Can We Really See God?
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God”. Jesus said it, therefore it must be true. But what about those other verses in the Bible that seems to suggest seeing God is not such a good idea? In particular are God’s words to Moses in Exodus 33:20 when He said, “you cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live.”
I vividly remember as a kid being terrified at the prospect of seeing God. There were two things I knew I should never do: stare at the sun and look into the face of God. How or when I thought I might encounter God’s face, I have no clue, but I was ready to cover my eyes should it happen.
Yet, according to the scriptures there are those who saw God’s face and lived to talk about it. Among them are Abraham (Genesis 17:1), Moses, Aaron, Nadab and Abihu and seventy elders of Israel (Exodus 24:9-11). So which is it? Can we, or should we see the face of God, or not?
In the case of Jesus’ Beatitude, we could view seeing God as an eschatological event. If we have been washed clean by the blood of Calvary, and if the Holy Spirit is working in us daily to transform us into the image of Christ, we will be pleased to see God’s face at the end of time. We will have been changed from our earthly state and will have no fear of death. But even if we accept this interpretation it still doesn’t resolve statements that appear to conflict in the Old Testament.
Some say no one on earth has actually seen God in a natural way. Instead, He has appeared to them in vision and dreams, or they have been caught up in some intermediate state between heaven and earth. This reasoning works for some God sightings, but certainly not the one in Exodus 24 where Moses and his associates appear to be very much awake on earth, eating and drinking together.
Perhaps the best answer rests in something Jesus said in John 6:46: “No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father”. If no one but Jesus has seen the Father, then who did they see? How could they see God, but not see the Father? One possible answer is that Old Testament servants saw Jesus before His incarnation. In the Upper Room Jesus told His disciples, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). To see Jesus is to see the Father, but the unique quality of Jesus in His role as Mediator allows humans to see Him and live.