Several times in Scripture, some persons or people were said to have seen God, yet in other Scriptural pages, confusions may arise with regards to the statement: “No one can see God and yet live…” etc. This piece, therefore, seeks to clarify this seeming contradiction or controversy.
WHEN GOD WAS ‘SEEN’
- (Gen. 17:1), “Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless;
- ( 18:1) Now the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day.”
- (Exodus 6:2-3), “God spoke further to Moses and said to him, “I am the LORD; 3and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name, LORD, I did not make Myself known to them.”
- (Exodus 24:9-11), “Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself. Yet He did not stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel, and they saw God, and they ate and drank.”
- ( 12:6-8), “Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream. Not so, with My servant Moses, He is faithful in all My household; With him, I speak mouth to mouth, Even openly, and not in dark sayings, And he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid To speak against My servant, against Moses?
- (Acts 7:2), “And he [Stephen] said, ‘Hear me, brethren and fathers! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia before he lived in Haran . . . ‘”
YET HE HASN’T REALLY BEEN SEEN
- (Exodus 33:20), “But He [God] said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!”
- (John 1:18), “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”
- (John 5:37), “And the Father who sent Me, He has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His form.”
- (John 6:46), “Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father.”
- (1 Tim. 6:15-16), “He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honour and eternal dominion! Amen.”
RESOLVING THE PROBLEM
It appears that God was seen in the verses above, which may appear to be in contradiction with the other verses claiming that no one can see God. The first thing to understand is that people were seeing visions, or dreams, or the Angel of the LORD (Num. 22:22-26; Judges 13:1-21) and not really God Himself. Secondly, in the verses above that clearly stated that God was seen, it must be understood that God’s divine nature was not seen or contemplated as He really is, but only appearances in a bearable visible form. We were told that God led the Israelites in the form or pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. But does it mean that God is a cloud or fire? When God appeared to Abraham in a visible form of three men, does that reflect his divine nature as He really is? For God to tell Moses that no one can see His face and live, should be understood that God revealed Himself to Moses in the way Moses could withstand (visible and bearable form, either in the form of cloud or fire…) The same goes for God in the various bearable forms He might appear to various persons in the Old Testament.
When Christ came into the world, He didn’t come under His divine nature but in human form. Those who saw Jesus apparently “saw” God, but not in his divine state as the Eternal Word of God. AGAIN, NO MAN CAN SEE OR CONTEMPLATE GOD AS HE REALLY IS AND LIVE. Therefore, Jesus is teaching that no one has seen God as He is, because that’s impossible.
Again, no one has ever seen Jesus’, the Son of God’s divine nature, since He became flesh and veiled His glory for the sake of our redemption (cf. Phil 2:4-11). Even the Transfiguration wasn’t a glimpse of Jesus’ divine nature since it is no less bearable than the Father’s—the divine nature of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost is one nature.
Nevertheless, those in heaven have seen and contemplated the face of God, for seeing His face is the glory and happiness of heaven: “We shall see Him as He really is, and His name will be written on our foreheads…” (cf. Rev. 22:4)
Above all, the problem with our comprehension of the Scriptures lies in the fact that we are trapped in the twenty-first Century where many tend to misinterpret literally the words of Scripture without considering the other senses – Spiritual: Allegorical, Anagogical, and Moral. Thus, many are tempted to understand the Scriptures from the standpoint of what appears to them, without making efforts to study deeper, which is in most cases leads to a poor interpretation and understanding.
© Fr. Chinaka Justin Mbaeri, OSJ
Paroquia Nossa Senhora de Fatima, Vila Sabrina, São Paulo, Brazil
firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com