Friday, February 22, 2008

Seeing God

This is a drash about seeing God, for tomorrow's Shabbat service.

This drash is not about seeing what God is doing (Luke 7:22), which is easy unless God is purposefully obscuring his activity (Matthew 13:13-14). Neither is it about seeing what God is like through nature (Romans 1:18-20), which is also easy. Neither is it about how some people saw Yeshua physically and this counted as seeing God (John 14:9), which is trivial to discuss. Nor is it about how the nations see Yeshua in his brethren (Matthew 25:31-46). We need to discuss seeing God directly.

This drash is also not about perceiving God in general. Besides seeing God we can hear him or feel him touch us. Perhaps there are people that smell or taste God. This sermon, though, is about seeing God.

As a final preliminary note, recall from an older post that that seeing God is not the goal of spirituality but only an important aspect of being with God.

In Parasha Ki Tissa Moshe asks to see God (Exodus 33:18-19), and God allows Moshe to see his glory (Exodus 34:5-8).

Like Moshe, we cannot completely or fully see God (Exodus 33:20, First Timothy 6:15-16). But we are repeatedly told to seek God's face (for example, Hosea 5:15) and we have the promise that those who have a pure heart and are holy will see God (Matthew 5:8, Hebrews 12:14).

Is this a paradox? Not really, because scriptural context reveals that seeing God in an unclear or incomplete manner is possible, and is in fact inevitable. This is sometimes (but not always) called seeing God's glory rather than seeing God himself (Isaiah 40:5, Matthew 26:64, Revelation 1:7). Notice that Moshe only asked to see God's glory, and God's warning was not about his glory but about his face. So people can see God, but only imperfectly (First Corinthians 13:12).

There is a real deeper and more important paradox about seeing God that involves what promotes or hinders seeing God.

We have already noted that it is a pure heart (also called holiness by the author of Hebrews) that allows us to see God. Yeshua also taught that the amount of purity required necessitates being born again through trust in God (John 3:3, John 12:35-36).

What does scripture say gets in the way of seeing God? We would expect the answer to be an impure heart but the actual answer is different. Believing that you have spiritual "wealth" and that you have clear spiritual sight is what interferes with seeing God (Matthew 13:22, Revelation 3:17-18).

Thus there is a paradox: through trust we are born again and receive pure hearts to see God, but if we believe we see clearly our ability to see vanishes. The more clearly people think they can see God, the less clearly they do see God. Yeshua says this plainly (John 9:39-41).

Paul describes a similar paradox about valuing. The more Paul values his spiritual progress so far, the more he realizes it is worthless compared to what he will one day receive (Philippians 3:3-16).

How do we escape this paradox and seek God's face with hope of seeing him? We apply Paul 's model of valuing to seeing by realizing that anything we can see now is nothing in comparison to clearly seeing God. Even our current degree of being able to see God is worthless compared to how we will one day see him clearly (Revelation 22:3-4).

Yeshua once healed a blind man's sight in steps (Mark 8:22-26). Mark arranges this incident in his gospel as a commentary on the disciples learning to see in steps (Mark 8:16-21). Notice that the blind man whose sight was restored in steps was brought to Yeshua by other people and made no demonstration of desiring to see or trust in Yeshua, unlike the next blind mind healed who states his desire to see and is healed in one step through his trust (Mark 10:51-52). We can apply this to our lives: when we desire to see God better and trust in Yeshua we will be blessed to be able to see God more clearly, whereas when we do not desire to see God better then we may still be granted progress through God's generosity but it will be in very small steps.

So seek God's face earnestly, motived by knowing that everything you have seen so far in life pales compared to seeing God clearly, while confessing that you cannot yet see God clearly.

Beauty and majesty are wonderful to see in nature, in our children and families, and in our communities. While appreciative of these we must keep in mind that God is infinitely more beautiful and majestic, and not let the beauty or majesty around us distract us from seeking God's face. This is how a perception of "wealth" can interfere with seeing God and become the opposite of a pure and holy heart.

If we seek to see God's face in this way then God will reveal himself more, which will humble us more and produce a more pure heart and more holy life, which will then allow us to see God even more clearly, and so on... Thus a paradox about inability to see God will be replaced by a cycle of increased ability to see God!


Stephen said...

I liked that. "in fact inevitable."

Douglas Clarke said...

Very insightful.
I haven't had a chance to read all of the references, but I see the thread you are following, and it is not one I had followed before.

We must seek God, but will only find him when we realize that what we have found in the past is only the smallest glimpse of what we will find in the future.

When we come to this realization it should cause in us great enthusiasm, because the what we can expect is so much more than we have already experienced.