Can we actually see God?

Some people have amazing faces. Like the face of the little girl with huge, haunting eyes that stared at me from a photo in a store window I was passing. So many emotions in so young a face – innocent and wistful, but that tragic hint of sadness, loss and hardship, too. How a face tells a story.

Some faces I can’t help myself staring at. Like the TV reporter I see occasionally who has a rather plain face when serious, but when she smiles it’s like a sudden window into this other life she lives, full of humour and mischief. How our faces give away what we’re really like.

There’s nothing like the human face in all creation. But there’s one face above all faces I’d like to see, because in that face, the Bible tells me, I can see what God is really like. It acts like a window, 2 Corinthians 4:6, into the “glory of God.” We can actually see the brilliance of God himself. How? “In the face of Christ.”

But how can I see Christ’s face when we have no record of it? And what would it tell me even if I did see it? But Paul explains himself in verse 4. “The god of this age,” he writes, “has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

The way we see Christ’s face is in “the light of the gospel.” To understand the gospel, therefore, is to see the “glory of Christ.” And why is that important? Because Christ is the “image of God.” See Christ in his glory and we see God in his glory. And how do we see Christ in his glory? In the gospel. It’s in the gospel that we see what Christ is like, and in seeing what Christ is like we see what God is like. It’s a simple formula: understand the gospel, we see Christ; see Christ, we see God.

No wonder the “god of this age” blinds people to what the gospel is all about, because it’s through the gospel we see God. The gospel is the face, or the window, into what God is really like. And who understands that? We do, or at least we can, verse 6, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

So, yes, we can actually see God. How? In Christ. How in Christ? Through the gospel. How important is it to know the gospel, then?

The difference God makes to a day

In John 17:3 Jesus said, “Now this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God.” That’s quite a statement. I remember the “Love is…” buttons, well here Jesus is saying “Eternal life is…” – but who would have thought that “eternal life is….knowing God?”

But if anyone knew that for a fact, Jesus did, because “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of man,” John 3:13. Jesus knew God firsthand, and knowing God as he did he simply had to tell us that “life is God.” There’s nothing more that life could be about than God. God was it. God’s always been it. There’s no life without him.

A favourite expression of one lady I knew was: “I don’t want to make it without him.” Which is exactly what Jesus was getting at, that there’s no life in life without God. He is the life in life. Compare a day with God in it to a day without him. Well, she couldn’t stand the thought of making it through a day without him. Without him it was just another day, going through the motions of keeping oneself alive physically, doing one’s chores and duties, and collapsing in front of the TV when tired out. And it all becomes a rather pointless, numbing existence after a while, like the droning tick of a grandfather clock. Another tick, another day. And for what purpose?

Perhaps that’s what this life is for, then, to discover the difference that God makes to a day. And I think I’m beginning to experience what that’s like, as I realize he’s interested and involved in every part of my life, and in every second of what I’m doing. He’s the ultimate Dad, who loves being with his children, loves watching them, loves joining in with them, loves hearing their ideas, loves helping them out when they can’t get something to work, loves helping them find things they’ve lost, loves to feed their creativity, develop their skills, open up new dimensions and give them new thoughts.

And it’s knowing he’s got that kind of Dad that makes a child’s life come alive. A day is so much better with Dad. Life is Dad. And we’ve got such a Dad for eternity too.

“I don’t like your God”

A man I’d never met or talked to before phoned and told me, “For the next hour you are going to listen to me as I show you why I don’t like your God, and why I do not believe in the God of the Bible.”

Because, he said, look at the horrible things God has done – the Flood, for instance, and wiping out Jericho, ordering the genocide of Amalekite women and children, and helping the Israelites kill thousands of people. And what about the horrors in the book of Revelation, and Jesus threatening people with eternal hellfire? And on and on the list went.

So I asked him – after his hour was up – “What shall we say then? Is God unjust?” Romans 9:14. Is God wrong in all this stuff he’s done? “Not at all,” Paul replies, because “what if God did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory,” verse 23?

The man on the phone saw God as horrible, but what Paul saw was God making his “glory known.” How? Through his mercy, because if it wasn’t for God’s mercy we’d ALL be destined for destruction, verse 22. If God had left everything up to us, we’d all be dead and gone forever – BUT, fortunately, the glory God prepared us for from the start (verse 23) does “not depend on MAN’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy,” verse 16.

Our efforts only made us “objects of God’s wrath,” verse 22, and deservedly so after rejecting God for a serpent and spitting on our birthright. God had every right, therefore, to reject us in return, but “What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath – prepared for destruction?” God had every right to “show his wrath and make his power known” – and he has shown it too (as the man on the phone pointed out) – but never to our total destruction. We deserve total destruction, of course we do, but God has made us “objects of his mercy” instead, verse 23, because in the end it will help us see his glory.

It’s only by God’s mercy and unending patience that we’re alive at all. And fortunately, in the meanwhile, he’s only given us a taste of the wrath we deserve. Yes, it’s involved (and will involve) some horrible things happening to people, but it’s nothing compared to the total destruction God could have unleashed on us. And when we’re all finally IN the glory God “prepared in advance” for us, what are we going to complain about then?

What if Jesus’ resurrection never happened?

If the resurrection of Jesus never happened God is a liar, we can throw out the Bible, and dismiss Christianity as a hoax. No resurrection equals no God, no Bible, and no Christians, because the underlying promise throughout the Old Testament is that one day God would raise his Servant in Israel to “bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:3-6).

And the sign revealing who that servant would be was the promise in Psalm 16:10 that “you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.”

That verse was then quoted in Acts 2:27 as evidence that Jesus was that Servant in Israel, because Jesus was not left to rot in his grave, exactly as promised in Psalm 16:10. It was used as clear proof in verse 24, that “God raised Jesus from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”

This was the day that Christianity began, and it was based entirely on Jesus being resurrected from the dead exactly as promised by King David in Psalm 16. And how did David know God’s Servant would be raised from the dead? Because, verse 30, David was “also a prophet and knowing that God had solemnly sworn that a descendant of his would rule his kingdom, seeing far ahead, David talked of the resurrection of the Messiah” (The Message).

The only reason Christianity got started in the first place was because King David’s prophecy of the Messiah’s resurrection came true. The only question we’re left with, then, is how do we know Jesus was resurrected and his body didn’t rot in his grave?

The best answer we’ve got “that God has raised this Jesus to life,” verse 32, is Peter’s claim that “we are all witnesses of the fact.”We have the documented evidence of witnesses. They were there at the time of Jesus’ resurrection, saw with their own eyes the empty grave, and met with the very much alive and well Jesus for several weeks after his resurrection, and put it all down on record what they saw, and even what Jesus said.We have Jesus’ resurrection on record, therefore.

And the only way that can be refuted is by witnesses documenting their evidence to the contrary, that Jesus stayed dead and his body rotted and they can prove it. How? By producing his bones; clear proof we can all admit to.

And if it really was so important to people back then to refute Jesus’ resurrection, then they’d make sure they had undeniable proof of it, right? But I’ve never read or heard of such proof existing; have you?

“If only Jesus had NOT been raised from the dead…”

I imagine a lot of very bright, intellectual people have thought to themselves, “If only Jesus had not been raised from the dead,” because they’ve had to spend much time in heated and often fruitless debate with Christians trying to win the argument that the resurrection of Jesus never happened.

They’re up against a formidable wall, because Christians know Christianity rests or falls on whether Jesus was raised from the dead, or not. So with so much at stake Christians have used every tool and argument possible to prove Jesus’ resurrection was real. And that has put huge strain on human brainpower to refute that Christian claim, because how do you prove that one hundred billion Christians through the ages have all been deluded?

On the other hand, maybe that’s not such a hard task, because more recent history has shown us that billions of people can easily be deluded. People en masse still vote for politicians, for instance, because they believe what politicians say is true. The shattering proof of our own experience, however, is that what politicians say and promise has little connection to what they do when voted into office, but people keep on voting for them anyway.

Delusion is easy, then, when people want to believe something is true. But does that apply to Christians?

Well, awkwardly not, because Christianity didn’t begin with people wanting to believe Jesus was raised from the dead. According to the Biblical record no one, not even Jesus’ closest friends and followers, believed he’d been raised from the dead. They totally dismissed it as nonsense, and even ignored eyewitnesses. And for the first few days no argument convinced them it was true.

So Christianity itself got off to a really shaky start, because the idea of Jesus actually coming back from the dead was too fantastic for even Jesus’ followers to believe. And it was so disappointing that Jesus wasn’t the great Messiah they were hoping for, that they went straight back to their fishing boats as if Jesus was dead and gone forever, and the story of Jesus would have faded away into nothing.

And for many critics of Christianity that would have been a much better ending to the Christian movement. But instead they’re stuck with all sorts of people who believe Jesus was resurrected, because what other plausible explanation is there for why this disconsolate, unbelieving group of disciples suddenly believed Jesus really had risen from the dead – and put their lives on the line to spread the news of it too?

And what has made one hundred billion people through the ages believe it’s true too? Is it the simple question, that “Without Jesus’ resurrection what would be the point of our human existence?” I wonder how the brightest and the best would answer that.

Did anything actually change after Jesus ascended?

If Jesus hadn’t ascended to his Father after he was raised from the dead, nothing in this world of ours would have changed. We would have carried on as before, still stuck in the same old cycle repeating itself over and over again of people just living and dying and disappearing into nothing, with no guarantee of a life after death. We’d also be stuck in the same old grim struggle for survival against odds we have never been able to conquer, like poverty, disease, violence, bullying, greed, insanity, and the suffering we cause each other by our inability to control our emotions. As a race we had no future. We’d have done the planet and each other a huge favour by becoming extinct long ago.

But something changed when Jesus was “exalted to the right hand of God.” because, Acts 2:33, that’s when he “received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit.” And what the Holy Spirit then did was enable people to “save themselves from their corrupt generation” (verse 40), and “turn from their wicked ways” (3:26). The Spirit would provide humans with the ability to not be corrupt and wicked.

All of sudden, then, the chance was being offered to us humans to break free of the unrelenting grip of wrong desires, and we wouldn’t want to bully people or manipulate others to our own advantage. A new type of human, therefore, would begin to appear, that showed remarkable similarities to the human Jesus, where love – not self – would become the driving force.

The one key proof, then, that the ascension happened is the Holy Spirit’s effect on the world. And the one key evidence of that Spirit’s effect is this new human that emerged – “clothed,” as Colossians 3:12 says, with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” And where a group of these new humans mingled together they could be seen “bearing with each other and forgiving whatever grievances they may have had against one other” (verse 13).

The Holy Spirit’s effect can be seen playing out in very practical terms in these new humans’ marriages too, where husbands aren’t harsh with their wives (verse 19), and as Dads they don’t do anything to make their children feel discouraged (verse 21). These new humans would make great employers and employees too, because they’d treat each other with respect and fairness (3:22, 4:1).

Sounds very much like a different world to me, a breaking of the same old, mouldy, worn out cycle of human behaviour that saw no change at all up to the point of Jesus’ ascension. But with Christ’s ascension “old things passed away” and “new things have come,” 2 Corinthians 5:17, the clear evidence of which is the “new human” that has emerged since then, who is a pleasure to know.

You mean, I can be raised from the dead now?

God’s speciality is raising dead people, like Lazarus, Dorcas, and those who came out of their graves after Christ died. We’ve also got Colossians 3:1 that says we’ve ALL been raised with Christ, and Ephesians 2:5-6 that we’ve all been made alive in Christ and we live in the heavenly realms already.

So God loves raising dead people, which is good to know because “We were dead in transgressions,” Ephesians 2:5, we lived in “bodies of death,” Romans 7:24, we were “dead because of sin,” Romans 8:10, and we were totally under the power of “the law of sin and death,” Romans 8:2.

But to those who accept this is the awful state they’re in, there’s hope. How? In Jesus Christ, because “If we have been united with him in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection,” Romans 6:5. To accept that Jesus took us all with him to his death to free us from the law of sin and death (verses 6-7) is to realize he took us all with him in his resurrection too. And what happens then? Verse 11 – “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” The same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead raises us from the completely dead state we are in too.

So it’s great being dead, because raising people from the dead is God’s speciality. He loves it when we’ve finally reached the stage “we despaired even of life” and “felt the sentence of death,” 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, because we’re at the point (at last) we can experience something truly extraordinary – mentioned in the last part of verse 9 – “that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” When we’re at the end of our rope and we cry out to God for help, that’s when we experience God himself lifting us out of our despair and hopelessness. And after we experience that a few times, it dawns on us that this is how God works. This is his speciality. This is what he’s brilliant at. And this is what he loves doing any chance he gets.

Paul gained so much confidence from God rescuing him from his pits of death that he knew in the future “he will deliver us” too, verse 10. But that’s what this life is for, it’s to experience the proof again and again that God raises the dead, so that there’s no doubt in our minds that when we die our final death, he’ll raise us from that death too.