The comments from yesterday’s post on seeing God pushed me to ponder this question a bit more. Here are a few thoughts.
- When Moses asked God to draw him closer, “Now show me your glory” (Ex. 33:18), God declared “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Ex. 33:20). Then God hid Moses in a “cleft in the rock” and covered him with his hand until his glory had passed by. This text clearly indicates that no human can stand the full glare of God’s glory, simply because we are creatures. Angels have the same limitation, so the main problem is not our fallenness but our finitude.
- Yet earlier in the same chapter we are told that when Moses went to the Tent of Meeting, “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend” (Ex. 33:11). How are we to understand this?
- Their intimate conversation made Moses’ face glow, but it did not kill him (Ex. 34:29-35). This indicates that Moses did not receive the full intensity of God’s glory. There are two acceptable ways to take this talk of seeing God’s face, and both may be right. It may be anthropocentric language—God describing himself in words that we can understand—and/or it may describe how all knowledge of God must be mediated through creaturely forms.
- Regarding the latter, we have two limitations of finitude when it comes to seeing God. God is spirit, and so is invisible. God is glorious, and so must be lethal to mere creatures. We cannot stand in the unmediated presence of this being we cannot see. This is a terrible analogy, but in this way God is a bit like sarin gas. People can’t smell or see this odorless, colorless gas, yet it destroys those who inhale too much of it.
- Thus, even if Revelation 22:3-4 means that we shall see God’s face (rather than the Lamb’s face), this still does not mean we will look directly into God’s essence, or that we are any more advanced than Moses, who spoke face to face with God in the Tent of Meeting. All knowledge of God must be mediated, whether by God the Father putting on a face, or as Protestants prefer, making his glory visible “in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).
Picture by Kevin Dooley. Used by permission. Via Flickr.