No one has ever seen God

No one has ever seen God; the only begotten God who is into the bosom of the Father,  he has made him known. (Joh 1:18)

Jean Henri Fabre liked to say he did not believe in God, but rather (through long years of observing insects) he saw Him. But to see God in his creatures is not to see Him as He is. To see the reflected and refracted glory of God in creation is not to see the uncreated light of the Divine Essence itself. We can know all kinds of created perfections, but to know the shoreless ocean of perfection itself, the infinite plenitude of all being, we would ourselves have to come to share in the divine nature. St Thomas explains (Ia q12 a4 c) this from the nature of knowledge. Knowledge comes about by the thing known being in the knower. But that is to say that the thing known is in a sense measured by the knower. Thus if the mode of a things existence exceeds the measure of our nature, we cannot know it. Therefore no created thing, which exists only by participation, and whose being is contracted by its essence, can naturally know God as He is in His self-subsistent being.  “No one has ever seen God.”

And yet the more we know of God — the more we understand that the manifold perfections that we see in the world are but the reflection and refraction of perfection and being itself — the more we desire to see Him. No one expresses this better than Plotinus:

We must ascend again towards the Good, the desired of every Soul. Anyone that has seen This, knows what I intend when I say that it is beautiful. Even the desire of it is to be desired as a Good […] that solitary-dwelling Existence, the Apart, the Unmingled, the Pure, that from Which all things depend, for Which all look and live and act and know, the Source of Life and of Intellection and of Being. And one that shall know this vision — with what passion of love shall he not be seized, with what pang of desire, what longing to be made one with This, what wonder, what a schock of delight! (Enneads 1.6.7)

Our deepest desire is to behold that vision, but, Plotinus sees the great difficulty in fulfilling this desire:

But how shall we find the way? What method can we devise? How can one see the “inconceivable beauty” which stays within the holy sanctuary and does not come out where the profane may see it? (Enneads 1.6.8)

The only solution would be if the “unspeakable beauty” would itself come out of the sanctuary and reveal itself to us. And Plotinus can even see that such a revelation would have to consist in making us like unto the God Himself:

To any vision must be brought an eye adapted to what is to be seen, and having some likeness to it. Never did eye see the sun unless it had first become sunlike, and never can the soul have vision of the First Beauty unless itself be beautiful. Therefore, first let each become godlike and each beautiful who cares to see God and Beauty. (Enneads 1.6.9)

St John describes the Incarnation of the Son in terms of light entering the world because the incarnation makes God visible; by taking on our nature the Son allows us to take on His, to receive by grace a likeness to God so great that it will allow us to see Him as He is:

The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world… To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God. (John 1:9,12)


One thought on “No one has ever seen God

  1. We cannot rationally conceive of divine essence, but we can have conscious awareness of being in it.

    E=mc², Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, is probably the best known scientific equation. In my free ebook on comparative mysticism, I revised it to help better understand the relationship between divine Essence (Love, Grace, Spirit), matter (mass/energy: visible/dark) and consciousness (f(x) raised to its greatest power). Unlike the speed of light, which is a constant, there are no exact measurements for consciousness. In this hypothetical formula, basic consciousness may be of insects, to the second power of animals and to the third power the rational mind of humans. The fourth power is suprarational consciousness of mystics, when they intuit the divine essence in perceived matter. This was a convenient analogy, but there cannot be a divine formula.

    (quoted from “the greatest achievement in life,” my free ebook on comparative mysticism)


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