[Jhn 1:18 NASB] 18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained [Him.]
The Invisible God
This verse starts with a rather amazing and categorical statement: “No one has seen God at any time.” No one can see God and live (Ex 33:20). Moses hasn’t seen God, he saw a representation of God in the burning bush. What about the angels and cherubs and the 24 elders around the throne? No one. I never really thought about it. Talk about social distancing! So if someone says they have seen a vision of God, you know they’re lying. No one has seen God. Not at any time.
If I were God, and I created all things and such, I would want people to know who I am. Perhaps God is not seeable that way. Jesus said that God is Spirit (John 4:24). That is probably why we’re instructed not to make any graven image. Even if you think you’re making an image of the real God, and not just worshiping a different God, you’re inventing a God to worship – because God is unseeable.
Theology, Our Great Sin
I think that theology is a very noble pursuit, the chief pursuit of man. So don’t get me wrong. But one might say that theology is an attempt to get around this “no one has seen God” problem and see God. There is a definite “simul justus et peccator” kind of thing going on here. It’s our grandest pursuit, and our most grievous sin, our most deliberate graven image. Paradoxically I’m doing it right now. We’ll never really get down to the right view of atonement, or the true understanding of predestination, or the perfect Christology, or whatever. We do not see God. This is part of why it is so crucial to say, it is not we who love God, but God loved us (1 John 4:10). We haven’t even glimpsed Him. God is so much bigger (and probably more humble) than our best and most mature and well-considered ideas about Him. As this verse and this idea unfolds, we have to remember that Jesus has given us true revelation about the Father God, but not exhaustive information. He is an eternal infinite being and no one has ever seen Him.
Didn’t Some People See God in the Person of Jesus?
One must ask in this context, “Haven’t some seen God if Jesus Christ is the word made flesh?” Yes of course! And that is the rub. If you say that God is unseeable, God smashes that idol. No one has seen God at any time, but that doesn’t mean you can pin Him down as the Invisible One. God in the person of Christ has crushed all of those idols as well. He has made Himself visible! Invisibility, omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence – none of these are his essence. God is far more crafty than all that. God has come to us in finite person of Christ, and yet did anyone really see Him? Jesus was constantly frustrated with the disciples in telling them the simplest things, and they were closest to Him. I can listen to Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, perhaps the second movement, thousands of times, and when I listen again I realize that I have not really grasped its real genius and beauty.
The Cross as Idol Crusher
So perhaps this is one of the chief purposes of the cross, the love that God expresses to us in Christ. It constantly crushes our graven images. It says, you have not seen God, but that is not what is important. The important thing is that God sees you, and still He loves you with a great and sacrificial resurrection love. He does not always do for us what we think a good God should do, He does what is genuinely good for us even though we do not see it. With great kindness He destroys our expectations of what kind of God He must be, so that we can break through to receive the love which He has for us.
More on this verse coming soon…