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What is the face of God called?

The idea of God having a “face” is a metaphorical concept found in many religions. While God is generally considered to be an immaterial, infinite being without a physical form, scriptures and theologies sometimes describe God’s presence and attributes in anthropomorphic terms that evoke aspects of the human experience such as vision and facial expressions. So the “face of God” is a symbolic term, not meant to be taken literally but rather to convey divine attributes like judgment, mercy, love, etc. There is no single definitive name for the metaphorical “face” of God across religions.

Quick Answers

Some quick answers to what the metaphorical “face of God” is called in different faiths:

  • In Judaism, the “face of God” is sometimes referred to as the Shekhinah.
  • In Christianity, it is sometimes called the Holy Spirit or the presence of Christ.
  • In Islam, the “face of God” is called the Countenance of Allah.
  • In Hinduism, one aspect of the “face of God” is called Brahman.
  • In Sikhism, the “face of God” is referred to as Ik Onkar.

These are just a few examples of how different religions conceptualize and describe the metaphysical presence of the divine. The exact terminology and meanings vary greatly across faiths.

The Metaphor of God’s “Face” in Scripture and Theology

References to the “face of God” appear numerous times throughout the scriptures and theological texts of Judaism, Christianity, Islam and other Abrahamic religions. While often metaphorical, the “face” of God conveys distinct divine attributes and aspects of God’s relationship to humanity:

  • In Judaism, God’s “face” represents His judgment, providence and presence, but also denotes favor and revelation. Seeing the “face of God” is considered impossible for man. References appear in the Torah and Kabbalistic writings.
  • In Christianity, God reveals His “face” through the incarnation of Christ. References to seeking God’s “face” signify communion with His presence and glory. The Holy Spirit is also sometimes considered the metaphorical “face” of God.
  • In Islam, the “face of Allah” conveys attributes like splendor, favor, wrath and mercy. The Quran speaks of everything perishing except Allah’s “face” and the Countenance of Allah being the highest pleasure for the devout in paradise.

So while God transcends form, references to His “face” use tangible concepts to convey abstract divine qualities and the desire to be in the presence of the holy and sacred.

Examples of Metaphors for God’s “Face” in Major Religions

Here are some specific examples of the metaphorical names and phrases used for the “face” of God in major world religions:

Religion Metaphorical Term for “Face” of God
Judaism Shekhinah
Christianity Holy Spirit, Presence of Christ
Islam Countenance of Allah
Hinduism Brahman
Sikhism Ik Onkar

The Significance of the “Face of God” in Judaism

In Judaism, references to the “face of God” appear frequently throughout the Torah and other scriptures, conveying different attributes of the divine presence. Seeing God “face to face” is considered impossible, but some mystical Jewish writings explore the metaphor more extensively:

  • The Shekhinah refers to God’s divine presence on Earth, the manifestation of His immanence. The Shekhinah is associated with prophecy, wisdom and judgment.
  • God’s “face” looking upon man connotes providence, care, concern and at times judgment or wrath in Jewish scriptures.
  • To “seek God’s face” means to seek closeness to Him through obedience, prayer and repentance.
  • The Zohar, the core text of Kabbalah Jewish mysticism, speaks of human ascent towards seeing the “face of the blessed Holy One.” But complete revelation is only possible in the afterlife.

So while God remains supremely transcendent in Judaism, references to His “face” evoke the possibility of encountering His divine attributes and presence, even if partial and imperfect in this world.

Shekhinah: Divine Manifestation

The Shekhinah is a Hebrew term referring to the dwelling or settling of God’s presence on Earth. It is derived from shakhan, meaning the act of dwelling. The Shekhinah denotes God’s immanence and closeness to mankind.

In the Torah, the Shekhinah fills the Tabernacle and Temple in Jerusalem. The Sages of the Talmud equate the Shekhinah with the concept of the Holy Spirit in the Hebrew Bible and with the ubiquitous concept of God’s glory. In Kabbalah, Shekhinah is the feminine aspect or archetype of the divine.

The Holy Spirit as the “Face” of God in Christianity

In Christian theology, the Holy Spirit is one aspect of the triune Godhead, along with the Father and the Son (Christ). The Holy Spirit is sometimes considered the literal or metaphorical “face of God” – conveying His active presence and power into the world and the church:

  • Jesus Christ is considered the literal “face of God” (2 Corinthians 4:6) as the incarnation of God in human form.
  • The Holy Spirit mediates the continuing presence of the risen Christ in the church and the spiritual life of believers. It is associated with God’s attributes like wisdom, truth, love and power.
  • Prayers like “May God lift up his countenance upon you” invoke the blessing of seeing the face of God turned towards the supplicant with grace and favor.
  • Seeing the “face of God” indicates spiritual closeness, intimacy, knowledge and fulfillment in Christian mystical traditions.

The Holy Spirit is thus the ongoing presence of the divine in Christian theology. It is God in communion with His people and the means of His sanctifying grace. The metaphor of the Spirit as God’s “face” conveys His closeness.

The Presence of Christ

For most Christians, Christ incarnates the “face of God” revealing the divine countenance and making God approachable and knowable (John 14:9). Christ as the revelatory “face” of God is affirmed across traditions:

  • Roman Catholicism emphasizes that Christ is the ultimate revelation of God, making the “face” of the Father discernible. The Eucharist also contains the real presence of Christ.
  • Eastern Orthodoxy speaks of Christ being “the uncreated light that emanates from the face of God” and experiencing the energies of God through the Spirit.
  • Protestantism affirms the revelatory role of Christ and the indwelling of the Spirit as allowing communion with the divine.

This contrasts starkly with the transcendent God of Judaism whose “face” remains ever elusive. For Christians, God is self-revealed and relateable through Christ.

The Countenance of Allah in Islam

References to the “face” or countenance of God appear multiple times in the Quran. Seeing the face of Allah is impossible in this world but promised as the highest reward for the righteous in paradise. Key aspects include:

  • Allah’s face signifies his divine majesty, splendor, justice, mercy and grace. But also vengeance and wrath.
  • Everything in creation perishes except the face of Allah. His face endures as the eternal, transcendent reality behind all things.
  • At-Takathur 102:8 – “You will surely see the Hellfire. Then, on that Day, you shall be asked concerning pleasure.” This indicates seeing Allah’s countenance will be the greatest joy.
  • The Beatific Vision of God’s face is promised those in paradise through the intercession of Muhammad and grace of Allah.

So the Quranic conception of Allah’s face aligns with His absolute unity and supremacy. His face conveys splendor, power, mystery and promise of revelation. But the full vision of Allah remains in the afterlife.

Vision of God in Islam

Unlike Christianity but similar to Judaism, Islam generally does not conceive of a direct vision or experience of God’s essence possible in this world. Some Hadith traditions also prohibit speculation about Allah’s face.

However, Sufi Muslim mystics did speak of the desire to witness Allah’s face. This became possible through spiritual ascent to a unitive state with the divine. But most Muslims adhere to scriptural prohibitions on imagining Allah’s face. The full Vision is a grace and reward for the afterlife.

Hindu Conceptions of God’s Forms and Faces

Hinduism conceives of the ultimate reality, Brahman, as beyond all attributes, names, forms and conceptions. Yet Hindu scriptures and traditions speak of innumerable aspects and manifestations of the divine, which can be seen as metaphors for God’s face:

  • Different Hindu deities are conceived as manifestations of the one Brahman. So divine “faces” like Shiva, Vishnu, Devi, Ganesha, Surya embody different attributes.
  • Murtis, divine images and idols used in worship and meditation, are conduits to see and connect with attributes of God.
  • The Upanishads equate Brahman with Atman, the eternal essence within all beings. The divine face thus dwells within.
  • Darshan of a deity, guru or image seeks a vision of their divine “face” as a blessing.
  • Yogic meditation aims at destroying the ignorance that hides the true “face” of Brahman.

Given Hinduism’s panentheistic perspective, the entire cosmos can be seen as comprising God’s faces and forms. The human spirit shares an essential identity with the ultimate divine face behind all faces.

Brahman in Hinduism

Brahman is the metaphysical concept of the formless, eternal, infinite, transcendent absolute in Hinduism. Brahman is the pervasive, genderless, supreme singular reality behind all gods and creation. In Advaita Vedanta philosophy, Brahman is identical with Atman, the deepest Self within all beings.

Brahman transcends all qualities and attributes, so is never fully knowable by embodied minds. Yet through manifestations and within the Self, the “face of God” as Brahman can be glimpsed or realized. Removing illusion allows awareness of shared identity of Atman with the one divine source.

The Metaphorical Face of God in Sikhism

Sikhism conceives the supreme God as formless, ineffable, transcendent and fundamentally unknowable. Yet God is manifest in creation and the enlightened see His face everywhere. Key principles:

  • Ik Onkar refers to the one transcendent reality and divine unity behind all. God is omnipresent through creation.
  • God is known through the divine Name, manifest in the Guru Granth Sahib scripture. Chanting or singing the Name reveals God’s “face.”
  • The divine is also immanent within the human heart. Self-realization enlightens one to see the “face of Waheguru” everywhere.
  • In the afterlife, merging into God allows being in full presence of the divine “face” unmediated.

While impossible to fully know or see God directly on Earth, Sikh’s recognize God’s presence through scripture, nature and introspection. Limited glimpses of the “face of God” are possible in this life.

Ik Onkar

Ik Onkar refers to the metaphysical concept of “One Supreme Reality” in Sikh theology. This is an affirmation of monotheism as well as the formless nature of God. Onkar is a compound of the numeral one (ik) and onkar meaning “God” or “Divine Spirit.”

Chanting Ik Onkar reminds Sikhs of the transcendent oneness behind all diversity. Ik Onkar is the opening phrase of the Guru Granth Sahib, revealing the “face of God” in Sikh scripture.


The “face of God” is a symbolic concept pointing to the manifestation of divine attributes, presence, and grace in different religious traditions. Though an ultimate vision or comprehension of the absolute transcendent reality remains impossible, limited glimpses of sacredness are possible. Diverse religions offer metaphors of the unknowable God’s “face” conveying immanence within cosmic, human and natural realms.

The yearning for a vision of God’s “face” expresses the profound desire for connection with holiness. Sacred scriptures, rituals, practices and moral living all allow partial perceptions of divine qualities. Though the final complete revelation often lies beyond this world, human life offers opportunities to see reflections of the ultimate source through metaphors of God’s manifested “faces.”