What Is Required to See God for Who God Is?
The way individuals and groups view God often says more about them than it does about God. Our perception of God, as well as other spiritual truths, is conditioned by the state of our heart. Jesus’ most important teaching on this matter is conveyed in John’s Gospel which depicts him telling the Pharisees that they lacked the capacity to discern how Moses wrote about him because, despite their diligent study, “the love of God was not in [their] heart” (Jn. 5 42). Whether one is able to see Jesus in Scripture, he’s saying, depends on something far more important than how diligently they study it. It depends on their heart relationship with God.
Along the same lines, the two disciples with whom the resurrected Jesus walked on the road to Emmaus were unable to recognize him in his resurrected form or to see that Moses and the Prophets wrote about him until “their eyes were open” as they broke bread together (Lk 24:30-32). As Jesus several times suggested in other teachings, one can only “see” and “hear” what their heart allows them to “see” and “hear”. Indeed, this teaching, along with a host of other Scripture, suggests that unless the spirit of the resurrect Christ opens our heart, we will remain blind to the way “all Scripture” points to Christ.
We find the same insight in Paul’s writing. Most importantly, he taught that just as a veil was placed over Moses’ face to shield fellow Hebrews from the brilliance of God’s glory, so too unbelievers have a veil placed over their minds that dulls their spiritual perception (2 Cor 3:13). Paul himself testified that, prior to his conversion, he lacked the capacity to see Jesus as anything more than a mere human. As with all unbelievers, Paul’s spiritual eyes were “blinded” by the “god of this age” so that he could not “see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (4:4). Only when the Spirit removes this veil in the mind and heart of a person, and only when God makes “his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory,” can we see this glory “displayed in the face of Christ” (4:6).
So too, Paul elsewhere writes that only by the work of the Spirit can a person be “made…competent” to be a minister of “a new covenant” by acquiring the capacity to understand Scripture according to “the Spirit” that “gives life” instead of “the letter” that “kills” (3:6). And it is only as believers “with unveiled faces” gaze upon this Christ-centered glory that they are transformed “with ever increasing glory” into Christ’s likeness. (2 Cor. 3:7-4:6).
The more estranged people are from God, the more their knowledge of him is obstructed and distorted. In this sense, we must acknowledge an important element of truth to Ludwig Feuerbach’s famous proclamation that humans make God in our own image. While I would of course reject his claim that God is nothing but a projection of humans, I think it is biblical and reasonable to concede that the way individuals and groups conceive of and experience God reflects the spiritual condition of their heart.
Image by Elijah Hail via Flickr.