Friday, April 21, 2017

Visions of God

In a metaphorical sense we may have heard the term “seeing God.” Recently I have encountered several parents who have been challenged by questions from their children concerning the reality of God’s existence. Adults are also challenged by questions from their friends concerning the reality of God. This is a hot discussion topic—one which deserves more attention from our adult church discussion forums. Adults may understand the figurative expression “seeing” God differently than children. Levels of understanding for children and adults could and should be considerably different.

Historically the Israelites experienced powerful manifestations of the presence of God during their desert wanderings prior to entering the promised land. These startling encounters at Mt. Sinai are documented in the Book of Exodus. Moses ascended the mountain at least eight times. God spoke audibly to Moses on the mountain concerning past and upcoming events. The people were instructed to prepare to meet God. The meetings were awesome, frightful occasions featuring fear-provoking episodes with lightning, thunder, smoke, trumpet blasts, and trembling of the mountain.

The reality of God as expressed in the Exodus chronicle at Mt. Sinai may not be a lesson for an ordinary Sunday School class of primary school students. This illustrates the importance of “age-appropriate” teaching, but not because the traits of God are off-limits for study. Deep study reveals that God does not limit himself to our dimensionality of length, width, height, and time even though he fashioned these dimensions when he created “the heavens and the earth,” an expression encompassing “all that exists.” God also created matter, energy, and the four fundamental forces of the universe which act among the particles of matter. Our Creator, therefore, is far superior to his creation. 

One way God is superior to his creation is that he created more than the familiar dimensions in which we ordinarily exist. Many physicists pose the fascinating scenario of the existence of invisible, extra dimensions of space—perhaps 10 or 11 dimensions altogether. Our ordinary lives exist in only one time dimension going from the past, to the present, to the future. Some physicists believe there could be other dimensions of time beyond the forward moving dimension governing our lives. The omnipotence of God who created all things may be more easily grasped if we recognize the reality of dimensions unfamiliar to us in our daily lives. God created other dimensions. He exists in unfamiliar dimensions, but could confine himself to our dimensions when he wishes. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, confined himself to our dimensions in order to communicate his message of care and love for humanity. 

The post-resurrection appearances of Jesus would not be possible unless he existed in extra dimensions. He entered rooms “the doors being shut,” ascended to the Father, and returned bodily. The disciples were living in ordinary dimensionality, but Christ’s resurrection body was not ordinary. Christ could still operate in our dimensions in order to eat breakfast with the disciples and permit Thomas to feel the nail prints in his hands and the wounds in his side. A remarkable passage in the Mt. Sinai chronicle occurs in Exodus. Four leaders including Moses, along with seventy elders of Israel “…went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank” (Exodus 24:9-11 (NIV).

In other Exodus passages the people were cautioned not to approach the mountain under pain of death. In what one writer described as a “very heavy text,” the lesson to be learned is that the people were subjected to fear, awe, and reverence of God so they wouldn’t treat God casually. They were to be tested and proven. In the eons prior to the Mt. Sinai law-giving, human conscience proved to be completely inadequate to bring about righteousness in humanity. The Mosaic law illustrated the necessity of man to obey a higher authority than himself; specifically, the higher authority was God, the Creator.

In several passages where the written language of the Bible uses the term “see God” we pose the likelihood that a person saw a vision of God’s glory without actually seeing God’s face. Moses himself, late in the law-giving process requested of God, “Now show me your glory.” God placed Moses on a rock and said, “When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen” Exodus 33:18-23. One commentator offered the possibility that men could probably see some outward sign of his presence such as a bright cloud or great blaze of light. These are mysterious and wonderful events beyond our complete understanding.

In our day it is imperative to review with our children the fact that we do not see God visually but we note numerous manifestations of invisible forces, abundant design features, and the predictable orderliness of the natural world. In particular, the physical features of living things and the remarkable developmental regeneration of plants and animals is apparent all around us. Our scientific knowledge gives us more profound knowledge of our powerful Creator than the Israelites under Moses ever experienced. Parents, youth leaders, and pastors must actively search for opportunities to produce a mature vision of God.