Thursday, April 6, 2017

Visio Dei—Vision of God or Beatific Vision: an introduction

The visio Dei or vision of God—also known as the 'Beatific Vision'—is generally understood as the eschatological vision of God that the glorified saints in heaven will be blessed with throughout eternity. The highly regarded, Eastern Orthodox theologian, Vladimir Lossky wrote:

No Christian theologian has ever denied ex-professo that the elect will have a vision of God in the state of final beatitude. This truth is formally attested by the Scriptures: "We shall see him as he is," ὀψόμεθα αὐτὸν καθώς ἐστιν (1 John 3:2). However, it has given rise to different theological developments, all the more so in that the same Scriptures, the same Epistle of St. John (4:12) asserts that, "no one has ever seen God," θεὸν οὐδεὶς πώποτε τεθέαται, and St. Paul states precisely that He cannot be seen (1 Tim. 6:16). (The Vision of God, trans. Asheleigh Moorhouse, 1983, p. 11.)

I hope to explore the issue of "different theological developments" in future posts, so this one will focus on the Scriptural references upon which the concept of the visio Dei is built.

I will start with the words of Jesus Christ who explicitly said: "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8 - ASV).

This promised vision of God to the "pure in heart" seems to have reference to the age after the eschatological return of Jesus, for His apostle, John, wrote:

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2 - KJV)

This eschatological vision of God is mentioned in the book of Revelation, wherein it is written that during the age of the "new heaven and earth", the "servants" of God will, "see His face" (Rev. 22:4 - NAS).

The apostle Paul makes reference to the eschatological vision of God in his first epistle to the Corinthians:

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. (1 Cor. 13:12 - KJV)

There are also a couple of OT verses which seem to speak of the eschatological vision of God:

And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God... (Job 19:26 - NKJ)

As for me, I shall behold thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with beholding thy form. (Psa. 17:15 - ASV)

To discern what this future, eschatological vision of God entails, one must balance the aforementioned verses with two classes of verses which seem to lie in stark opposition to each other: verses which relate that God has been seen in our current age, contrasted with those verses which state that God has not been seen, and cannot be seen. Verses of the first class include the following:

And Jehovah appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto Jehovah, who appeared unto him. (Gen. 12:7 - ASV)

And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, Jehovah appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be thou perfect. (Gen. 17:1 - ASV)

And Jehovah appeared unto him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; (Gen. 18:1 - ASV)

And the men turned from thence, and went toward Sodom: but Abraham stood yet before Jehovah. (Gen. 18:22 - ASV)

And Jehovah appeared unto him, and said, Go not down into Egypt. Dwell in the land which I shall tell thee of. (Gen. 26:2 - ASV)

And Jehovah appeared unto him the same night, and said, I am the God of Abraham thy father. Fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for my servant Abraham's sake. (Gen. 26:24 - ASV)

And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for, said he, I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved. (Gen. 32:30 - ASV)

And God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Beth-el, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God, who appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother. (Gen. 35:1 - ASV)

And God appeared unto Jacob again, when he came from Paddan-aram, and blessed him. (Gen. 35:9 - ASV)

And Jacob said unto Joseph, God Almighty appeared unto me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and blessed me... (Gen. 48:3 - ASV)

Go, and gather the elders of Israel together, and say unto them, Jehovah, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, hath appeared unto me, saying, I have surely visited you, and seen that which is done to you in Egypt: (Ex. 3:16 - ASV)

That they may believe that Jehovah, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath appeared unto thee. (Ex. 4:5 - ASV)

And God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, I am Jehovah: and I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, as God Almighty; but by my name Jehovah I was not known to them. (Ex. 6:2, 3 - ASV)

And they saw the God of Israel; and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and as it were the very heaven for clearness. And upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: and they beheld God, and did eat and drink. (Ex. 24:10, 11 - ASV)

And Jehovah spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. (Ex. 33:11 - ASV)

My servant Moses is not so; he is faithful in all my house: with him will I speak mouth to mouth, even manifestly, and not in dark speeches; and the form of Jehovah shall he behold: (Num. 12:7, 8a - ASV)

They have heard that thou Jehovah art in the midst of this people; for thou Jehovah art seen face to face, and thy cloud standeth over them, and thou goest before them, in a pillar of cloud by day, and in a pillar of fire by night. (Num. 14:14b - ASV)

For Jehovah is righteous; He loveth righteousness: The upright shall behold his face. (Psa. 11:7)

I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; But now mine eye seeth thee: (Job 42:5)

Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, Jehovah of hosts. (Isa. 6:5 - ASV)

Below, are the second class of verses:

And he said, Thou canst not see my face; for man shall not see me and live. (Ex. 33:20)

No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (John 1:18 - NAS)

And the Father who sent Me, He has borne witness of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form. (John 5:37 - NAS)

Not that any man has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father. (John 6:46 - NAS)

He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords; who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light; whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen. (1 Tim. 1:15b, 16 - NAS)

No one has beheld God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:12)

And so, we have before us three classes of verses concerning the vision of God: first, those passages which affirm that God/Jehovah has been seen; second, those which relate that God will be seen; and third, those which state that God cannot be seen.

I suppose some folk will argue that we have before us a contradiction; however, as one who affirms the inerrancy of the Bible, I maintain all the above passages can be harmonized. In fact, they have been competently harmonized by a good number of theologians, though this harmonization has taken on varying forms. In future posts, I hope to explore these differing options (the Lord willing); options which Lossky has described as, "different theological developments".

Grace and peace,



Sean Killackey said...

Reading this I thought of these passages:

"One thing have I asked of Jehovah, that will I seek after; That I may dwell in the house of Jehovah all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of Jehovah, And to inquire in his temple." Psalm 27:4

"How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Jehovah of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of Jehovah; My heart and my flesh cry out unto the living God." Psalm 84:1,2

"As the hart panteth after the water brooks, So panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, While they continually say unto me, Where is thy God? These things I remember, and pour out my soul within me, How I went with the throng, and led them to the house of God, With the voice of joy and praise, a multitude keeping holyday." Psalm 42:1-4

"O God, thou art my God; earnestly will I seek thee: My soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee, In a dry and weary land, where no water is. So have I looked upon thee in the sanctuary, To see thy power and thy glory. Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, My lips shall praise thee." Psalm 63:1-3

"Thou wilt guide me with thy counsel, And afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee ? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee. My flesh and my heart faileth; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever." Psalm 73:24-26 (I also like the tension within the psalmist over desiring fleshly things, the ways of the wicked as opposed to washing his heart in purity, which gets resolved by entering God's earthly sanctuary, where he discerns their latter end, and also recognizes that God will 'afterward you will lead him to glory.' (Reminding me that 'the Glory of Jehovah will fill the earth, even as the waters fill the sea.')

I choose or was reminded of many of the above passages from the psalms primarily because they describe the longing for God which is highly relevant to all this. The God who will 'satisfy the desire of every living thing,' will above all satisfy the desire for him. Presently this verse comes to mind, 'He is the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him.' He can't be the rewarder if he never rewards, and what kind of reward would it be to those seeking him to not satisfy their desire for him?

Also, probably a hundred more passages like the above can be gleaned from Psalms; that book is full of such verses.

David Waltz said...

Hi Sean,

Thanks much for taking the time to comment, and sharing those marvelous verses from the Psalms. The verse from Psalm 27 (v.4), especially made an impression on me, and has raised a few questions: first, what does in mean to, "dwell in the house of Jehovah all the days of my life"; second, what does it mean to, "behold the beauty of Jehovah"; and third, what does it mean to, "inquire in his temple"?

A bit later in the same chapter we read:

When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; My heart said unto thee, Thy face, Jehovah, will I seek. (Psalm 27:8)

This raises yet one more question: what does it mean to, 'seek the face of Jehovah'?

One more tidbit from the opening of the 27th chapter: "Jehovah is my light and my salvation". As you well know, the identification of Jehovah with "light" is an important motif of the Bible. In Psalm 36:9 we read:

"For with thee is the fountain of life: In thy light shall we see light."

And in 1 John 1:5 it is written:

"And this is the message which we have heard from him and announce unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all."

Anyway, thanks again for sharing those verses, they have given me much 'food for thought'...

Grace and peace,


Miguel de Servet said...

>> The visio Dei or vision of God—also known as the 'Beatific Vision'—is generally understood as the eschatological vision of God that the glorified saints in heaven will be blessed with throughout eternity.

This is, in spite of its straightforward appearance, a very complex sentence:

- "eschatological vision" means that this vision will be bestowed only on the last day. The obvious consequence is that nobody, not even the "saints in paradise" enjoy it "at present". For affirming this, even a Pope, John XXII (1244 - 1334), was criticized by the Theological Faculty at Paris and had to re-affirm that the "saints in paradise" DO enjoy immediately the 'Beatific Vision'.

- "will be blessed": the future tense confirms that the 'Beatific Vision' is something of the future, after the 'Last Day'.

- "throughout eternity" means, also in consideration of the above, that eternity (which is often affirmed to be absence of time, nunc stans, lit. "everlasting moment") must have, somehow, a future dimension.

>> And so, we have before us three classes of verses concerning the vision of God: first, those passages which affirm that God/Jehovah has been seen; second, those which relate that God will be seen; and third, those which state that God cannot be seen.

I believe that the three classes of verses can be reconciled more easily than may appear at first blush. The key to understanding the apparent contradiction is in Exodus 33:18-23. Until God decides, "nobody can see God [in His full glory] and live". Even Moses, when he saw God, must have seen Him with His glory, somehow, "dimmed".