Can we see God?
First I would like to start with what looks like contradictions in the Old and New Testaments, with regards to being able to see God.
1 John 4:12
No one has ever seen God; ....
1 Timothy 1:17
Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Timothy 6:15
15 which God will bring about in his own time, God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.
13 She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: "You are the God who sees me," for she said, "I have now seen the One who sees me."
"Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, 'The LORD , the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt.
And you said, "The LORD our God has shown us his glory and his majesty, and we have heard his voice from the fire. Today we have seen that a man can live even if God speaks with him.
and I saw the glory of the God of Israel coming from the east. His voice was like the roar of rushing waters, and the land was radiant with his glory.
Reconciling the Old and New Testaments
So, how do we reconcile these apparent contradictions between the Old and New Testaments. Well I personally do not think they are contradictions but a difference in detail and revelation.
Take a look at Judges 13:20-22
20 As the flame blazed up from the altar toward heaven, the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame. Seeing this, Manoah and his wife fell with their faces to the ground.
21 When the angel of the LORD did not show himself again to Manoah and his wife, Manoah realized that it was the angel of the LORD .
22 "We are doomed to die!" he said to his wife. "We have seen God!"
Now taken alone, the "we have seen God" part, seems to indicate that God must be visible, yet we know from the detail here, that they really saw God through a messenger, in this case it was the Angel of the Lord.
When you ask most people with bible knowledge, "who saw God", most would say Moses and the burning bush incident.
1 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.
2 There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up.
3 So Moses thought, "I will go over and see this strange sight-why the bush does not burn up."
4 When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, "Moses! Moses!" And Moses said, "Here I am."
5 "Do not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground."
6 Then he said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God............................
13 Moses said to God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?"
14 God said to Moses, "I am who I am . This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.' " ....................
1 Moses answered, "What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, 'The LORD did not appear to you'?" ..................
13 But Moses said, "O Lord, please send someone else to do it."
14 Then the LORD's anger burned against Moses and he said, "What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and his heart will be glad when he sees you.
15 You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do.
16 He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him.
17 But take this staff in your hand so you can perform miraculous signs with it.".................
So did Moses actually see Yahweh, or a representative of Yahweh? Well it is clear that Moses saw an Angel, yet it was the great 'I Am' who was speaking. So it was God, but he was using a messenger as I believe he always does. We also see that Aaron spoke on behalf of Moses, and Moses would be as God to Aaron. This again shows that God uses vessels to represent himself.
Now look at Acts 7:30
"After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush in the desert near Mount Sinai.
So in the Old Testament we see obvious examples of Men seeing God, but on closer study we actually find that it was a representitive of Yahweh such as the Son of God or an Angel. I am not sure if the people knew that it was Yahweh's representitive but called him Yahweh because they didn't understand that God is invisible and no man can see him, coupled with the obvious wonderful glory of God that would have been present, or whether they understood that they were seeing and speaking to Yahweh, but through a vessel.
Anyway, in Genesis 19:18 we read
And Lot said unto them, Oh, not so, my Lord:
The above verse is a conversation between Lot and one of the 2 Angels, yet Lot calls the Angel, 'Lord'. However the Hebrew word here is not Yahweh, but 'adown'. Maybe this is irrelevant, but at least it points out that the word Lord in our modern translations doesn't always refer to the Most High God.
In the next verse below, we are shown that the fire from God destroyed Job's servants and sheep. However when we read the story fully, we know that it was actually Satan who was doing this. But God gave Satan permission to do it, so you can rightly say that God did it in the sense that God allowed it.
While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, "The fire of God fell from the sky and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!"
So why are the Old and new Testaments different in detail with regards to God? The Old Testament seems to call the Son of God and Angels, God (even Yahweh), when God spoke through them. Yet we do not find this kind of language in the New Testament.
I believe when the invisible God (Spirit) converses with men, He always uses a vessel/servant/messenger. After all, he is not described as invisible for nothing.
1 John 4:12
No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
So when a messenger from God appears in the Old Testament the person acknowledges that they have seen God and spoken to him and indeed they have. They have seen a visible image of the invisible God and they can quite rightly say that they have seen God, or at least the glory of God. Now we will look at what Yashua said to his disciples on this subject.
8 Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us."
9 Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, `Show us the Father'?
and in Colossians 1:12-16
He is the image of the invisible God......
So I believe that we cannot really see the invisible God, but we can see his express image, who is Yashua. When we also see a Holy Angel we can also see the invisible God and for that matter, even when we look at his creation/universe we see his glory.
The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.
So I think that the Old Testament people who saw God really saw the invisible God through a visible vessel and they conversed with God through the same vessel. Even Jesus said in John 12:49
For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it.
So in light of this thought, we can say that we have seen God if we have seen Jesus. But to actually say that Jesus is that God is a different matter entirely.
Now God is light and when we think about physical light we know that it is invisible or white in colour, which is actually all the colours combined. So if we compare God to physical light and then think about a crystal or prism (a physical created thing), it can reflect that light in all it's glory. Yet the crystal or prism is not that light, but only reflects it and shows it's glory. But without the light, the object itself can be quite dull. This is why we shouldn't do things in our own strength. We need only to be transparent before God and shine his light. We are meant to reflect God's light/glory and character and so are angels. But we reflect only in part and together as the Bride of Christ, we will reflect Yahshua in full and we will become a suitable bride for the bridegroom. On the other hand Yahshua the bridegroom, reflects all of God's glory and he is radiance of God's glory according to Hebrews 1:3 The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being...
To this he replied: "Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran.
So when we see God's Glory we see it through something visible and it is the glory that we often call God, but there is always a messenger or vessel present. This is why Yashua is the mediator between God and Men. Without Yahshua, we couldn't even hope to know God and see his glory in full.
So why the different way of thinking when we compare the Old and New Testaments. Well I think it is quite simple really. Those who lived under the old covenant saw things not as clearly as we who live under the new covenant. They saw and wrote about the truth, but they didn't have the same revelation that we do today to fully understand it. Today the revelation is a lot greater and even the prophets of old desired to see what we today have seen. So it stands to reason that the New Testament would be more specific (as apposed to more accurate) because of the greater degree of revelation and glory.
Now if we removed all references to Angels and Christ in the verses that record when men saw God in the Old Testament, then we could conclude that God certainly did appear visibly to Men, but would that make it correct. On closer inspection of the detail, we see in most cases that it was really a representitive of God that they saw and the glory and light of God.
Now if we take a look at Genesis 18 (The Three Visitors) it starts with a reference to the LORD (God) appearing to Abraham.
And the LORD appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day;
But in Genesis 18:2:3 we read
2 Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.
3 He said, "If I have found favor in your eyes, my Lord, do not pass your servant by.
and in Genesis 18:12 we read
So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, "After I am worn out and my lord/master is old, will I now have this pleasure?"
Now the first occurance of the word "LORD" is the Greek word Jehovah which means the existing One and is the proper name of the one true God. The second occurance of the word "Lord" is not in capitals and is the Greek word "Adonay" which can be used in reference to God or man. The third occurance is the word "adown" which is also used in either reference to God or man. It can mean firm, strong, lord, master lord, master reference to men, superintendent of household or affairs, master, king. The KJV renders this word as "lord" and the NIV renders it "master". The remainder uses of the word Lord/LORD are all Jehovah.
So does this mean that God actually appeared to Abraham? Can we say in this instance that God appeared to Abraham just because there is no specific reference to an Angel or Christ. Did the 'Most High' and might I add 'Invisible God' really appear, or can we just assume from all the other scriptures and patterns that we have looked at that the third person, the leader of the three was to a messenger of God. I have to note that there were 3 men of which 2 were angels, so even the angels were being represented in human bodies. It also appears from this scripture that one of the appeared to be the leader is speaking the Word of God, but then on other occassions he seems to speak his own words.
For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him."
So just because there is no specific detail about who the messenger is, can we assume that it was really God himself who appeared or can we just assume that God spoke through a messenger like all the other scriptures. Should we read Genesis 18 in the light of the other scriptures where God appears through a messenger. Well I think that we must use scripture to interpret scripture and then it acts as a witness to truth. This is important because some scripture can be taken the wrong way, if not weighed up with other scripture given that we can sometimes interpret a scripture in a number of different ways due to different possible meanings of words or the possible lack of detail in description.
See Deuteronomy 19:15
One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.
and Matthew 18:16
But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.
Anyway, I think the person who spoke as God in Genesis 18 was the Son of God, who appeared on behalf of Yahweh himself. Remember that the Son of God came to earth 2000 years ago as a man and lived among us. His prophetic name translated means 'God with us'. Yet we know that Yashua is not Yahweh, rather Yahweh was with us because He was in Christ/Yashua redeeming the world back to himself.
Now I want to remind you of the Book of Revelation. It is the Revelation of God to man right! But we also know that God gave the revelation to Christ who gave it to the Angel and in turn passed it on to John (Revelation 1:1), yet we read quotes from God's own mouth (so to speak) through out the book. Now in my opinion, the Book of Revelation is certainly very specific and full of revelation even compared to the other books and here we see quite clearly that God spoke to John though a particular order of messengers, which I assume is how he delivered other revelations to the likes of Moses and Elijah for example. Now lets imagine that Revelation 1:1 wasn't included in the book, we could upon first glance believe that John was talking to God, and of course he was, but if the detail about the messengers were omitted, then people could easily believe that John actually saw and spoke to God/Yahweh. Yet because this book has included such detail, we know that it is God appearing though a messenger. So just because other scriptures may not include such detail, we cannot say without a doubt that someone actually saw the Invisible God especially when weighed up against other encounters with God, where a messenger was present.
If we take a look at The Mount of Transfiguration event, we know that Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus in heavenly glory. And a voice said "This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased". Now lets assume that one day you saw Jesus, Moses and Elijah in heavenly glory and then you heard a voice like thunder speak to you. Lets also assume that you lived under the Old Covenant and lived say in the time of the Prophets. How would you report this incident. Maybe you would say that you saw God/Yahweh and you wouldn't be wrong in saying such a thing. But it would be very hard to be specific with the amount of revelation in those days and further more if you wrote down such an incident, I could imagine that people would use this event to prove the trinity (and they would be wrong), yet all 3 messengers in this imaginary scenario were not Yahweh in the sense that Yahweh has a body, rather vessels that Yahweh uses in order to be seen and understood.
I think that this accurately reflects what has happened with peoples understanding of God. They try to understand Old Testament events, with New Testament revelation without understanding the fact that people back then did not have the same scriptures and revelation that we have today. I also think that this is one of the main reasons why people believe in the trinity doctrine. They do not think about the differences and levels of revelation between the 2 covenants and this lack of understanding leads some people to imagine an idol made with their own mind in order to make God fit into their understanding of scripture both from the Old and New Testaments. You will find that the most common scriptures that people use to support the trinity doctrine are actually from the Old Testament and they ignore a whole lot of New testament scriptures. Yet the Jews who have read the Old Testament for millenia did not even remotely consider God to be a trinity. When we look at all the scriptures and study them in order to seek the truth, I think that we have to admit that the 2 covenants must be read with the understanding that the new covenant is the greater revelation and we must see the old with the new and the new with the old.
So can God appear in a body. Well yes, because his power knows no limit, but he cannot be fully contained within a body. He is eternal, from everlasting to everlasting. I have heard many people say that God became flesh, but that is impossible. We have to look at the meaning of the word "become". It means to change into something else. e.g I have become 40 years old, means that I am no longer 39 years old. If I become a christian, then I have changed my beliefs. If I become an Australian citizen, then I am now a citizen of Australia, where I wasn't before.
Rather the scriptures say that The Word became flesh. So the Word of God who was with God in the beginning changed into flesh. He became a man like us. He wholy resided in flesh, he wasn't in Heaven at the same time he walked the earth. God raised him from the dead and now he is seated at God's right hand side. So again we see that God was revealed in Christ, but we cannot say that Christ was God himself. Christ was the vessel, the person that God used to bring men back to himself.
Now God exists in and outside of creation and is above all dimensions of which we understand only 3 and some think they understand the 4th. So how can the Most High God be seen by men, who are so limited in every way. Well again he reveals himself through a vessel that we can see, such as a man, angel and on at least one occasion a donkey. But if we really think about it, he shows himself in such ways, so our limited minds can converse with him . So if God used a donkey to talk to me, then have I seen God or is it the vessel that I am looking at? Perhaps the glory and light that may be present is God as God is light and he is Spirit.
In conclusion I leave you with John 14:10
Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.
I think this verse shows us the true pattern of how Yahweh speaks and reveals himself though visible vessels and in particular the Son of God, who is the visible representation of the invisible God.
I could imagine that some reading this writing, may think this to be a long winded piece of writing that is trying to prove that men cannot see God against certain Old Testament scriptures that say that Men did see God. In defense of this, I would remind such a person that the Old and New Testaments cannot conflict or contradict and I think that if you argue that men did see God as he is, then you have to accept that the Old and New Testaments conflict and I have tried to show that they don't. What we really see is that the New Testament is more specific in detail and if such detail is not mentioned in some Old Testament scriptures, then such an omition isn't proof that this detail isn't true.
e.g If I report that I saw a bank robbery and I don't mention that the car, that the bank robbers drove away in was red, then you cannot say from reading such scant detail that the car wasn't red. But if other witnesses said they saw a red car, then we can read the first testimony in light of the others to get an accurate picture. We also need to do this with scripture.
- Start up a discussion on this subject.