Essential Latin for Reformed Christians: “Coram Deo”
I don’t remember the exact book, talk, or sermon anymore, but I’m quite sure I first heard the expression “coram Deo” from R.C. Sproul. It means “before the face of God.” It’s an expression I don’t hear too often, but the idea should certainly be well-established in the hearts and minds of all believers.
There is a constant temptation for us to compartmentalize our lives. We have what we do on Sundays — that’s the religious part of our lives. But that has nothing to do with what we do on Friday nights. It has nothing to do with what we watch on Netflix on Tuesday. In this way of thinking, our work, too, is a separate compartment. In the workplace, there’s nothing that distinguishes us. For example, when others stand around complaining about the boss, we join right in. Like everybody else, we hate our job and it’s just a means to a (week-)end.
The biblical concept of “coram Deo” addresses this temptation. It reminds us that all of life is to be lived “before the face of God.” We certainly come before the face of God in our public worship on Sundays. And at the end of our public worship, we often hear the Aaronic benediction from Numbers 6:24-26. In the ESV, it concludes with: “…the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. The NIV has “…the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.” The idea of “coram Deo” is there. As we depart our meeting with God, he blesses us with the promise that we will continue to walk before his face as we go into another week.
That tells us that “coram Deo” is an objective reality. Whether you acknowledge it is another thing. But it is objectively true that all of life is indeed lived before the face of God. Our thoughts, words, and deeds are always open to him — “no creature is hidden from his sight” (Heb. 4:13). You might try to compartmentalize in your own mind, but there’s no compartmentalizing in God’s perspective on things.
Acknowledging “coram Deo,” however, is a good thing. When we have experienced God’s sovereign grace in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit leads us to see this from the Word of God. Consider Psalm 89:15-16, “Blessed are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O LORD, in the light of your face, who exult in your name all the day…” Our Lord Jesus walked “coram Deo” in his earthly sojourn. There was no compartmentalizing in his life. For it he was blessed, and we along with him. Saved by him, we look to him as our example and desire to live in union with him. As disciples, we want to emulate our Master. He always walked self-consciously before the face of God — let us do likewise.
As we do, there is blessing for us too. Human life was not designed to be lived in compartments. Adam and Eve were created to live “coram Deo” and so were we. As James says, a double-minded person is unstable in every way (James 1:8), so how much more unstable would a person be who has multiple minds or compartments? On the flip side: stability, blessing, human flourishing — that’s the outcome of acknowledging God in all our ways, consistently living “coram Deo.”