The Attributes of God – Invisibility

None of my systematic theology books except the one which my family and I are reading in our after breakfast Bible reading time, Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994), considers God’s invisibility separately from His spirituality. Grudem does so in order to speak of the visible ways in which God manifests Himself. Yesterday we read what he said about them (in Chapter 12, “The Character of God: ‘Communicable’ Attributes (Part 1)”), and I’ll share from what we read in this post.

Many Bible passages refer to God’s invisibility. Here are a few of them:
– “No one has ever seen God” (John 1:14 and 1 John 4:12, ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV).
– “not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father” (John 6:46; Jesus speaking to a crowd of Jews)
– “To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (1 Timothy 1:17)
– “He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen” (1 Timothy 6:15b-16).

However all of these passages were written after the Bible recorded events in which people “saw” God. For example, Exodus 33:11 says, “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to a friend,” and in Exodus 33:21-23 God tells Moses (after telling him, in response to his asking to see His glory, that no one could see him and live), “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” Clearly there was a sense in which God could not be seen and yet could be seen in some form.

Among the theophanies or appearances of God in visible form recorded in the Old Testament are ones to:
– Abraham (Genesis 18, in which three men visited Abraham and Abraham recognized that one of them was God)
– Jacob (Genesis 32:24-30, in which a man wrestled with Jacob and, before leaving Jacob, revealed himself as God)
– the elders of Israel (Exodus 24:9-11, in which the elders of Israel “saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And he did not lay his hand on [them]; they beheld God, and ate and drank.”)
– Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1, in which Isaiah “saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of his robe filled the temple.”)

Of course the greatest visible manifestation of God was Jesus Christ. When Philip asked Jesus to show the disciples the Father, he replied, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Other passages in the New Testament describe Jesus as “the image of the invisible God” and “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (colossians 1:15 and Hebrews 1:3).

Grudem concludes his study of God’s invisibility by considering how we’ll see God in Heaven. Although we’ll never be able to see or know all of God for “his greatness is unsearchable” (Psalm 145:3), we “shall see his face, and his name will be on [our] foreheads” (Revelation 22:4). As a result “we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). What a glorious prospect!

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