Seeing God


Some years ago a grade six boy asked me what the Book of Exodus (33:23) means when God said that Moses could only see his back and not his face.

No human being can see God and survive, God explained.

For many years I have fielded questions from students. Most are predictable, some are babyish, but some senior primary questions are worthy of a post-graduate theology seminar.

By a coincidence I had not long read the commentary of an ancient Christian writer which explained that God could only be seen indirectly through the beauty of his creation, in nature and people. The young man was satisfied with this explanation of God's back.

I did not tell him about Christ's beatitude or teaching, found only in Matthew's list and not in Luke's, that the pure in heart will see God. Experience would contradict this claim, at least in this life. It is universally true that no one has seen God.

The beatitudes and the curses listed in Luke are quite clear about reward and punishment, which start in this life but are only completed in heaven. Therefore God is seen differently in this life and in the next.

Because God is spirit and above ordinary creation (supernatural), he is invisible and transcendent. There is nothing to see with our eyes. God is loving, good and reasonable in ways beyond our imagination, because God is infinite. God is not some up-market, super efficient physical cause, like the trigger to the Big Bang.

All three monotheist religions Jews, Moslems and Christians believe the one true God is as described above. But Christians have the great advantage of believing God's Son took on a human nature and brought God down to our level.

In heaven when we shall see God as He is, (1 John 3:2) not unclearly as in this life, our restored physical bodies and eyes will enable us to see Christ in the flesh, and so reveal God's divine nature. Spiritually too we shall then have a much richer intuition or experience of God.

In the meantime, before heaven, we can only accept God in the obscurity of faith.

One mystery of our times is why an increasing minority find it hard to believe in God. Is it because our way of life makes it more difficult than in past ages to be "pure in heart"?

Are sexual irresponsibility and financial greed poisoning us and blinding the eyes of our hearts to God?




Cardinal George Pell, "Seeing God." Sunday Telegraph (December 6, 2009).

Reprinted with permission of Cardinal George Pell.


Cardinal George Pell is archbishop of Sydney, Australia. He holds a Licentiate in Theology from Urban University, Rome (1967), a Masters Degree in Education from Monash University, Melbourne (1982), a Doctorate of Philosophy in Church History from the University of Oxford (1971) and is a Fellow of the Australian College of Education. He was Visiting Scholar at Campion Hall, Oxford University, in 1979 and at St Edmund's College, Cambridge University, in 1983.

He is the author of God and Caesar: Selected Essays on Religion, Politics, and Society and Issues of Faith and Morals, written by Cardinal Pell for senior secondary classes and parish groups. Since 2001, he has been a weekly columnist for Sydney's Sunday Telegraph.

Copyright © 2009 Cardinal George Pell

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