“So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: ‘For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved’ ” (Genesis 32:30 NKJV).
I am preparing for another trip to South Asia, which will be my first time there for almost a year. With today’s modern technology I have been able to maintain contact with Christians on the other side of the world, but there are limitations to what can be accomplished at that distance. There are some things that are just better handled “face to face.”
The aged apostle John expressed the same sentiments: “I had many things to write, but I do not wish to write to you with pen and ink; but I hope to see you shortly, and we shall speak face to face” (3 John 13-14).
Distance also places limits on our ability to maintain close fellowship with our Heavenly Father. The Bible proclaims the transcendence (separateness) of God: “No one has seen God at any time” (John 1:18). “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever, amen” (1 Timothy 1:17).
There are a few passages where individuals are said to have “seen God” in seeming contradiction to the quotations above (Genesis 32:30; Exodus 33:17-23). However, these apparent inconsistencies are easily harmonized when one examines them more closely. Any “sighting” of God which is described in these incidents is indirect, either through a mediator such as an angel or by virtue of a reflected view as was given to Moses on the mountain or in the burning bush (Exodus 3:2ff).
The fact is that “no man can see [God] and live” ( Exodus 33:20). Does this mean that we are doomed to only an unsatisfactory distant communication with God? Is there no way we can be brought into a meaningful relationship with our creator? Thankfully, the answer to those questions is “No.”
Jesus is the means by which God is made known to us today. “Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27). “He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). Through God’s beloved Son we are reconciled and brought near (Ephesians 2:12-13) – that is we are brought into loving fellowship with God. His invisible attributes were fully revealed in the person of Jesus, who was literally God in the flesh.
“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory” (1 Timothy 2:16).
Because of the sacrifice of Christ, we are now able to “see” God and live in close relationship with him. “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus . . . let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:19, 22). “Let us, therefore, come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
Yes, God is invisible and far removed from his human children. Yet, he has provided Jesus that we might be brought into his presence free from sin and able to commune with the Divine. For this, we are eternally grateful.