“ … you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20).
“The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (Exodus 33:11).
The Bible makes it clear that God is invisible to physical eyes, and that even if we could see him we could not live (Exodus 33:20, 1 Timothy 6:16, etc.). Yet there are also scriptures that show individuals have claimed to have seen God (Exodus 33:11, etc.). The answer to this seeming contradiction is that in some circumstances God revealed himself to certain individuals – in human or angelic form (Genesis 32:30, Judges 13:22), with very reduced glory (Exodus 33:18-23), or in a vision (Acts 7:55-56).
But what about the rest of us? For now, at least, we can only “see” God conceptually (both the Hebrew and Greek words used in the Bible for “see” can mean to see with the eye or to see in the mind – as in “I see what you mean”). Eventually, we are promised that we will see God in his fullness: “… we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2b). So when Christ affirmed that “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8), he undoubtedly was referring to both our present conceptual view of God and our future literal view.
The apostle Paul elaborated on this fact for us in his inspiring words: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Paul’s statement is doubly inspiring because it affirms not only our future clear view of God, but also the fact that we can presently see him – conceptually – if we wish to look.
How do we do this – how do we see God to the extent that is now possible? We can certainly read the scriptures that talk about God, but not many give detailed descriptions. Is there something else we can do? Someone else once asked that same question. The Gospel of John records that one of the twelve disciples – Philip – asked Jesus:
“Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” 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” (John 14:8-9).
Because Jesus was God in human form (John 1:1, 14), when people saw him, they were seeing God. When we read the detailed accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry, we can “see” God in that sense, too. The privilege and pleasure of doing exactly that is one of the greatest aspects – and purposes – of studying the word of God: of seeing “The Word” in “the word.” It should always be in the forefront of our minds as we approach the Bible.