How To See God

  • 28 April 2016

The Bible has some interesting things to say about the importance of God’s Word and how it relates to His personal presence with us.

Everyone wants to experience a deeper intimacy with God and feel a greater sense of His presence and be filled with more of His Spirit. And the Bible tells us that the main way that happens is through His Word, the Bible.

It is helpful to think of this in trinitarian categories - God’s word as a revelation of God, more specifically of Jesus Christ and, more specifically again, the Spirit of Christ.

GOD

First look at 1 Samuel 3:21. The chapter begins by telling us that God’s word was rare in those days and there was no frequent vision. It ends with this verse:

[21] And the LORD appeared again at Shiloh, for the LORD revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the LORD.(1 Samuel 3:21 ESV)

John Piper comments on this verse:

...God reveals himself mainly by his Word...When it says, “The LORD appeared,” it says something amazing. God was seen not with the eyes of the head, but with the eyes of the heart, for God is “the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God” (1 Tim. 1:17). And though it may seem strange, this seeing at Shiloh happened “by the word of the LORD.” As the Word was heard, the Lord was seen. In the hearing was the seeing. The spiritual hearing of God’s Word becomes the spiritual seeing of God’s glory.1

Look at Hebrew 4:12-13

[12] For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. [13] And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

In verse 12 the author is talking about the Word of God discerning our hearts and minds. And then at the start of verse 13, continuing the same thought, he changes from talking about the word of God to God himself. The writer of Hebrews is carrying on the same thought and seems to make no distinction between the Word of God and God. What God does, the Word does and vice versa.

Look at Psalm 119, which talks about God’s Word, his laws and commandments in every single verse. David, writing the Psalm, says 

  • he trembles at the Word with Godly fear
  • he stands in awe of it
  • he rejoices in it
  • he lifts his hand to it
  • he exalts and praises it

The reverence we should have for God we should have for his word. It would seem almost idolatrous to treat anything but God himself with this kind of adoration, but clearly there is a sense in which to praise God’s Word is to praise God himself.

We also see from Psalm 119 that God’s Word shares many of the same divine attributes as God

  • righteousness
  • faithfulness
  • wonderfulness
  • uprightness
  • purity
  • truth
  • eternality
  • omnipotence
  • perfection

God’s Word is God’s personal presence with us.

John Frame says

Since God is not a physical being, his presence with us is different from the presence of a physical object or person. With a physical being it is possible to measure its distance from us, but that is not possible with God. How then could we judge when a nonphysical person is present with us? Such a person, evidently, is present wherever he can exercise his controlling power, and wherever he can enforce his authoritative commands. But God, of course, exercises his power and authority throughout the universe; so he is present everywhere. So if God performs all his actions by powerful and authoritative speech, then his speech is never separated from his personal presence.2

CHRIST

To be more specific, not only is it God’s presence but the presence of Christ. Not that these can really be separated. Whatever the Father does, so does the Son.

John Frame says 

God’s Word is his personal presence with us. The Word is a title of the second person of the Trinity, and whenever one divine person acts in the world, the other two persons act together with him. God IS the word, and the word IS God. So wherever God is, the word is, and wherever the word is, God is. Whenever God speaks, he himself is there with us.3

What does John 1 say?

[1] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1 ESV)

It may be difficult to gets our heads around everything that is meant when it says Jesus is the Word and what this means when we think about the Bible as the Word of God also. But we can’t miss the close connection between Jesus Christ and the Word. In some sense, God IS his Word.

Next, look at  2 Corinthians 4:4

[4] In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

How is God seen today? Like 1 Samuel 3:21, it is a WORD to be heard. And in hearing we are seeing something. To hear and believe the gospel is to see the glory of Christ.

John Piper again says

Paul says that becoming a Christian means “seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4). The gospel is news about the death and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:1-4). It is a word to be heard. And in this hearing there is something to be seen: “The light . . . of the glory of Christ.” In the hearing is the seeing. The Lord opens the eyes of the heart to see the glory of Christ in the Word. God has chosen in this age to reveal himself to the world mainly through the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, by means of the written Word, the Bible.4

So God reveals himself to us, to save us, through the Word. Just as Romans 10 says, Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.

Look at Deuteronomy 4: 6-8

[6] Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. [7] For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? [8] And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?

God says he is especially near to Israel because of the “rightness” of his statutes. Other nations will look to them and see the goodness of the WORDS they have been given and surmise that God is near them

Then Deuteronomy 30:11-14 says

[11] For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. [12] It is not in heaven, that you should say, Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it? [13] Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it? [14] But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.

God is speaking about the nearness of his commandments in terms of God’s own nearness.

Then look at Romans 10: 6-8

[6] But the righteousness based on faith says, Do not say in your heart, Who will ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down) [7] or Who will descend into the abyss? (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). [8] But what does it say? The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim);

Here Paul quotes, with adjustments, and applies the Deuteronomy 30 passage to Christ and his gospel message. In the same way that God’s presence was with the Israelites through the nearness of His commandments, so now, Paul is saying, that Christ is with us, near to us, particularly in the word of faith, which is the gospel message. Notice too how Paul interchanges Christ and bringing Christ near, with the Word of Faith itself. The gospel can’t really be separated from Christ. God’s nearness to us is the nearness of his word.

SPIRIT

Then, finally, consider how the Spirit and the Word always work together. 

Look at the following examples

  • In Genesis 1 God’s Spirit hovers over the waters and he creates everything by his Word.
  • In Psalm 33 it says God created by his Word and his breath, which is another word for his Spirit.
  • In John 6 Jesus says his words are both Spirit and life,
  • In John 16:13 Jesus says the Spirit will come and speak to the disciples.
  • 2 Timothy 3:16 says scripture is God-breathed, again using the idea of God’s breath as his Spirit.
  • 2 Peter 1:21 says that the written word about by the Spirit’s direction of human writers.

Then look at Acts and how often those filled with the Spirit SPOKE WORDS

  • Acts 2:4 - And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
  • Acts 4:8 - Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders,
  • Acts 4:31 - And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
  • Acts 13:9-10 - But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 10 and said,

Acts is basically the story of how, after Jesus went back to heaven, he poured out his Spirit and built the church. We often tend to focus on the miraculous events and workings of the Spirit, but as we read through Acts we see how the Spirit more often uses the Word to build His church.

Alec Motyer, speaking about how the church grows in Acts, says:

Of the thirty-seven or so references [in Acts], six associate growth with the quality of church life and of Christian character, seven link growth with the evidence of ‘signs and wonders’, and twenty-four link growth with the preaching of the Word of God — indeed in 12:24 the growth of the Church is actually called the growth of the Word, as if they were so closely related that they could be identified one with the other.5

So the Spirit built and grew the church. And he did it mainly through the preaching of WORDS.

Go to Ephesians 5:18, where we get the only command in the Bible to be filled with the Spirit.

[18] And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, [19] addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, [20] giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, [21] submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Now compare the parallel passage in Colossians 3:16-17. 

[16] Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. [17] And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

If we follow each of these passages and line up all the similar statements, the parallels between these passages equates being filled with the Spirit to letting the word of Christ dwell in you. If you want more of the Spirit of God, you want His presence more intimately, you need to hear more of the Word of God. 

Finally, look at 1 Corinthians 1:4-5. Paul says, 

[4] My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, [5] so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.

So the Spirit worked, with power, through the words of Paul, specifically the Gospel message which he preached. In Romans 1:16 Paul makes the same connection when he says ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation.’ Too often we think of the power of God as something weird or miraculous. But not Paul. The gospel demonstrated the Spirit’s power.

Look on down at verse 13, Paul says the Spirit enables us to understand the things freely given us by God. What are these things? 

[13] And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. [14] The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 

So again, we see how the Spirit works through the apostolic words. The things of the Spirit. Romans 8 says those who are in the spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. The things of the Spirit, now, today, is the Word of God in the Bible. If you have got the Spirit you will be in the Word.

Frame says:

The Spirit inspires, illumines, and demonstrates the content of God’s word, and his indwelling presence motivates us to obey that word...Hearing and learning Scripture are not impersonal, academic tasks. They are person-to-person interaction with God as he teaches us his personal words.6

SUMMARY

So to summarise, if you want to hear from God, spend time with Jesus, be filled with the Spirit, all things that we should all hopefully want, then God has made it pretty simple. He gave us a book, so read it, listen to it or hear it preached and meditate, study and think about it.
 


1 John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God
2 John Frame, Doctrine of the Word of God
3 John Frame, Doctrine of the Word of God
4 John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God
5 Alec Moyter, Preaching?
6 John Frame, Doctrine of the Word of God