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The Invisibility of God | Theology Matters

  • December 2013 Issue
Practical Theology

The classic hymn begins, “Immortal, invisible, God only wise, / in light inaccessible, hid from our eyes.” This echoes 1 Timothy 6:15–16, which says that God is: “immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see.” Earlier this epistle describes God as “the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God” (1 Tim. 1:17).

How should we understand this? Is God literally invisible? When Moses asked to see God’s glory, the Lord warned him that no one could see His face and live (Ex. 33:20). Yet according to Exodus 24:11, the elders of Israel “saw” God on Mount Sinai. The Lord said that He spoke to Moses “face to face” (Num. 12:8). But Moses did not see a face in the literal sense. God the Father is spirit and is immaterial by nature (John 4:24). He does not possess a face, body, or limbs. Even when He revealed Himself as the Angel of Jehovah to the Old Testament Patriarchs, they saw only the appearance of a human form and not a literal body made of flesh and bone (Gen. 18:1).

The miracle of the Incarnation is that in the person of Jesus Christ “all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Col. 2:9). Jesus was not a mere man who was somehow elevated to divine status in the virgin birth. He already existed as God before He was born in Bethlehem. Employing the language of Genesis 1, the Gospel of John states that in the beginning Jesus was with God and was God (John 1:1). In the Incarnation, the Word who already existed as God with the Father took to Himself a human nature and was “born of a woman” (Gal. 4:4). Genuine humanity did not make Jesus less divine as a result of this experience. Likewise, the union of two natures in one person did not make Him less human or superhuman. Instead, it ensured that He would be able to serve as a sinless and compassionate high priest for us. Because Jesus had both a human and divine nature, He was “tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Heb. 4:15).

As the God “who became flesh and made his dwelling among us,” Jesus is uniquely qualified to show us the invisible Father (John 1:14). Prior to the Incarnation Jesus was one with the Father. He came from the Father (John 16:28). He alone has “seen” the Father (John 6:46). It is only through Jesus that we can know God as our Father (John 14:7–9).

FOR FURTHER STUDY

To learn more about the miracle of Incarnation, read Incarnation by Alister E. McGrath (Fortress).

BY Dr. John Koessler

Dr. John Koessler, who retired as professor emeritus from Moody Bible Institute, formerly served in the division of applied theology and church ministry. John and his wife Jane enjoy living in a lakeside town in Michigan. A prolific writer, John’s books include Dangerous Virtues: How to Follow Jesus When Evil Masquerades as Good (Moody Publishers), The Radical Pursuit of Rest (InterVarsity), The Surprising Grace of Disappointment (Moody), and True Discipleship (Moody). John is a contributing editor and columnist for Today in the Word.

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