Recently I heard an evangelical leader say that glorified human beings are the only creatures that are able to see God. He said that while angels must hide their faces in God’s presence, yet humans, because we bear God’s image, will one day be made fit to gaze directly upon God. He based this on the medieval idea of the visio dei and Revelation 22:3-4, which says “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face….”
This is the second time I’ve heard this from leaders I respect, and I wonder if it signals a shift in Protestant thought. Roman Catholics believe the consummation of human existence is the beatific vision. Glorified humans will look directly into the essence of God, which is so glorious we will lock in and be unable to turn away. Protestants have protested that such a glance would annihilate us. We would vaporize faster than snow on a hot sidewalk. We would melt away like the poor fellow who looked at the Ark in the Indiana Jones movie, only faster. There wouldn’t be a trace of us left.
The Protestant view has at least two important benefits:
- It preserves the ontological separation between God and creation. Our sin would prevent us from seeing God, if we were able to look on him in the first place. Our first limitation is not that we’re fallen. It’s that we’re finite. No one can see God and live (Exodus 33:20). This was true in Eden and it will be true in glory.
Protestants say the face we will see in Revelation 22:3-4 belongs to the Lamb. All knowledge of God must be mediated through creaturely forms. If God ever reveals himself directly to us we would incinerate on the spot. We need a buffer, for our own protection. That buffer has a name, which leads to the second advantage.
- It preserves our focus on Jesus. Jesus is the Mediator, the bridge between us and God. Jesus fully reveals God to us even as he shelters us from the full glare of the glory of God. Jesus is the only person of the Godhead we will ever see, and that’s enough, because when we see Jesus we see the Father (John 14:6-11).
We risk minimizing our need for Jesus if we believe that one day we will be glorified sufficiently to look at God without his mediation. We will never outgrow our need for Jesus. We need Jesus’ mediation now because we’re finite and because we’re fallen. The latter will be fixed in glory, but not the first. It doesn’t need fixing, because there is nothing wrong with being a creature. This is what God made us to be.
Will we see God? Absolutely. But only in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).
Picture by Kevin Dooley. Used by permission. Via Flickr.