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How God Appears

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This paper tries to answer two queries arising from one of my ‘Introduction to Philosophy’ articles, A-354. In that paper I said: “Of course, God the Father has no appearance as far as we are concerned. We ‘see’ God in Jesus Christ, who retained His human appearance.” The key words are: “as far as we are concerned”.

In response, a reader pointed to Moses seeing the back of the Father on the mountain. An allied query was that surely the human body of Jesus must have been eternal. I hope to briefly answer both queries, but, as you will discover, it is not that simple to provide anything definitive.

Moses and God’s Back

“And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by:

And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.” (Exodus 33:22, 23)

The reason why Moses did not see God’s face is given by God Himself in verse 20 – no man can see God’s face and live! The ‘face’ is not necessarily a physical one, but just a reference to that person’s character and, in the case of God, His glory and awesome presence.

Now, couple that to my statement, that God has no appearance “as far as we are concerned”. What I meant is contained in what God said: that no man can look upon His face and live. Therefore, in practical terms, He has no appearance we can see. It has been barred from our experience. Because of this He has “no appearance as far as we are concerned”. The only way we can ‘see’ God the Father is by seeing His Son, Jesus Christ. For us today, that ‘seeing’ is in faith and spirit… perception.

Those who lived at the same time as Christ, actually saw Him bodily. When he ascended into Heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit instead, and the Spirit, also, cannot be seen. But, if Moses saw the “back parts” of God, surely God must have a body of some kind and therefore an appearance? After all, He also said that no man can see His face, and a face implies a body? Not necessarily.

Firstly, the word ‘see’, ra’ah, does not always mean to actually see with the eyes; it can also mean to ‘see’ by perception, which is a function of the mind. The text says we may NOT see Him, and the context suggests actual sight. ‘Face’ can mean a physical face, or the presence of God. Overall, the text can be taken literally or figuratively. Yet, the text also implies a physical appearance! It is a quandary.

God told Moses that His “glory” would pass by. His ‘glory’, kabowd, is not about a physical body but about the wondrousness or majesty of His presence. Yet, this glory surrounded Him, so this again implies a body.

God said He would cover Moses with His hand. Does ‘hand’ imply a body? Yes, it can, but it can also speak of the power of God, for ‘hand’ is symbolic of that power. And the mystery of this text is underlined by use of the words “while I pass by”, which, again, suggests a physical presence, for the phrase implies size and position, and thus a body of some kind. But, likewise, it may be figurative.

‘Back parts’ in this text means the back. So, did Moses actually see God, albeit His back? Or, did He see His presence and glory? This could imply that Moses actually did see God’s body. Even if this is true, however, does this mean God always had a body? Or, that if we were in Heaven right now, we may see such a body? Again, not necessarily. It could even be that God manifested as a body just for Moses.

Angels, for instance, can be seen when it is their task to visit men, just as two visited Abraham in human form. But, mostly, they are spirit. Is this what happened with Moses – God the Father is usually spirit, but deigned to be seen by Moses for this special occasion, to strengthen his faith?

Look further: There is the spirit of God, then there is the Spirit (capital ‘S’) of God. The first is God’s core being and mind, the second is the Holy Spirit. But, we also have a definitive statement in John 4:24, which says “God (is) a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship (Him) in spirit and in truth.”

This is intriguing, for the worship we offer must be “in spirit”, implying that the “Spirit” that is God is also ‘in spirit’. That is, unseen. “God (is) a Spirit” tells us that God the Father has a spirit personality and character. Does this mean the Father is spirit without a body?

Another possibility is that the constitution of the spiritual world, as in Heaven, may not be seen by mortal eyes and has no body in human terms, but DOES have a body of spiritual type. Thus, normally, human eyes cannot see God, but God divinely allowed Moses a peek into His world of spirit by allowing him to see His spiritual body. (In the same way disciples on the road did not see Jesus’ risen body, nor did Mary see Him until Jesus spoke to them).

The next question is: is this ‘spirit’ eternally unseen and unseeable? Or, is it just unseen and unseeable on this earth? (Note: ‘spirit’ refers to a state, hence ‘it’; ‘Spirit’ refers to a Person, hence ‘He’). We may ask this because normally Christians do not ‘see’ spirits (e.g. of angels), even if they perceive their presence. The same occurs with the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the trinity. Does the fact that Jesus sits on the Father’s right hand in Heaven imply a body? Not necessarily, for the statement is more to do with God’s power and authority than with a physical body.

Therefore, we can say with certainty that we are uncertain! God is everywhere, which negates His having size and position, and thus a body. But, God is Almighty and can assume a body for a special purpose (as He did in Christ). Also, if God the Father was passing before Moses, was He limited to that place (impossible), or was He also in Heaven at the same time? Think about it!

Is Jesus’ Human Form Eternal?

When He came to earth and then died, Jesus did so in human form. Is this human form eternal, always existing? We read of Jesus accompanying the two angels who visited Abraham. He had an human form then. Yet, the statement in Genesis One concerning the Spirit of God hovering around the earth is taken to refer to Jesus.

This offers another intriguing fact: that when Jesus came to earth He was conceived in a womb; then He grew to baby size and was born. Then, He grew as any other youth to manhood. He died as a man. Even so, when He visited Abraham, He was in full human, adult form! This was before He came to earth as a conceived being!

So, is Jesus’ human form eternal? Or, was it adopted as the need arose? Being God, God can do anything He wishes, when, to human minds, it is not possible. We do know that after His resurrection He had a different kind of body, though it looked just like His former human body. His body experienced death, and yet His newer body was accepted into Heaven – which would not be possible if it was corrupt! It is why we will all have our bodies changed to the newer kind of body acceptable by God. Our older bodies, corrupted by sin and the process of death, could not be accepted.

This implies that the body of Jesus, if He has one throughout eternity, is perfect and holy, without flaw. It could change from fully-formed manhood to a conception, to a baby and youth, and back to fully-formed manhood. Therefore, anything God does is possible! We do know that His Heavenly form must be perfect, and because He is in Heaven, it must also be spirit, because Heaven is a spiritual place. Which suggests that we, too, will assume a type of body that probably looks similar to our earthly one, but not of the same constitution, being holy and perfect.

This does not necessarily mean it has no physical characteristics, only that if such physical characteristics exist, they are of a totally different type, of human-looking form and yet not of human earthly constitution, but spirit. (No man knows what ‘spirit’ really means).

I am aware that final answers have not been given, but in such a short paper it is not possible to get closer to a final answer, if one exists at all. 

© November 2010

Published on www.christiandoctrine.com

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