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How the Christian Texts Report Seeing God
Theophany is the word used to denote a visible manifestation of God. Adam and Eve reportedly hid from God if genesis 3:8 is to be believed. It says,
“And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8).
No wonder, because they had sinned. However, from the moment of Genesis itself, we hear the voice of God,
“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1: 26-27).
Mathew 5:8 proclaims,
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”.
Can anyone see God? No, it seems not possible, at least, according to Exodus 33:20,
“you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live”.
Still, for the true believer, there is always the hope of seeing the Almighty, according to the Christian faith. Proverbs:8:16-17 says,
“I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.”
Revelation 21:1-27 narrates a candid experience of witnessing God,
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also, he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
This was the apocalyptic vision that either St. John or John of Patmos or some other unknown prophet is supposed to have seen.
Deuteronomy 34:10 says that God knew Moses face to face. The incident narrated in Exodus 3:6 seems to be the first encounter of Moses with God,
“And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.”
Exodus 10:11 reveals that Moses saw God with greater clarity later and even conversed with him,
“And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door. Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses, face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.”
Exodus 24:10 also has in it a candid description of seeing God,
“And they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness.”
Genesis 32:30 reports that Jacob also saw God face to face. Isiah 6:1 claims that,
“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
Quran and Hadith About Experiencing Allah
Ubaadah ibn al-Saamit quotes Saheeh Bukhari (6026) on what Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said about seeing Allah,
“Whoever loves to meet Allah, Allah will love to meet him, and whoever hates to meet Allah, Allah will hate to meet him.”
However, Quran and the Hadith unequivocally say that one cannot see Allah until one dies. Hadith proclaims,
“Know that you will not see your Lord until you die.”
“Death is a barrier between us and the meeting with Allah.”
The story about Prophet Moosa seeing Allah makes it clear why a human cannot directly see Allah.
“And when Moses arrived at Our appointed time and his Lord spoke to him, he said, “My Lord, show me [Yourself] that I may look at You.” [ Allah ] said, “You will not see Me, but look at the mountain; if it should remain in place, then you will see Me.” But when his Lord appeared to the mountain, He rendered it level (to the ground), and Moses fell unconscious. And when he awoke, he said, “Exalted are You! I have repented to You, and I am the first of the believers.” Quran (Surah al-Araaf, 7:143).
There is another instance when Abu Dharr asks the Prophet (peace be upon him) whether he had seen Allah and he replies,
“(There is) light, how could I see Him”.
In another Hadith, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) elaborates on his experience of being before Allah.
“…His veil is the light. If He were to withdraw it (the veil), the splendour of His countenance would consume His creation as far as His sight reaches.” (as narrated by Imaam Ahmad and Muslim, 263).
While talking about a similar experience again, the Prophet (peace be upon him) gives us another peek into the world of the Almighty,
“My Lord came to me tonight in the most beautiful form. I think he said, in a dream. He said, O Muhammad, do you know what the chiefs on high disputed about? I said, No. He put His hand between my shoulder blades and I could feel its coolness on my chest (or just beneath my throat), then I knew everything that is in the heavens and on earth.” (as narrated by Imaam Ahmad, 16026; and by al-Tirmidhi, 3159).
Another beautiful description of the experience of Allah as told by Hadith is this,
“O Messenger of Allah, will we see our Lord on the Day of Resurrection?” The Prophet replied, “Do you have any doubts about seeing the full moon on a cloudless night?” They said, “No.” So, the Prophet said, “Do you have any doubts about seeing the sun on a cloudless day?” They said, “No.” Finally, the Prophet said, “Then you will see your Lord in the same way.” (Saheeh al-Bukhaari, Hadith 6088).
An Ancient Depiction of Yahweh
Theophany in Hebrew Bible and Judaism
The Hebrew Bible of the Jews says that the prophets such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, Micaiah, and Daniel had experienced visual manifestations of Yahweh, the Almighty. Yahweh, according to Judaism, is “old, wise, eternal, and compassionate.”
As in Islam, physical images of God are forbidden in Hebrew Bible as well. Torah explicitly tells that “to see the face of God is to die.”
There is a word in Hebrew Bible to describe the presence of God and this word is, kəḇôḏ.
kəḇôḏ means, splendour, glory, abundance, and honour.
In the Hebrew Bible, the vision of Micaiah in I Kings says,
“I saw the LORD sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right hand and on his left. (I Kings 22:19-22).'”
In The book of Ezekiel also, we see a similar description,
“And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone; and upon the likeness of the throne was a likeness as the appearance of a man upon it above.
And I saw as the colour of electrum, as the appearance of fire round about enclosing it, from the appearance of his loins and upward; and from the appearance of his loins and downward I saw as it were the appearance of fire, and there was brightness round about him.
As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spoke.” (Ezekiel 1:26-28).
While Micaiah sees Yahweh seated on a throne, Ezekiel experiences Him as a storm coming from the north and he gets to see only the likeness of a throne.
Ezekiel also describes another moment of theophany as given below,
“And the glory of the LORD went forth from off the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubim” (Ezekiel 10:18-19).
Psalm 18 of the Hebrew Bible says,
“In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried unto my God;
out of His temple He heard my voice, and my cry came before Him unto His ears.
Then the earth did shake and quake, the foundations also of the mountains did tremble
they were shaken, because He was wroth.
Smoke arose up in His nostrils, and fire out of His mouth did devour
coals flamed forth from Him.
He bowed the heavens also, and came down; and thick darkness was under His feet.
And He rode upon a cherub, and did fly; yea, He did swoop down upon the wings of the wind.
He made darkness His hiding-place, His pavilion round about Him;
darkness of waters, thick clouds of the skies.
At the brightness before Him, there passed through His thick clouds hailstones and coals of fire.
The LORD also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High gave forth His voice; hailstones and coals of fire.” (Psalm) 18: 7-14.
The Book of Daniel also depicts how Daniel witnessed God,
“His raiment was as white snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, and the wheels thereof burning fire.
A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him; thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the judgment was set, and the books were opened” (Daniel 7:9-10).
The Hindu God, ‘Brahman’
Hinduism is a religion situated somewhere between polytheism and monotheism, as it has multiple Gods but all of them are the manifestations of the supreme power, the ‘Brahman’, which can be defined as the divine consciousness and the ultimate reality. Let us look at how different saints and religious texts describe ‘Brahman’.
The Katopanishad, an ancient religious text of Hinduism says,
“Words cannot explain nor can human thought grasp its nature. Eyes cannot see Him.”
Another Upanishad, namely, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad relates another story,
“Then Vidagdha, the son of Sakala, asked him [Yajnavalkya]. ‘How many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?’ Yajnavalkya decided it through this [group of Mantras known as] Nivid, [saying], ‘As many as are indicated in the Nivid of the Visvadevas, three hundred and three, and three thousand and three’. ‘Very well’, said Sakalya, ‘how many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?’ ‘Thirty-three’. ‘Very well’, said the other, ‘how many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?’ ‘Six’. ‘Very well’, said Sakalya, ‘how many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?’ ‘Three’. ‘Very well’, said the other, ‘how many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?’ ‘Two’. ‘Very well’, said Sakalya, ‘how many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?’ ‘One and a half’. ‘Very well’, said the other, ‘how many gods are there, Yajnavalkya?’ ‘One’. ‘Very well’, said Sakalya, ‘which are those three hundred and three and three thousand and three?’”
The Hindu religion also proclaims, “I am the Brahman,” meaning, the divine consciousness dwells nowhere other than in us.
With the hope of seeing God, in this life or eventually in an afterlife, echoing in our hearts, we worship God to this day, some wanting to see Him, and some simply wanting to do just by Him.
74 Bible Verses About seeing God, openbible.info
About Seeing and Meeting Allah, https://iqrasense.medium.com/about-seeing-and-meeting-allah-3ffbf5fdfd74
The nature of God and existence in Hinduism, https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zmtj2nb/revision/1
A Hebrew-English Bible, According to the Masoretic Text and the JPS 1917 Edition, https://mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0.htm
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Deepa