Is He invisible?

If He is invisible, how could He appear visibly to Abraham and to Moses?

Is this a conflict within Scripture?

By  R.L.B.


        I once heard of a little girl who was drawing a picture at school.  Her teacher came over and asked her what she was drawing. She said, "I'm drawing a picture of God." Her teacher said, "Honey, you know, nobody really knows what God looks like." Without a pause, the little girl answered, "Well, they will when I get through!" (James Emery White, God's Most Defining Trait, Decision, July/August 2007, p. 15).

        When I personally attended Sunday School as a child the Bible School superintendent was a tall man with thick glasses and a stern face.  I reasoned in my young mind that maybe this daunting man might be what God looks like.

        Paintings that adorn some religious buildings depict God as an old man with a long white beard.  Somehow, we as human beings tend to visualize God as a human being very much like ourselves.  But is that how the Bible describes the Creator of the Universe?

        To start with, Job, in the Bible, says the following about God:

     ". . . how can man be just with God? . . . For he is not a man, as I am, that I should answer him." (Job 9:2, 32)

        The Bible frequently describes God as having hands (Ex. 23:22), face (Ex. 23:20), arms (Isa. 51:9), feet (2 Kings 19:24), eyes (Gen. 6:8), a voice (Gen. 3:8), and so on.  Describing God as actually having these parts of human anatomy are examples of the figure of speech known as anthropopatheia (condescension)  which visualizes God in terms of human experience.  The Bible describes the Eternal Being as follows:

     "No one has seen God at any time . . . ." (John 1:18)

     "God is spirit . . . ." (John 4:24)

     "the invisible God" (Col. 1:15)

     "invisible" (1 Tim. 1:17)

     "who only has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light; whom no man has seen, nor is able to see; to whom be honor and eternal might. Amen." (1 Tim. 6:16)

     "By faith he [Moses] left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he persevered, as seeing him who is invisible." (Heb. 11:27)

        Now, if God is invisible, what about passages of Scripture that speak of people actually 'seeing' God?  In Genesis 18, three "men" visited Abraham and had a meal with him.  One of these "men" was actually the LORD (Yahweh, or Jehovah), while the other two were angels (messengers of Yahweh).

     "And the LORD appeared to him [Abraham] by the terebinth trees of Mamre. And he sat at the tent-door in the heat of the day.
     "And he lifted up his eyes and saw, and behold, three men standing near him. And when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent-door, and bowed himself to the earth." (Gen. 18:1-2)

     "And the men rose up thence, and looked toward Sodom; and Abraham went with them to conduct them." (Gen. 18:16)
     "And the men turned thence, and went towards Sodom; and Abraham remained yet standing before the L
ORD." (Gen. 18:22)

        The LORD (Yahweh) regularly spoke directly with Moses in the wilderness, after the departure of the Israelites from Egypt.

     "And Jehovah spoke with Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend." (Ex. 23:11)

The LORD also appeared to Moses at mount Horeb in a very interesting situation:

     "And Jehovah said to Moses, I will do this thing also that you have said; for you have found grace in mine eyes, and I know you by name.
     "And he [Moses] said, Let me, I pray, see your glory.
     "And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before your face, and I will proclaim the name of Jehovah before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.
     "And he said, You can not see my face; for Man shall not see me, and live.
     "And Jehovah said, Behold, there is a place by me: there shall you stand on the rock.
     "And it shall come to pass, when my glory passes by, that I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and will cover you with my hand, until I have passed by.
     "And I will take away my hand, and you shall see me from behind; but my face shall not be seen." (Ex. 23:17-23)

        The above passages make it evident that the LORD could radically change the manner in which He appeared to men.  To Abraham it would seem that all three men looked like ordinary human beings, even though one was actually the Creator of the universe appearing in human form.  When Moses spoke to the LORD at the tent of meeting he and God spoke "face to face."  However, on the mountain God told Moses that no man including Moses could see God's face and live. 

        The fact that God can change the way He appears to human beings gives us some insight as to what He actually looks like.  The New Testament Scriptures quoted at the beginning of this article clearly indicate that God, in His essential nature and being, is "Spirit," and as such He is "invisible;" hence "no one has seen God at any time."  Man is flesh and blood, and is totally incapable of "seeing" a spirit.  But God is fully capable of revealing Himself to man.  He, the invisible Spirit, is fully capable of taking on the physical appearance of a man, as for example when he talked with Abraham.  He is equally capable of manifesting Himself as a highly glorified Being (such as when Moses was allowed only to see that Divine Being "from behind").  "Man shall not see me and live" (Ex. 23:20).

Others were also allowed to see a very limited view of the Divine Being when He intentionally manifested Himself.

     "For I [Jacob] have seen God face to face, and my life has been preserved." (Gen. 32:30)

     "And Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up; and they saw the God of Israel; and there was under his feet as it were work of transparent sapphire, and as it were the form of heaven for clearness. And on the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: they saw God, and ate and drank. " (Ex. 24:9-11)

     "Mouth to mouth do I [YHWH] speak to him [Moses] openly, and not in riddles; and the form of Jehovah doth he behold." (Num. 12:8)

     "And Manoah said to his wife, We shall surely die, because we have seen God." (Judges 13:22)

     "I [Micah] saw Jehovah sitting upon his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him, on his right hand and on his left. (1 Kings 22:19)

        But no one was able to see the infinite and eternal Spirit, who is God in His unrevealed essential being.  Only when God manifests Himself by voluntarily taking on a limited, physical, visible, form, could a human being "see" God.

        So is it a contradiction for the Bible to say that "no one has seen God at any time . . . ." (John 1:18), and at the same time to say that Abraham and Moses talked with Him face to face?  If God decided to appear to Moses as a physical being, it really was God, the invisible Spirit, who revealed Himself in a physical form.  Certainly the physical manifestation of God is not someone other than the true God.  The physical appearance God the invisible Spirit voluntarily takes on in order to reveal Himself to mortal man is surely "God."

        And this brings us to God's intention to one day "dwell" with His chosen people Israel:

     "And I will set my habitation among you; and my soul shall not abhor you; and I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be to me a people." (Lev 26:11-12,  also quoted in 2 Cor. 6:16)

        What physical form would God take on to fulfill His promise to "dwell with" and "walk among" His people?  Obviously, this Awesome Divine Being would need to hide the unapproachable light in which he dwells in order for Him to dwell among men and women, lest that glory totally consume those He would dwell with.  In Philippians there is a striking passage that speaks of a certain person who had all-surpassing glory in heaven, but who voluntarily left heaven and laid aside that blinding splendor, in order to come to earth with the appearance of an ordinary humble human being.  This glorious being, Christ Jesus, was in the "form of God" (Phil. 2:6) because He "was God" (John 1:1) and therefore could be said to be "on an equality with God" (Phil. 2:6), a statement that could never be applied to any man, any angel, any created being, or to anyone other than the Eternal God Himself. 

     "Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
     "But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
     "And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." (Phil. 2:6-8)

This event is also mentioned by John the apostle in a Scripture where Jesus Christ is described as "the Word":

     "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
     "The same was in the beginning with God.
     "All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
     "In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
     "And the light shines in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." (John 1:1-5)

     "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth." (John 1:14)

     "And confessedly the mystery of piety is great.  He has been manifested in flesh, has been justified in the Spirit, has appeared to angels, has been preached among the gentiles, has been believed on in the world, has been received up in glory." (1 Tim. 3:16)

     "No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known." (John 1:18)

     "Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and that will satisfy us.  Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? The person who has seen me has seen the Father. So how can you say, 'Show us the Father'?" (John 14:8-9, NIV)

        Many people correctly believe in the "humanity" of the Lord Jesus Christ but fail to understand who He really is, or where He came from.  There are those who teach that the above passages do not teach the deity of Christ, and that modern-day Christians are "reading into" these Scriptures ideas which are not there.  In an attempt to answer this criticism let us contemplate the following choice words spoken by the Lord Jesus Himself, and then let us notice the correct interpretation the learned theologians of Christ's day attached to His words:

     "But Jesus answered them, My Father works hitherto and I work.
     "For this therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he had not only violated the sabbath, but also said that God was his own Father, making himself equal with God." (John 5:17-18)

Although the Lord specifically answered the theologians as to His implicit Deity, He was equally careful to maintain the fact that when he came into this world He voluntarily became a fully human being, a servant, in absolute subjection to the Father.  All this while the Lord Jesus Christ fully maintained His essential full Divinity:

     "Jesus therefore answered and said to them, Verily, verily, I say to you, The Son can do nothing of himself save whatever he sees the Father doing: for whatever things He does, these things also the Son does in like manner.
     "For the Father loves the Son and shows him all things which he himself does; and he will show him greater works than these, that you may wonder.
     "For even as the Father raises the dead and quickens them, thus the Son also quickens whom he will:
     "for neither does the Father judge any one, but has given all judgment to the Son;
     "that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father.  He who honors not the Son, honors not the Father who has sent him.
     "Verily, verily, I say unto you, that he that hears my word, and believes him that has sent me, has life eternal, and does not come into judgment, but is passed out of death into life.
     "Verily, verily, I say unto you, that an hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that have heard shall live.
     "For even as the Father has life in himself, so he has given to the Son also to have life in himself,
     "and has given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is Son of man." (John 5:17-27)

        Note that there is no one, whether they are man, angel, archangel, or any other class of created being, who has "life in himself," yet Jesus Christ claimed this for Himself  There is no mere human, or any other created being, who quickens (gives life to) "whom he will," yet the Lord Jesus had that capability to give physical and spiritual life to whomsoever He Himself wished to do so.  If we "honor the Son" in the same manner in which we "honor the Father" this would be rampant idolatry unless the Son actually shares in the Father's Deity.  Would you honor even the best of human beings, or even angels, in the same manner in which the Heavenly Father deserves honor?  This attribute belongs exclusively to Divine Persons, (I.e., to the Eternal God).

        Thus far we have seen that there are three ways in which God exists:

  1. God, the invisible Spirit.  The Absolute One that none of the five human senses could possibly detect, let alone interact with. Nor could we ever know anything about such an unfathomable One.
  2. God manifesting Himself, during temporary appearances, as a "man" to Adam, and to Abraham, or as a voice speaking out of a burning bush to Moses, or as a pillar of fire to the Israelites, or with a still small voice to Elijah.
  3. God manifesting Himself in the flesh, as a fully human being. "The man Christ Jesus."

        So, on the one hand, God is a Spirit being  "whom no man has seen, nor is able to see" (1 Timothy 6:16).  And on the other hand Jesus said, "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? The person who has seen me has seen the Father. So how can you say, 'Show us the Father?" (John 14:8-9).

        But note also that this person, Jesus Christ, who was the God who had manifested Himself in the flesh, could also manifest himself in various additional forms.  Two examples follow:

     "And he was transfigured before them. And his face shone as the sun, and his garments became white as the light." (Mat. 17:2)

     "And after these things he was manifested in another form to two of them as they walked, going into the country." (Mk. 16:12)

       Saul the Pharisee, the great persecutor of the followers of the Messiah, describes to King Agrippa his life-changing encounter with the Lord Jesus appearing as an extremely bright light:

     "And when . . . I was journeying to Damascus, with authority and power from the chief priests, at mid-day, on the way, I saw, O king, a light above the brightness of the sun, shining from heaven round about me and those who were journeying with me.
     "And, when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?...
     "And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom you are persecuting." (Acts 26:12-15)

       When John the apostle was shown a vision of the Lord's future day of tribulation and judgment (Rev. 1:10), he saw the Lord Jesus appearing in the following glorious and forbidding fashion:

     "And I turned back to see the voice which spoke with me; and having turned, I saw seven golden lamps,
     "and in the midst of the seven lamps one like the Son of man, clothed with a garment reaching to the feet, and girt about at the breasts with a golden girdle:
     "his head and hair white like white wool, as snow; and his eyes as a flame of fire;
     "and his feet like fine brass, as burning in a furnace; and his voice as the voice of many waters;
     "and having in his right hand seven stars; and out of his mouth a sharp two-edged sword going forth; and his countenance as the sun shines in its power." (Rev. 1:12-16)

        So why did God manifest Himself as a human being, as "Jesus Christ come in flesh" (1 John 4:2)?  Why did He create mankind?  Why did He continue to plead with mankind even after they sinned against Him?  And why did God reveal Himself in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is why:

     "And you know that He has been manifested that he might take away our sins." (1 John 3:5)

        So we have seen who the Lord Jesus claimed to be, namely, the Almighty Invisible God, revealing himself to mankind as a humble man. Why did God bother to outwardly limit Himself and thus reveal Himself to humanity?  Because He desired to restore that fellowship with mankind which was broken when the man Adam first chose to disobey God.

       This restoration of intimate fellowship with the Eternal, this forgiveness of sin, is available to anyone who will receive it:

     "Verily, verily, I say unto you, that he that hears my word, and believes him that has sent me, has life eternal, and does not come into judgment, but is passed out of death into life." (John 5:24)

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A real event when a young lady tried to
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