What Does God Look Like? - Comparison to Man
Ask children, “What does God look like?” and their responses usually include: “He is very old, has a long white beard, bushy white hair, and wears a flowing white dress or robe.” Frequently cartoonists add sandals and unruly white eyebrows. Whether it’s a towering figure or simply an enormous hand descending from Heaven, man’s concept of God’s appearance appears to bear little resemblance to our own. This may seem puzzling as Genesis repeatedly states that we are created in God’s own image (Genesis 1:27). The Hebrew word for “image” (tselem) translates as “an outline or representation of an original as a shadow is the outline of the original.”
This image of God was imparted only to humans. While God is not confined to human form, imperfect and finite man shares in God’s nature, with communicable attributes (life, personality, truth, wisdom, love, holiness, justice). We have the capacity for an amazing spiritual relationship with Him, giving us insight.
What Does God Look Like? - The Encounters
Any insight as to, “What does God look like?” requires an extraordinary encounter. In Genesis 32:22–28 Jacob, the father of the twelve patriarchs of the Israel, after wrestling with God, was left crippled. “Jacob named the place Peniel—“face of God”—for he said, ‘I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared’” (Genesis 32:30). God came as close to Jacob as possible—the Creator’s hands were physically placed on him.
It is not permissible for God’s face to be literally seen (Exodus 33:20). When Moses encountered God as a blazing bush, he feared looking at God (Exodus 3:6). Even Moses’ intimate relationship in which the Lord spoke “face to face” (Deuteronomy 34:10) contained limitations. In seeking God’s glorious presence, Moses is reminded, “. . . you may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:11, 20-23). “Face to face” indicates intimate conversations shared between two close friends. This mutual trust allows them to communicate honestly and openly with one another (Deuteronomy 12:6-8).
The Old Testament’s examples of God’s appearance centered on His glory and heavenly presence dwelling within objects of His choosing: the Tabernacle (Numbers 12:5; 16:19, 42), pillar of cloud and pillar of fire (Numbers 14:14). In the New Testament God reveals Himself by appearing to us through His Incarnate Son, Jesus Christ.
What Does God Look Like? - The Invisible God
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In response to, “What does God look like?” an omnipotent and omniscient Creator sent a child. “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God . . . For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ” (Colossians 1:15, 19). There is no mention of any distinctive features in this Child’s personal appearance, only specific elements–-lying in a manger, wrapped in strips of cloth, and a star over a house. Yet the shepherds and the wise men immediately recognized Jesus as they glorified, praised, and worshipped the Living God. “The son reflects God’s own glory, and everything about him represents God exactly . . .” (Hebrews 1:3).
With unconditional love and grace, God created us in His own tselem (image) while giving us a glimpse of Himself in Jesus Christ—“No one has ever seen God. But his only Son, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart; he has told us about him” (John 1:18). In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8). We may not yet fully see God’s face, and yet He fully looks upon us with unfailing love.
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