To see God is to be blessed

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Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Mt. 5:8

You would think that God would have absolutely nothing to do with us mortals. After all, who is like God? The prophet Isaiah asked this question: “To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him? . . . Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in; who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness. . . . Have your not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable” (Isa. 40:18, 21-23, 28). As the puritan John Flavel once put it, the distance between men and worms is not so great when compared with the distance between God and men.

In fact, God is so great, that when he reveals himself in a theophany to men, those who write down what they saw record that they were so overcome with holy terror and awe that they don’t seem to be able to adequately describe it. This happened to Isaiah when he saw the Sovereign God on his throne (Isa. 6). “As in Exod. 24:10, where the pavement under God’s feet is described, so here [in Isaiah 6] the description of God’s appearance can rise no higher than the hem of his robe. It is as though words break down when one attempts to describe God himself. When we press the elders of Israel, they tell us how blue the pavement under God’s feet was; when we press Isaiah, he tells us how immense God’s robe was. Did the robe fill the temple? No, God did!” (John Oswalt, Isaiah 1-39, p. 178) Language just broke down. Isaiah is left trembling with his mouth open and his knees shaking.

Or think about the greatness of nature. I would really like to go the Grand Canyon someday and have my breath taken away. And I will never forget the first time I saw the Rocky Mountains. Let me tell you, having lived in Texas all my life, it was a breathtaking experience. The majesty of the mountains left me with a sense of awe. And there was a real, deep enjoyment that I had just in seeing them. Or the first (and only) time I stood on the beach in front of the ocean. Even though it was night, I stood there transported by its expansiveness. In each case, my soul was made happy by its smallness as I stood before something greater than myself.

As Isaiah put it, God is greater than the greatest show the universe can put on. He made it. He named the stars. The heavens are just a curtain to him.

And yet the really amazing thing is that God invites men and women into his presence, to see him. The great reality that Scripture teaches us is that God wants small and sinful human beings to see him. He wants them to see him so that their souls are made everlastingly happy and satisfied by his glory.

This is what Jesus said the purpose of his death was: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (Jn. 17:24).

What Christ desires we ought to desire. Because his desire to get glory is not at odds with our desire to experience greatness. Because we don’t experience greatness by being great but by seeing it outside ourselves. Ultimately, we can only experience greatness by seeing the glory of God. And as we experience our own smallness in front of God’s greatness we find ourselves unspeakably blessed. Like Isaiah. God’s getting glory by our seeing it is the key to our everlasting happiness and satisfaction.

In fact, you see this all over Scripture. David wrote, “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness” (Ps. 17:15). “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple” (Ps. 27:4).

The apostle John indicates in the Revelation that what will characterize the perfection of the new heavens and new earth is that “no longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads” (Rev. 22:3-4).

And how does growth in godliness and closeness to the Lord take place so that we experience this blessedness now? According to the apostle Paul, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18).

Of course, we can’t see him with our eyes now. The greatest manifestation of his glory awaits the age to come. But we do see him in the gospel. That’s what Paul is talking about. He is contrasting the gospel with the Law. And he says that as we look at the gospel and really believe it, we see the glory of God and are transformed by it.

Thus we see that our present growth in godliness and the happiness that that brings, as well as our eternal felicity in heaven, mostly consists in our seeing and enjoying the glory of God. Our souls are fed and satisfied as we taste and see that the Lord is good (Ps. 34:8). Seeing God and his glory is something which we ought to desire above all things. Thus the Scripture echoes the reality of which our Lord speaks: they are truly blessed who see God.

By: Jeremiah Bass