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A Devotional on Seeking God

ThinkstockPhotos-126401302It is intrinsic to our conception of God that God is inherently invisible. “You cannot see my face,” God famously told Moses on the mountain, “for man shall not see me and live” (Exod 33:20, esv). God in himself cannot be seen directly. If he is to be seen at all, it must be through some sort of manifestation in another form, some kind of epiphany.

In a similar vein, it is intrinsic to our conception of God that God is inherently unknowable. Now that may seem like an odd claim to make. But I would suggest it’s not so different from our original claim. The key word is “inherently.” Neither you nor I, finite humans that we are, possess any intrinsic ability to comprehend the divine on our own. This is not a talent that can be mustered up, even with 10,000 hours of practice. The only way we will know God is if God reaches down and makes himself known. Revelation is top-down, not bottom-up. And as far as the biblical narrative tells it, God doesn’t tend to make himself fully known apart from an intermediary, a third-party go-between.

It is clear that the ancient Jews understood God in this way for they developed the tradition, inherited by the New Testament authors, which claimed that the revealing of the Law on Mt. Sinai was mediated through angels (Gal 3:19; Heb 2:2). With the New Covenant, however, any intermediary role for angels is downplayed (Heb 1:1-2:5), and the two chief intermediaries of God are summoned: Jesus and the Spirit.

The famous prologue to John’s Gospel (Jn 1:1-18) alludes to the partial revelation of God to Moses at Mt. Sinai, which we referred to above. Moses had asked of the Lord, “Show me your glory!” (Exod 33:18). But he was informed he would only be allowed to see the Lord’s “back side,” for his “face shall not be seen” (33:23). In light of the parallel in v 20, “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live,” the author probably doesn’t think of this “back side” view in terms of Moses actually seeing God himself. Likewise, it’s clear that John doesn’t think this counts as seeing God, since he can still write in John 1:18, “No one has ever seen God.” But, of course, this doesn’t mean God can’t be revealed—when and by whom he wants to be. John concludes the verse: “The only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” As has often been highlighted, the Greek word used for that last phrase is exegesato—the word from which we derive “exegesis.” The point is that God, the one who is inherently both invisible and unknowable, has been seen and made known (“exegeted”) in the one whom he has chosen as his Revealer, the Word-made-Flesh, the person of Jesus: “And the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14).

Finally, what of the Spirit in this equation? “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined…” (1 Cor 2:9a) Paul cites these words in 1 Corinthians 2 to draw a contrast between God as invisible and unknown and God as revealed by the Spirit. Despite God’s intrinsic unknowability, Paul affirms that “…these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit” (2:10). The apostle continues by saying that “no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (2:11b). That’s the first step—the Spirit’s intimate knowledge of God. But then, as a good intermediary, the Spirit in turn makes known the thoughts of God to those who are in the Spirit (1 Cor 2:12). Paul concludes the paragraph with yet another citation and response meant to highlight the contrast between our “natural” knowledge of God and the knowledge of God attainable by the Spirit’s revelation:

“For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?”

But we have the mind of Christ. (2:16)

In our seeking God, we must always remember that all our seeking is futile if attempted apart from God’s appointed intermediaries, the Son and the Spirit. The channel of divine knowledge has (miraculously) been hewed out for us, and its current flows trinitarianly, or not at all.

Jesse Peterson
Ministry Fellow at Columbia