Restore us, LORD God Almighty;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved. — Psalm 80:19
Imagine for a moment that you are the parent of a college student who is not behaving as you would like. Your child spends his or her time at parties instead of studying. He or she spends the money you have contributed for food and lodging on drugs or luxuries instead. No matter how much you speak with your child and try to get him or her to change, the child continues on an irresponsible and self-destructive path. You are left with no choice but to withdraw your support and let your child figure out that there are negative consequences to such behavior.
This helps us understand the Jewish concept of how God runs the world with hester panim, literally “hiding of face.” In Deuteronomy 31, God told Moses that the Israelites would eventually abandon Him, and as a result, “I will hide my face from them” (v.17), and tragedies would befall them.
God is like that loving parent who, when He sees His children acting reprehensibly, has no choice but to step away. It doesn’t mean that He doesn’t care about His children. It doesn’t mean that He is unaware of the difficulties the children might have to go through. However, sometimes, the only way for a child to learn and grow is for the parent to step away.
In contrast, in Psalm 80, the psalmist cried out three times, “make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.” The psalmist is referring to times in Jewish history when God was hiding His face, so to speak. He had distanced Himself from the people because of their sins. Yet, the psalmist prayed and pleaded that God would turn around and shine His face upon the people when they were in danger anyway. And you know what? It worked. In at least three of the instances specified by the Jewish sages in this psalm, while God could have kept Himself hidden and uninvolved, He stepped in and saved the people anyway.
I think that this is a powerful prayer for us to pray on behalf of ourselves and the entire world. According to Jewish tradition, since the destruction of the Second Temple, God has been taking the “hidden face” approach to the world. He is there, but He is letting us figure things out on our own. But sometimes we need Him to show us His face, to shine down His love, and to step into our lives. We may not be perfect, and the world may sometimes abandon God, but we ask that He save us anyway.
May our prayers be heard and may God’s face turn toward us with love, radiance, and light.