Coram Deo: Living in the sight of God…

Posted by on Jun 18, 2023 in Blog | 5 comments

brown human eye

While I am by no means a Latin expert, there is a Latin phrase I love. Given you’ve seen the title of the post, it won’t come as a surprise that it’s “coram Deo”, which essentially claims that all of life takes place in the sight of God. We live and move and have our being before God’s face. Nothing is unknown to God, nothing a surprise to God. Should God ever get into a discussion about us we can be assured that nothing the discussion partner says will see God’s hands fling up in surprise with a startled, “Oh my goodness! I hadn’t heard that. Now that is a shock.”

As a child I was taught the proverb “One man’s meat is another man’s poison.” Turns out that coram Deo draws that kind of response from people. Some love it, while it makes others recoil in alarm.

I remember a debate in which famed atheist Christopher Hitchens unleashed a tirade against the idea, claiming it was oppressive to imagine a god who sees and notes everything. To paraphrase him: “What a burden to imagine every naughty thought captured and every unfortunate action jotted down in some celestial note book designed to keep tabs on our frailty. And even if it isn’t about catching us out,” he continued, “can’t this imaginary god just give us some space – some time out to be alone with our thoughts without god peering over our shoulder.”

Fair enough if you haven’t experienced the extraordinary grace, mercy and love of God. Perhaps it does then seem somewhat claustrophobic – even nosey. Aren’t we all entitled to a little privacy?

I suspect much depends on what you imagine when you think of the face of God. Is it eyes rolling in exasperation, or the mouth set in a tight, hard, angry line? Is it a look of “I saw that – and just you wait. I can’t do anything about it right now, but I don’t forget. I will be dealing with this later.”

Perhaps it’s just me, but I have never imagined the face of God like that. I’ve heard people talk about that face, but I think that’s their own self-disappointment and insecurity speaking. I think they are projecting their own unease with their self onto God. I think it’s because they have never seen the face of God.

And the face of God can be seen. Jesus said it clearly in John 14:9 “if you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” What does the face of God look like? Well what does the face of Jesus look like?

When I look at the face of Jesus I see one who has walked the same streets that I have. I see one who has suffered greatly. I see one who understands at the deepest of levels. I see one who was sometimes tired, sometimes exasperated, sometimes disappointed, sometimes hurt. I see extraordinary wisdom and the ability to draw good from the most broken of situations. I see glimpses of humour and deep engagement with life. I see eyes that look beyond the surface. I see an invitation – eyes inviting me to be a better version of myself. I see kindness personified, love incarnate.

And what about those times when the face of God catches me at my awkward moments – my flawed humanity all too obvious and totally indefensible? Heck, what about those moments I’m not even willing to write about – those searingly shameful, deeply embarrassing moments?

Strangely I am most glad that God sees those as well. That I don’t have to play some kind of pretend game where I massage the truth so I look a little shinier than I am. At those moments I find a prayer of gratitude well up within: “You oh God, know all. And in the completeness of your knowledge, is my freedom and release. Though fully known, I am fully loved.

If there is any scolding at such times, it is my voice that articulates it. For some reason, scolding and judging isn’t high on God’s agenda. “That’s a bold claim,” you say. “Not really,” I reply. “It’s the only conclusion you can draw from Calvary. For when you look in the dying face of the man who was God you don’t spot even an iota of judgment – just pure love, understanding and forgiveness.”

Life’s greatest privilege is to live coram Deo… to be able to live all of life before God, in the presence of God, and in our better moments, for the glory of God.

And if some find that oppressive – well I wonder whose face they see. For it certainly isn’t the face of Jesus…

As always, nice chatting…

Photo by Subin on

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  1. Thank you Brian. Beautifully written.

  2. Thanks Brian!

  3. “Though fully known, I am fully loved.” To me that is THE most wonderful thought and comfort. We serve a God who understands and helps us to be what he created us to be.

    • Thanks Ruth. I love your comment that God helps us to be what he created us to be.

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