from a 10-year-old girl who had just finished reading a children’s fiction series about a girl and her horse:
I used to think God was too busy to ever think about us, and the only times he did was when he was mad about something. And I thought he was just always frowning at us, so I never really talked to him. I didn’t understand what it meant in the Bible when it says you’re supposed to fear God.
Young as she is, this girl articulated what so many of us, deep down, fear is true—that when God looks at us, his face is screwed up in a frown. He sees all our shortcomings and failures, and he wishes we’d be a little smarter, a little more well-behaved, a little more spiritual. Even if we acknowledge that at some level he’s obligated to love us, we picture him as distant or at least mildly dissatisfied with us.
Then the girl goes on:
But then I read these books and I realized I was wrong. Especially when I read how Ellie pictured God smiling. Since then I’ve thought about him smiling about different things, and I talk to him a lot. Anyway I just wanted to tell you that and thank you very much for the books.
In the book of Numbers, Aaron gets instructions about his duties as a priest. This role was especially significant in the Old Testament because the priest wasn’t just the spiritual leader; he was God’s representative to the people. The priest was charged with showing them, in a sense, what God looked like. So when the Lord revealed the blessing Aaron should give the people, it wasn’t just some nice, poetic-sounding language. It was a picture of God’s very face.
May the LORD bless you
and protect you.
May the LORD smile on you
and be gracious to you.
May the LORD show you his favor
and give you his peace.
When I read this verse, I can’t help but think of another 10-year-old. Me. As a kid, I was sensitive with a side of drama, so I often felt like going to school was some kind of epic battle. I feared that I wouldn’t fit in, that someone would make fun of me, that I’d fall short somehow.
But every morning my mom served as my own Aaron. She’d wait at the bus stop each day and recite the priestly blessing over my brother and me: “May the Lord bless you and keep you. . . . May the Lord smile on you. . . .”
No matter what battles might be waiting for me that day, there was something I could cling to that would make it all bearable: I knew what God’s face looked like. He wasn’t frowning; he was smiling.
And he was smiling on me.
I’ve taken the challenge of reading the Bible chronologically this year and tracing the thread of grace through it. These musings are prompted by my reading. I’d love to have you join me: One Year Bible reading plan.