Seeing God

Kermit Zarley recently sought to make a clever Christological point based on the premise of divine invisibility. The Gospel of John says that no one has ever seen God, and so therefore Jesus who is visible cannot be God.

While there is a whole theme one could discuss here, related to the notion found in Colossians 1:15 about Jesus being the image of the invisible God, I actually want to talk about something else.

In the Old Testament, the language used is not that God cannot be seen, but rather that no one may see God and live. Even that is not consistently maintained, and there is similar inconsistency in the New Testament when we encounter expressions such as “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

What I had been thinking about mentioning, and Kermit’s blog post got me to actually write about, is the fact that God seems to literally have a face in the thinking of at least some ancient Israelites.

Think about it. If God is genuinely thought to be invisible, then there is no reason for the warning that no one can see God’s face and live. Indeed, it makes no sense unless seeing God’s face is possible.

This is not the only place where this sort of thing comes up. As I mentioned on this blog once before, Exodus 33 talks about God no longer accompanying the Israelites, a notion that makes little sense if God is thought to be omnipresent.

Why even ask about these passages? There are several good reasons. One is because most people who claim to be Biblical literalists aren’t, at least not consistently, and their treatment of these passages proves it. Another is because realizing that our ideas of God are different than those of ancient people, even among conservative religious believers, can be remarkably freeing. If we no longer think as they did, and cannot bring ourselves to do so, then surely we must rise to the challenge and think in new and creative ways for ourselves.

 

 

  • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

    “We must think for ourselves in new and creative ways.” How true. Nice conclusion, based on comparing how ancient Israelites thought about god with more modern philosophical notions.

  • newenglandsun

    I would recommend with doing some research on St. John of Damascus before making this argument on seeing God.

    http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3304.htm

    It’s called apophatic theology. Of course, considering that much of liberal and fundamentalist theology is bereft of historical theology, it’s no surprise that most people don’t understand this.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Apophatic theology is actually very popular among liberals. But apophaticism is not what this post is about. This post is about the texts in the Bible which suggest that seeing God is actually possible.

      Missing the point of a post, and then suggesting that its author is ignorant of another topic because it isn’t mentioned in a post that was not about that topic, is unnecessarily insulting, don’t you think?

      • newenglandsun

        My point is that if you *did* understand apophatic theology, you would have thrown this argument into a trash can before you even made it.

        http://orthodoxwiki.org/Apophatic_theology

        It refers to how God is completely indescribable and unfathomable.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          And what makes you think that the author of Exodus subscribed to apophatic theology?!

          You still seem not to understand what this post is about. It is about ancient Israelite religion, not Eastern Orthodox Christian theology.

          • newenglandsun

            Considering that Eastern Christians *are* maintaining to ancient Israelite theology, then yes, the author of Exodus maintained to apophatic theology. Let’s not forget that Moses Maimonides, a Jew, mind you, held to apophatic theology as well.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

              You have not shown that, and you have not explained what you mean by “no one can see God and live” if you in fact believe that “no one can see God, period.”

              • newenglandsun

                When did I say “no one can see God, period”? No can know God unless they know God and no one can see God unless they see God.


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