Does God ever smile?

I was about to sit in the dentist’s chair on my third successive visit in less than two weeks. After the emergency examination of a troublesome tooth twelve days earlier, I had agreed to its extraction. But first I had to surrender my dental plate with its three false teeth for a day so that the technicians next door could add a fourth to fill the gap that would be left today by the extracted premolar. All the gaps being at the front of my upper set, during those recent twenty-four hours I might have put fellow-diners off their food, or scared the children as they read to me in school had I returned their smiles. Therefore, with careful forethought I had booked my two successive appointments during the then imminent half-term week.

As I lowered myself into the chair for the final time, my dentist asked me the polite socio-medical question, ‘And how are you today?’ I told her, ‘At last week’s rehearsal for our town’s Community Choir concert, we learned a song with an appropriate answer to your question:

“I just can’t smile without you,
Can’t smile without you.
I can’t laugh, can’t sing,
Finding it hard to do anything . . . .
I — just – can’t – smile – without you.”’

She mentally processed this answer as she brought up my dental pictures on her computer screen and, as the truth registered of just how appropriate those lyrics were for me over the past twenty-four hours, I heard her chuckle as it dawned on her that she really was about to give me back my smile!

A social inspiration

Smiling truly is socially therapeutic. Every parent wants to broadcast the news of Baby’s first responsive smile. Indeed, the ability to smile makes us unique among earth’s creatures.

Reflecting on all of this some weeks later, I asked myself how many times smiling is mentioned in the Bible. Even before I opened my concordance I already knew that the answer was zero. Why should God’s word never apparently refer to this vital social ability given to human beings? Also, if we are made in the image of God, why are we never told that God smiles? The answer, I believe, lies in a unique feature of the Hebrew language. Since Hebrew speech favours the use of concrete nouns to represent concepts and attitudes, ‘smiling’ is lost in translation by the over-used word ‘presence’ to translate the Hebrew for ‘face’. Adam and Eve ‘hid themselves from the presence/face of the Lord among the trees of the garden’ (Genesis 3:8), and ‘Cain went away from the presence/face of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod’ (Genesis 4:16).

The sunshine of God’s smile

Bearing in mind the opening line of the late Eric & Ernie’s theme song: ‘Bring me sunshine in your smile’, we can read the priestly benediction in Numbers 6:22-27 as:

‘the Lord smile on you [make his face shine on you;] …‘the Lord smile on you [lift up his countenance/face on you] and give you peace.’  Rather than provoking God’s scowl or frown when he hides his face, let us seek the welcoming presence of his approval, for ‘in your presence/face is fullness of joy’ (Psalm 16:11).

And that will bring a smile to your face!

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