Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 5:8b “. . .for they shall see God.”
We cautiously interpret our Master’s words here. God cannot be seen by physical eyes, for He has no physical form. People have seen visions of Him, and we saw Him as best we could in Jesus, who said, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (JN 14:9), but the inner essence of God is inaccessible to physical eyes.
YHWH told Moses, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” (EX 33:20). John wrote, “No man hath seen God at any time” (JN 1:18). Paul, who on Damascus Road glimpsed God’s blinding radiance (AC 9:3), depicted Him as One who dwells in “light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see” (1 TM 6:16b). God, being spirit (JN 4:24), is to physical eyes invisible (1 TM 1:17). We close our eyes in prayer as an act of worship, to acknowledge our God is spirit, invisible, far transcending fleshly organs of sight.
In Heaven we will be given spiritual, celestial eyes, and shall then see God. Alfred Lord Tennyson, son of a preacher, and poet laureate of England, looked forward to this event. Claiming his strongest desire was a clear vision of God, he requested that his poem, “Crossing the Bar,” always be put at the end of his works.
And there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,. . . .
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For tho’ from out our bourne (brook) of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.
The thought is glorious, and for the meantime, Jesus in this beatitude offers something else which is also wonderful. Though our eyes cannot see God, we are not left in despair, with nothing but distance between us and Him. We receive the privilege of seeing God in another way, not with the physical eye, but with the far deeper eye of the spirit. To see God physically will be the heaven of heaven; to see Him here by faith is heaven on earth. Purity of heart is heaven begun here and now.
The essence of Christian living is daily having our faith-sight grow richer and richer until it becomes almost as revealing as physical sight shall be someday. Our enjoyment and consciousness of God here and now “may become so clear, direct, real, and certain, that it deserves the name of vision” (Maclaren).
Raising faith-sight as near as possible to the level of physical sight has been for saints in all ages the supreme goal of religious experience. Earnest spirits have always deemed this the most wonderful thing that could happen. “To see God is to see the central light which reveals the order and beauty of the universe. . . .To see God is to see the fountain of all blessedness. . . .It is the soul’s chief end, and therefore it is the highest blessedness of which the soul is capable” (Bacon, in B.I.).
Beware the temptation of thinking this vision of God is meant only for mystics or religious fanatics. Seeing God by faith is the chief solace and consolation for ordinary, everyday saints, for believers who face real difficulties, who struggle each moment to get by, and who find many things in life to be a disappointment.
Life holds no greater security than to sense God at hand. This is the blessed faith-sight of which Jesus spoke in this beatitude. To see God with faith-sight means sensing He is nearby. Seeing, by definition, implies closeness, for we cannot see that which is far away. To see God means to feel assured of His presence. This sensed presence of God is the constant which brings stability in an unsettled world. To sense Him is to find steadiness in each moment of life, and calm in every storm.
This truth was known by Moses, who “endured” (HB 11:27b). He persevered, survived, was able to deal successfully with life’s stresses and distresses. He was able to do this because he lived “as seeing Him who is invisible” (HB 11:27c).
Moses withstood the pressures of life because he was moment by moment conscious of God’s presence. The burning bush (EX 3:2) was not a once-for-all-time experience for him. All of life became to him a burning bush experience. The invisible God stood constantly before the inner eyes of Moses, and was emblazoned upon Moses’ spiritual retina. Moses enjoyed ongoing intimacy with God. This sense of God’s presence boosted Moses’ confidence by giving his life stability.
Moses deemed God present, active in his own personal life, and willing to exert power in his behalf. God’s sensed presence gave Moses power to lean on, and a foundation to build on. When beset by terrors, Moses turned all his thoughts to God. Focusing on God’s presence and power absorbed all his fears. As bold John Knox said, “I stay in prayer until I so fear God that I cannot fear anything else.”
David also faced the troubles of life this way. “Mine eyes are ever toward the Lord, for he shall pluck my feet out of the net” (PS 25:15). David knew his only hope in trouble was to see the Lord, to focus on God’s presence and power.
We, too, must ever keep our spiritual eyes focused on God. He must become the obsession, as well as the object, of faith. As we sense Him, our lives will be stabilized and bolstered. Fear will be lost in awe. Our society is floundering, trying to convince people to base their lives on such counterfeit gods as education, science, success, and pleasure. These things are fine in a secondary role, but impotent as a pantheon. They are unable to give us the strength we need when facing life’s perils.
Only a view of the invisible can strengthen our weakness, and make us firmer than rocks to withstand every problem. With a glimpse of the invisible, loneliness is endurable, opposition is overcomable, and temptation is defeatable.
We must focus totally on God in our hour of meditation until He is also seen in our hour of danger, standing beside us. Our private prayer times are ineffective if we sense God only then. A sense of the divine must flow into every facet of our lives. We should every moment sense Him holding us up, and bidding us be strong.
There are angels who do nothing but look upon God. Some of our own species should give themselves to the same task, seeking never to take their focus off God. May we say with David, “I have set the Lord always before me” (PS 16:8).