Friday, September 2, 2016

Will We See the Father?

I was asked this question a little while ago, and it took some serious thought to come up with a response. “Response” is a carefully chosen word, because I cannot call it an answer. I don’t like to refer to my thoughts as answers, anyway, since I know I do not know it all. However, this is particularly one where I feel the need to make that explicit. I have formed an opinion. It is biblically informed, but it is still an opinion and nothing more. Hopefully it provides something to think about and discuss, and if you disagree, please feel free to say why.

If you have ever considered this question before, then you are ahead of me. I have always taken it for granted that we will someday see the Father. But I guess before diving in, an explanation of what I mean by “the Father” is required. There is no easy way to do even that, but I will be going for the simplest definition I can, recognizing that any description of God will always fall short.

The Father

In general, Christianity recognizes that God is one in nature and exists eternally in the three distinct persons of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Father is the chief authority of the Godhead. The Son is His equal, but is submissive to the Father, and is His expression. By the Father’s will, the Son became a human being and allowed Himself to be offered as a perfect and infinitely sufficient sacrifice for the sins of humanity. The Spirit is the animating force of the universe who dwells specially in those who have placed their trust in the Son.

Again, that is super simplistic, but it gives us something to work with. Each member of this trinity is equal, and in perfect agreement, which is why there is only one God. But each member is also a distinct personality with His own activities. The Father, in keeping with that, is the decider. His will is perfect, and the Son and Spirit share in it and in its implementation.

Seeing (or not Seeing) God

With me so far? Hopefully. And now we can move into the heart of this article. The question is not really, “Will we see God?” God has often been seen. Jesus, as the Son of God, was seen countless times. The Spirit has also been seen, in the form of a dove at the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist (John 1:32–34) and as tongues of fire on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1–4). But what of the Father? Has He been seen, or will He be?

The Bible is very clear about the past element. No one has ever seen the Father, or in other words, the unobscured glory of God. John 1:18 says that we needed Jesus to declare the Father to us because no one has ever seen God. Colossians 1:15 and 1 Timothy 1:17 say that God is invisible. 1 John 4:12 explains that no one has seen God, but that we can know He is there by experiencing and sharing His love. 1 Timothy 6:16 not only says that no one has seen God, but that God cannot be seen. And Exodus 33:20 says that anyone who could see God would die.

Seems pretty conclusive. The Father is spirit, so He cannot be seen. Our physical eyes are not capable of observing Him. If anything, the sight of His glory would be a light so intense that we would burn up and blow away. The universe itself could not withstand His presence. We can catch only the glimpses He gives.

But is that the end of the investigation? Some would say yes, on the basis of the verses I have already discussed and on the implication of places like Habakkuk 3:4, “His brightness was like the light; He had rays flashing from His hand, and there His power was hidden.” The prophet is saying that the fullness of God is not even in the light, but rather is behind it. So it is legitimate to conclude that the Father will never be seen.

Seeing the Father

However, I cannot come to that conclusion. For one thing, we need to consider John 14:9, where Jesus says, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” There is a sense in which the Father is seen whenever God is experienced. But I think we will even see Him in a more literal sense.

I believe that our inability to see God is more a result of our nature than it is a total impossibility. What I mean is, we cannot see the Father because we are physical and fallen. But that will change for those who, by the presence of the Spirit, call God “Father.” Our salvation makes us the children of God, His heirs and the siblings of Christ (Romans 8:14–17). We have been promised that we will share in “the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). At the resurrection, we will be made like Jesus and enabled to see God for who He is (1 John 3:2).

The fullest description of this concept is in 1 Corinthians 15:35–49. The bodies we have, that experience corruption, certainly cannot view the glory of God. But the resurrection bodies we will receive, the ones like Christ has, will be something different. We cannot even guess at their nature, but we can know “we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man” (v. 49). It is not reasonable to assume Jesus cannot see the Father. And if He can, then we will be able to do so, as well. If the Bible does not say that explicitly, I think it is the most logical option.

Revelation 20:11–15 may also provide more evidence for this position. It describes the final judgment before the throne of God. The important point is that preceding this passage, the Son is already present on earth. Here, however, the throne comes out of heaven. The implication is that it is the throne of the Father. This is further strengthened by the fact that all of physical creation withers away before the coming of His glory (v. 11). But human spirits are able to look at Him, either briefly in the case of those consigned to judgment; or eternally in the case of those who enter the New Jerusalem to dwell in the presence and love of God forever (Revelation 21:2–7; Revelation 21:22–22:5). The best way for me to make sense of these passages is to say that we will, indeed, see the Father.

Incomprehensibility of God

Let me make this stipulation, however. Perhaps we will see the Father, but in keeping with the passage from Habakkuk, we will not be able to understand all of Him. I can agree with that. I actually believe it is the same with the Son and the Spirit, as well. Not even in our perfection will we be able to comprehend God fully.

But to me, that is not all that is meant by seeing. I do not have to understand my human loved ones completely to see them. In fact, I do not understand even them completely. But I experience them, and I know I am not alone. I believe we will see the Father in accordance with much the same principle. We will see, hear, and touch Him, in a sense beyond our current senses, because the veil of sin will no longer stand between us. And I look forward to that day.

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