It is a majestic, glorious theme of the Bible that God is revealed as a real, tangible person, with a bodily existence. It is also a fundamental tenet of Christianity that Jesus is the Son of God. If God is not a corporeal (bodily) being, then it is impossible for Him to have a son who was the "image of His person" (Heb.1:3). Further, it becomes difficult to develop a personal, living relationship with 'God', if 'God' is just a concept in our mind, a wisp of spirit somewhere up in the emptiness of space. It is tragic that the majority of religions have this unreal, intangible conception of God.
God being so infinitely greater than us, it is understandable that many people's faith has balked at the clear promises that ultimately we will see God. Israel lacked the faith to see God's "shape" (Jn. 5:37), clearly showing that He does have a real form. Such faith comes from knowing God and believing His word:
"Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God" (Matt.5:8).
"His (God's) servants shall serve him: and they shall see his face; and his name (God's name - Rev.3:12) shall be in their foreheads" (Rev.22:3,4).
Such a wonderful hope, if we truly believe it, will have a profound practical effect upon our lives:
"Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord" (Heb.12:14).
We should not swear, because "he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon" (Matt. 23:22). This is nonsense if God is not a bodily being.
"We shall see him as he is (manifest in Christ). And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure" (1 Jn.3:2,3).
In this life our understanding of the Heavenly Father is very incomplete, but we can look forward, through the tangled darkness of this life, to at last meeting Him. Our physical seeing of Him will doubtless be matched by our greater mental comprehension of Him. Thus from the absolute depths of human suffering, Job could rejoice in the totally personal relationship with God which he would fully experience at the last day:
"Though after my skin (i.e. death) worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another" (Job 19:26,27).
And the apostle Paul cried out from another life of pain and turmoil: "Now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face" (1 Cor.13:12).
These promises of the New Testament build on a considerable Old Testament backdrop of evidence for a personal, corporeal God. It cannot be over stressed that it is fundamental to appreciate the nature of God if we are to have any true understanding of what Bible based religion is all about. The Old Testament consistently talks of God as a person; the person-to- person relationship with God of which both Old and New Testaments speak is unique to the true Christian hope. The following are strong arguments in favour of a personal, corporeal God:
- "God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" (Gen.1:26). Thus man is made in the image and likeness of God, as manifested through the Angels. James 3:9 speaks of "...men, which are made in the similitude of God." These words cannot apply to man's mental image, because by nature our minds are totally distanced from God and in many ways fundamentally opposed to His righteousness: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Is.55:8,9). Therefore the image and likeness which we share with God must be a physical image. Whenever Angels have been seen on earth they are described as having the form of men - e.g. Abraham entertained Angels unawares, thinking that they were ordinary men. Our creation in the image of God surely means that we can infer something about the real object of which we are but an image. Thus God, whom we reflect, is not something nebulous of which we cannot conceive.
- The Angels themselves are a reflection of God. Thus God could say of Moses ,"With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently...and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold" (Num. 12:8). This is referring to
Moses' instruction by an Angel which carried the name of the Lord (Ex.23:20,21). If the Angel was the similitude of the Lord it follows that God is in the same form as the Angels - i.e. in human shape physically, although with an infinitely higher nature than flesh and blood. "The Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend" (Ex.33:11; Deut.34:10). The Lord was manifested in His Angel, whose face and mouth reflected that of the Lord Himself.
- "He (God) knoweth our frame" (Ps.103:14); He wishes us to conceive of Him as a personal being, a Father to whom we can relate. This would explain the many references to God's hands, arms, eyes etc. If God were a wisp of essence somewhere in the heavens - which has to be our conception of God if we reject His being personal - then these references are misleading and serve no teaching purpose.
- Descriptions of God's dwelling place clearly indicate that "God" has a personal location: "God is in Heaven" (Ecc.5:2); "He hath looked down from the height of His sanctuary; from Heaven did the Lord behold the earth" (Ps.102:19,20); "Hear Thou in Heaven Thy dwelling place" (1 Kings 8:39). Yet more specifically than this, we read that God has a "throne" (2 Chron.9:8; Ps.11:4; Is.6:1; 66:1). Such language is hard to apply to an undefined essence which exists somewhere in Heavenly realms.
God is spoken of as "coming down" when He manifests Himself. This suggests a Heavenly location of God. It is impossible to understand the idea of 'God manifestation' without appreciating the personal, bodily nature of God.
- Isaiah 45 is full of references by God to His personal involvement in the affairs of His people: "I am the Lord, and there is none else...I the Lord do all these things..! the Lord have created it. Woe unto him that striveth with his maker...I, even my hands have stretched out the heavens...look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth". This last sentence especially shows the personal existence of God - He desires men to look to Him, to conceive of His literal existence with the eye of faith.
- God is revealed to us as a forgiving God, who speaks words to men. Yet forgiveness and language can only come from a person: they are mental acts. Thus David was a man after God's own heart (1 Sam.13:14), showing that God has a mind (heart), which is capable of being replicated to some limited degree by man, although man by nature is not after God's heart.
Passages like, "It repented the Lord that He had made man...and it grieved Him at his heart" (Gen.6:6), reveal God as a feeling, conscious Being, rather than an abstract puff of Spirit in the atmosphere. This helps us to appreciate how we really can both please and displease Him, as a child can a natural father.
If God is not a real, personal being, then the concept of spirituality is hard to grapple with. If God is totally righteous but is not a material being, then we cannot really conceive of His righteousness manifested in human beings. Both apostate Christendom and Jewry have the notion that God's righteousness enters our lives through a nebulous 'holy Spirit' that somehow makes us into God's mental image, and acceptable to Him. Conversely, once we appreciate that there is a personal being called God, then we can work on our characters, with His help and the influence of His word, to reflect the characteristics of God in our beings.
God's purpose is to reveal Himself in a multitude of glorified beings. His memorial name, Jehovah Elohim, indicates this ('He who shall be mighty ones', is an approximate translation). If God is not a corporeal being, then the reward of the faithful is to have a non-physical existence like God. But the descriptions of the reward of the faithful in God's coming Kingdom on earth show that they will have a tangible, bodily existence, although no longer subject to the weaknesses of human nature. Job longed for the "latter day" when he would have a resurrection of his body (Job 19:25-27); Abraham must be one of the "many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth (who) shall awake... to everlasting life" (Dan. 12:2) so that he can receive the promise of eternal inheritance of the land of Canaan, a physical location on this earth (Gen.17:8). "Saints shall shout aloud for joy...let them sing aloud upon their beds...and execute judgment upon the heathen" (Ps.132:16; 149:5,7). A failure by both Jew and Gentile to appreciate passages like these, as well as the fundamentally literal, physical import of the promises to Abraham, has led to the wrong notion of an "immortal soul" as the real form of human existence. Such an idea is totally devoid of Biblical support. God is an immortal, glorious being, and He is working out His purpose so that men and women might be called to live in His future Kingdom on this earth, to share His attributes, expressed in a bodily form.
The faithful are promised that they will inherit God's nature (2 Peter 1:4). If God is not personal, then this means we will live eternally as immaterial spirits. But this is not Bible teaching. We will be given a body like that of Jesus (Phil. 3:21), and we know tht he will have a literal body in the Kingdom which will have hands, eyes and ears (Zech. 13:6; Isa. 11:3). The doctrine of the personality of God is therefore related to the Gospel of the Kingdom.
It should be evident that there can be no sensible concept of worship, religion or personal relationship with God until it is appreciated that God is personal, that we are in His image physically, albeit a very imperfect image, and need to develop His mental image so that we may take on the fulness of His physical image in the Kingdom of God. So much more sense and comfort can now be gained from the passages which speak of God as a loving Father, chastening us as a Father does his son (e.g. Deut.8:5). In the context of Christ's sufferings we read that, "It pleased the Lord to bruise Him" (Is.53:10), although he "cried unto God: he heard my voice...and my cry came before him, even into his ears" (Ps.18:6). God's promise to David of a seed who would be God's son required the miraculous birth of a human being; if God were not personal, He could not have had such a son.
A correct understanding of God is a key which opens up many other vital areas of Bible doctrine. But as one lie leads to another lie, so a false conception of God obscures the system of truth which the Scriptures offer. If you have found this section convincing, or even partly so, the question arises: 'Do you really know God?' We will now further explore Bible teaching about Him.
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