will we see God?

Recently I heard an evangelical leader say that glorified human beings are the only creatures that are able to see God. He said that while angels must hide their faces in God’s presence, yet humans, because we bear God’s image, will one day be made fit to gaze directly upon God. He based this on the medieval idea of the visio dei and Revelation 22:3-4, which says “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face….”

This is the second time I’ve heard this from leaders I respect, and I wonder if it signals a shift in Protestant thought. Roman Catholics believe the consummation of human existence is the beatific vision. Glorified humans will look directly into the essence of God, which is so glorious we will lock in and be unable to turn away. Protestants have protested that such a glance would annihilate us. We would vaporize faster than snow on a hot sidewalk. We would melt away like the poor fellow who looked at the Ark in the Indiana Jones movie, only faster. There wouldn’t be a trace of us left.

The Protestant view has at least two important benefits:

  1. It preserves the ontological separation between God and creation. Our sin would prevent us from seeing God, if we were able to look on him in the first place. Our first limitation is not that we’re fallen. It’s that we’re finite. No one can see God and live (Exodus 33:20). This was true in Eden and it will be true in glory.

Protestants say the face we will see in Revelation 22:3-4 belongs to the Lamb. All knowledge of God must be mediated through creaturely forms. If God ever reveals himself directly to us we would incinerate on the spot. We need a buffer, for our own protection. That buffer has a name, which leads to the second advantage.

  1. It preserves our focus on Jesus. Jesus is the Mediator, the bridge between us and God. Jesus fully reveals God to us even as he shelters us from the full glare of the glory of God. Jesus is the only person of the Godhead we will ever see, and that’s enough, because when we see Jesus we see the Father (John 14:6-11).

We risk minimizing our need for Jesus if we believe that one day we will be glorified sufficiently to look at God without his mediation. We will never outgrow our need for Jesus. We need Jesus’ mediation now because we’re finite and because we’re fallen. The latter will be fixed in glory, but not the first. It doesn’t need fixing, because there is nothing wrong with being a creature. This is what God made us to be.

Will we see God? Absolutely. But only in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).

Picture by Kevin Dooley. Used  by permission. Via Flickr.

8 Comments

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  1. Interesting. Thanks! The biggest scripture that comes to mind is “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Typically, unless context dictates otherwise, “God” refers tongue Father right? Perhaps especially because Jesus is speaking this verse as well?

  2. What is the basis for saying Adam and Eve could not see God? I know the whole idea of them strolling with God in the garden is an inference from Gen 3:8, but the idea of walking and speaking seems to say he was manifest there. I question the idea that every theophany is the second person of the Trinity, but is that supposed to be a given?

  3. I know the speaker you are referring to and once heard him say the same thing. I went back to look at the text and had more questions left than anything, but here is what I thought after reading it.

    Revelation 21 seems to emphasize the coming nearness of God the Father (21:3, 7) who seems to be the one referred to as the Alpha and Omega (Rev. 1:8) though Jesus refers to Himself similarly in Rev. 1:18.

    However perhaps as you mentioned He is mediated to us through the Son. The answer seems to lie in pronouns in those verses, but I have found them a bit confusing: “his servants will worship him.” Does that mean “the servants of God will worship God,” “the servants of God will worship the Lamb,” “the servants of the Lamb will worship the Lamb,” or “the servants of the Lamb will worship God.” It seems though that whoever it is that is being worshipped here is also the one whose face is seen in verse 4.

    It seems to me that the most natural flow of the pronouns (also creating a chiasm) would suggest the latter as the best interpretation: “the servants of the Lamb will worship God” which would mean that it is God the Father’s face that is seen by the saints in verse 4. Is there a way that you read the pronouns in verses 3 and 4 in such a way that Christ Himself is the one whose face is seen?

  4. Very well expressed.

  5. Isaiah 40:5

  6. God is a person, so Jesus and Holy Spirit, too. Are you pentocostal?

  7. Curious. Where does the Bible say that Adam and Eve could not look at God while walking with Him in the cool if the day?

    Also, does being able to see God face to face necessarily mean we now don’t need Jesus?

    Is there a Bible verse that explicitly states that a forgiven, redeemed, justified and reconciled person will not be able to see God? Also, how does this view bring together the idea of the Trinity? Could this view bring too much separation to the Trinity?

  8. Gods new language decoded
    Godsee.wordpress.com

    Thomas Hunt

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