Discountenance: When God Hides His Face

Angry boy facing away discountenance

We didn’t know what discountenance really meant until Bilbo began his smuggle in Smaug’s lair and Gabe bawled, I’m not listening. Then he plugged his ears and shouted, can’t hear you. He could.

We can’t hear, Bud. If you don’t obey and quiet down, you will be punished.

He did not and he would not. So I did what I had to do. I sent Gabe from my presence. I turned my face away.

Gabe, go out in the hall. You may listen there. Come back when you will listen.

He balked. Instead of heading to bed, he clapped hands over his ears, and wailed louder.


Go. A. Way. Get out of my sight. You may come back when you are quiet.

Then I waited for him to return. How I waited for him to return.  

A Most Grueling Parental Duty

You have hidden your face from us and have given us over to our sins. Isaiah 64:10

A lego man with face turned away from another lego man.

It had held every promise of a perfect night. 

Apart all day, we four were back together at night. We feasted on our favorites: beef fajitas topped with home-made salsa and vanilla bean crowned with Magic-shell. Then Chinese checkers and baths for the boys before we all snuggled in for a first-rate family film.  

Gabe was in a very good place. The boundary lines had fallen for him in pleasant places. It began a night of delight.

But the DVD stopped and bedtime came and Gabe pushed the boundaries. He was bent on hearing his bedtime story— THE HOBBIT—on the couch. I agreed to that. But when finally bedtime came, he stomped and stormed and plopped himself down defiant. He turned his back on me bawling like a little man banshee. 

That’s when the night turned ugly. But the next hour included a most-grueling parental duty. 

Your Sins Have Hidden His Face

But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you… Isaiah 59:2

Some wise Christians won’t use the word punishment when they discipline their kids. I do. Not often, and I wish never. But in this fleeting season, sometimes I do punish. By punish, I do mean that bit of discipline that is intended to inflict a penalty for an offense. 

I don’t mean paying them back or giving them what they deserve. That work is entirely God’s. And thanks be, He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities (Psalm 103:10). 


But our merciful, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness Lord does discipline his children. He lets our sins separate us. The perfect Father found it necessary to punish his hard-hearted children. God turned his face from his people (Ezekiel 14:8, Leviticus 20:3-5, Jeremiah 21:5). He did not approve. He could not approve.

So when our children turn away, rebel and refuse to obey, we cannot approve. We cannot countenance, we cannot look on or look past defiant, hands-pressed-over ears rebellion.

So we discountenance. We turn our faces away.

Defining Discountenance

“In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,” says the Lord, your Redeemer. Isaiah 54:8

The Westminster Catechism (1648) uses the word discountenance to describe the “Duties Required of Superiors towards their Inferiors” (Q. 129). Scripture seems to reserve the punishing job for parents and for civil authorities. It is not our job to punish a spouse or friend—or an enemy. It is for us to do good, love mercy, and walk humbly and with truth in love. These are our appointed tasks. 

But for our children, punishment may be right. Two centuries after the catechism, J.C. Ryle listed punishment as one of The Duties Of Parents:

Fathers and mothers, I tell you plainly, if you never punish your children when they are in fault, you are doing them a grievous wrong…Reader, if you would train your children wisely, mark well how God the Father trains His. For He does all things well. 

But it is so hard. Done right, discipline truly hurts me more that it hurts you. But it is a work to which all loving parents are called (Hebrews 12:6, Proverbs 23:13-14). And it is a purposeful pain maturing saints are called to bear (Lamentations 3:22-30, James 1:2-4). 

So we pray that after the hard work, and all discipline- from correcting to training to punishing- is hard work, it will produce the peaceful fruit of righteousness

He Longs To Be Gracious

For the Lord will not cast off forever, but though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men. Lamentations 3:31-33

There is such grace in God’s face. It was there for the woman caught in adultery when Jesus stood up and looked at her, and for the rich young man and the Gadarene who was Legion. 

But when hearts are diamond-hard, our ears are plugged, and we sinfully walk away, our lovingly jealous Lord doesn’t shove up our chin and force us to face him. He waits, but He won’t approve. He longs, but He won’t condone. God yearns for our return, but he might look away until we turn to him.

  • The LORD waits, He longs to be gracious to you, to show mercy. In repentance and rest is salvation, he said. But you were unwilling (Isaiah 30: 18, 15, see also Isaiah 8:17 and 54:8). 
  • Return to me, your fountain of living water and I will heal you. But my people have forgotten me, forsaken me, so I will show them my back, not my face (Jeremiah 18:15, 17).
  • My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. But, when I would heal Israel, the iniquity of Ephraim is revealed (Hosea 7:1). 

While we sit and bawl in the hall, he may let us feel the shame and disgrace we deserve. Being discountenanced is bitter. Divine disapproval of our defiant disobedience smarts. Therefore repent and return, Peter preached, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.

The Grace In His Shining Face

The LORD bless you and keep you, the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The LORD lift up his countenance to you and give you peace. Numbers 6:24-26

But then we remember the bitterness and the gall, and the pain of being separated from His shining face drives us back to its light. Then we confess our sin and he covers it. And the moment he does, we cry with Micah, Who is a God like you, pardoning sin and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love (7:18). 

But that covering and passing over comes at high cost. It was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief (Isaiah 53:10). We considered that Son smitten, stricken, afflicted by his Father. But he bore our punishment. Like disobedient sheep, we’d strayed. We didn’t heed his voice. But now we’ve returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls (1 Peter 2:25). 

Maybe it was for sheer fatigue or for want of blanket and brown Bear-bear, or maybe he was contrite to the core. Maybe the little banshee boy simply came to his senses and realized he’d be better off beside brother in bed. Or maybe it just sounded cozier to hear how Smaug was taken down while mom rubbed his back than to rage alone at the far end of the hall.

Whatever the reason, Gabe obeyed and lay down his sweaty little head.

Then you better believe I turned my shining face to him.


“Sorry for plugging my ears. And interrupting and being a crybaby.
Sorry for grumbling when you told me no.
Will you please forgive me?”

(But of course, my child.)