Is God Invisible?
NCW 16, February 1995
Q. Paul says that Jesus is the "image of the invisible God" (Col.1:5). How can Jesus be an image of something that is invisible? And doesn't the Old Testament say that God conversed with Moses "face to face" as one man converses to another? So how can God be invisible? Or was it the pre-incarnate Christ that Moses spoke to?
Paul is not saying that God is invisible in the sense that He can never be seen. Later on he says: "For by [Christ] all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible" (Col.1:16, NIV). If we are to accept the orthodox position that God can never be seen because He is permanently invisible then logically we must say that heaven will be permanently invisible too. But what the apostle is saying is that heaven -- which is the abode of God -- is presently invisible to our carnal eyes, and therefore God is as well, but not permanently.
Paul says that Christ is "the image of God" (2 Cor.4:4, NIV) as well as "the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of His being" (Heb.1:3, NIV). If Jesus is the exact representation of God and the representation of His being, then the Father and Son must look alike and be visible to each other, as well as having the same moral and spiritual attributes.
It is wrongly assumed by many Christians that Moses did not look at God's face because to do so would bring instant death, because of God's glory. But this is not correct. The text in fact says that Moses was afraid to look God in the face and therefore turned around (Ex.3:6). From this a superstition arose amongst the Hebrews that no-one could look at God's face and live (Ex.33:20). Those who lack faith and are unsanctified may not gaze on God's glory (v.18). Moses asked to see the impossible. He was only permitted to see God's back (v.23) at that time because he was afraid.
But at other times he spoke with God face to face as a man converses with another, in other words, with God's glory shielded or hidden (Ex.24:9-11). Not only he, but many others have seen and spoken to God's face. Hagar was one. After her encounter, she named the place where this occured Beer Lahai Roi, which means, "I have now seen the One who sees me" (Gen.16:13-14, NIV).
But what about the apostle John? He writes: "No-one has ever seen God" (John 1:18). It has been suggested that God simply took on human form but this would, in our view, constitute an act of deception, because a false testimony about God would be propagated. If we take all the scriptures together on the subject we must conclude that God is visible and that what John means is that God cannot ever be seen in all His glory by mortal beings. In other words, no living person has ever seen the full glory of God whilst in the flesh.
These are most important questions and ones that New Covenant Christians take a firm stand on because knowing the nature of God is part of obtaining "eternal life" (John 17:3). Because these questions have been misunderstood by Bible readers over the centuries many false dogmas have arisen, one being that God is "incorporeal spirit". This is based on a single passage in John's Gospel which says that "God is a spirit" (John 4:26, NIV). This is mistranslated in almost all versions as in the original Greek it says that "God is spiritual, and His worshippers must worship in spirit and truth" (ibid., author's translation). In other words, mere outer, ritualistic religion is not enough, but we human beings (made of flesh and spirit) must worship in our spirits.
That God can be made both visible as well as being corporeal is no better illustrated than in the story of Jacob wrestling with God at the river Peniel (Gen.32:22-32). Because such a doctrine does not harmonise with orthodoxy's view of an incorporeal God, this story has been "explained away" by either saying that Jacob dreamed it or otherwise it was an angelic representitive of God who wrestled with the patriarch. The former explanation is untenable because Jacob actually suffered a literal, physical hip dislocation in the contest, and the latter is mere speculation. As far as Jacob was concerned, He saw God "face to face" like Hagar before him and as Moses was to later (v.30).
As to what kind of substance God's body is made of the Bible does not say, and therefore New Covenant Christians avoid speculation and go no further. One thing we are insistent on, however, is that God is only invisible at certain times and that He is as tangible as the Lord Jesus Christ is in His glorified body. We do not, as some do, claim that God has a body of "flesh and bones" because no such claim is ever made in the Bible. We do not know what the substance of God's glorified body is, no more than we know the exact substance and structure of a resurrected body is. It is sufficient for us to know that the Lord Jesus Christ is in every way like His Father and our God and that He is "the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of His being" (Heb.1:3, NIV).
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Last updated on 1 May 1998
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