First They Killed My Father is the title of an evocative movie, based on a nonfiction book of the same title. It tells the real-life story of a girl (the book’s author when she was five years old) who went through harrowing experiences during the reign of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
The director of the movie and the author of the book posted a video in social media, where they discussed the movie and the story on which it was based. Many posted their responses/comments. One comment caught my attention. The person refers to her experiences as a seven-year-old when she, like the main character of the movie, was sent to the working camps of the Khmer Rouge. She also expresses gratitude to the other kids who were with her, calling them “angels” who helped each other. Then she makes this appeal: “After watching this movie, I try to remember my father’s face; but I not able. If someone may have a picture of [here she gives her father’s name, his position in the Cambodian Army, and the province where he served], please forward to myself. Thank you.”
It’s hard to ignore the pain and the deep longing that surely were behind her words: “I try to remember my father’s face; but I not able.” Can you imagine meeting someone who is supposed to be a significant person in your life and not be able to recognize him or her? Or what about that significant person not being able to recognize you? Heartbreaking.
Scripture uses the phrase “the face of God” figuratively. It “typically indicates the aspect of God that ‘faces’ or concerns human beings, addressing them or otherwise relating to them” (Moises Silva). For example, if the Lord “hides” his face, it suggests displeasure toward those who disobey him. By contrast, a popular biblical blessing uses the metaphor positively, to express favor: “The LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace” (Numbers 6.25–26 NIV).
In the Old Testament, it was a fearful thing for sinful humanity to see (the face of) the holy God (see, for example, Exodus 33.20 and Isaiah 6.5). Yet, it has always been God’s intention for humanity to see his face and come to know him. At the right time, Jesus revealed the Father: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known” (John 1.18 NIV). And the time will come when all the barriers of sin will be removed, and faithful followers finally “will see his face” (Revelation 22.4 NIV).
Do I truly know my Father’s face? Am I able to recognize him even now, when he reveals himself through his work in the lives of people who obediently follow Jesus?
—Keith Y. Jainga