When I was little, my Mommy read me Bible stories over our breakfast milk-and-cereal from a brown children’s book. The one that captured my imagination the most was the story taken from Exodus 33 where Moses asked God, “Show me your glory!” God knew that would kill Moses, but He wanted to say yes, so He made a plan to protect Moses while showing him as much as he could handle: He offered to put Moses in a cleft of the rock, pass by while proclaiming His name and glory, and then remove His hand so Moses could see His “back” adding, “for no one can see My face and live.”
I wanted to be Moses in that story.
I wanted to see.
That story reveals something else: God wants to be seen. He didn’t say to Moses, “How dare you!” He went to all that trouble of putting him in the rock and keeping him safe and showing him everything He could.
I used to think Moses was the only person God ever did that for. That was why I wanted to be Moses. But it turns out, God has been working on His “How can I show Myself to humans without killing them?” plan for a long time. Like most or maybe all of God’s plans, it culminated in Jesus.
In 2 Corinthians 3, the “ministry of the Spirit” (what we have) is contrasted with “the ministry of the law” (what Moses had). What Moses had is called “glorious” (v. 9). But, as I noticed when a child eating breakfast, only one man, Moses, saw God’s glory. And even he saw only God’s “back,” not His “face.” There was no way for God to show Moses His face without killing him with His holiness. Just seeing God’s back made Moses’ own face glow and shine–but then he veiled his face because the shining faded.
All this is contrasted with what we have, which is “more glorious”: the Spirit of the Lord reveals Jesus to us. Jesus made a way for the glory of God to be visible to all humans without killing them – “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus” (4:6). Remember we talked about God’s plan to get close to us through different sorts of ‘temples’? This was the second kind of temple: Jesus with us in the flesh. Jesus’ face revealed the glory of the Father, Whom He alone knew (Matthew 11:27).
And then when Jesus went back to heaven, that didn’t mean God was giving up on being visible to us. As we talked about before when we discussed the Holy Spirit, Jesus said He went back to heaven to send us the Holy Spirit (John 16:7). So the way we “see” God today is to “behold” the glory of God in the face of Jesus through the Holy Spirit.
This kind of seeing is powerful. This is what transforms us “from glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Someday, we will be fully like Jesus when we see Him as He is (1 John 3:2). In the meantime, we see Him by the Spirit and things get better and better! Where do we see Him? This “light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus” shines “in our hearts” (4:6). The Holy Spirit makes our hearts the new temple where God lives, and He makes our hearts the place of seeing God.
Ephesians 1:18 talks about “the eyes of our hearts” and prays for God to turn the lights on for those eyes. We all have pretty powerful heart eyes. With the imagination God has given us, we can pull up a picture of any person, place or thing in the world in an instant and interact with that image in our hearts. We all know how to use those heart eyes for sinning: we can picture all the bad things that we worry could happen to us tomorrow, or all the good things our neighbor has that we want, or all the bad things we wish would happen to the person who hurt our feelings. But that’s not what our heart eyes are for.
King David figured out the very best thing to picture with the eyes of his heart: the truth that God was with him. He said “I have set the Lord always before me” (Psalm 16:8). And just as picturing bad things affects us to make us jealous or afraid, David found that visualizing the truth affected him for good. He pictured God was next to him by his “right hand” and said “because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”
The writer of Hebrews calls us to not just look once or twice, but to fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). He’s not talking about our physical eyes, obviously, because we don’t see Jesus with those, but our heart eyes, our eyes of faith —-that is, our imagination—under the control and direction of His Spirit.
The Apostle Paul also brings it up, and he doesn’t present it as something weird or optional, but as a command: set your mind and set your heart on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God (Colossians 3:1-2). Our imagination is going to be somewhere. Paul, King David, and the writer of Hebrews all suggest that we focus it on Jesus: Jesus on the cross, Jesus right here next to me, and Jesus in heaven at His Father’s right hand.
Right after Paul wraps up talking about Moses and Jesus and the glory of God, he says something that sounds absolutely crazy: “So we fix our eyes, not on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” In other words, “Look at invisible stuff!” There is invisible stuff in the room with you right now. Jesus is there. The Holy Spirit is with you. You also have an invisible and eternal spirit of your own. His Spirit is joined to yours (1 Corinthians 6:17). Angels are assigned to you (Hebrews 1:14). An invisible wrestling match is going on between God’s warriors and invisible enemies, and you are part of it (Ephesians 6:11-12). And all this invisible stuff, Paul says, is going to last a lot longer than the visible stuff. Long after your furniture and your problems and even your body have rotted away, God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit and your spirit and all those angels are going to be together enjoying God’s eternal glory.
Looking at this invisible stuff changes our emotions, our actions, our lives. When Moses is mentioned in the Hebrews 11 Faith Hall of Fame chapter, it says, “By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king…” Moses was able to stand up to an angry king and not be controlled by the fear of him, but lead all the slaves out from under his nose. How? “… for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:27). That is powerful! His gaze wasn’t focused on the king’s furrowed eyebrows, or the veins popping in his neck, or the soldiers he could snap his fingers for to come wipe Moses out, or the weapons they carried… He was looking fixedly at the invisible stuff in the room and seeing the Greater King who had spoken to him in the burning bush, sitting on His throne as King over all Kings and smiling approvingly when Moses stood his ground. And Moses wanted to please the invisible and eternal king more than the visible and temporal king. He realized which of them was more real. And the rest of the story shows that he was right.
We can do that. We can look at the same Invisible One and be changed, set free, made courageous, enabled to persevere. He is ceaselessly revealing Himself to each one of us, every day. He wants to be seen. (As I shared in my story, I’ve had my own rocky but life-changing journey in learning to “see” Jesus with the eyes of my heart. And it’s been so worth it. I have also shared on Mark Virkler’s blog about a portion of my testimony where I was wrestling with whether using my “heart-eyes” was really OK with God. You can read that here).
Does your heart still long to see Him more than that? So does His. This chapter of our love story is still not its final happy ending. There is a kind of seeing God coming that is so “face to face” it will transform us the rest of the way in an instant. When we see Jesus come back with the full blaze of the God-glory that Moses longed to see emanating from His never-fading face, “we will be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). Compared to the kind of seeing that is coming, the kind of seeing we have now through the gift of the Holy Spirit is like looking at God through a tinted window or a mirror reflection. “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part, then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
But in the meantime, we get to “see” Jesus-with-us as we are washing the dishes, the dog, the car. Because He really is here with us in these moments. If we get to “see” God right now as if through a dark glass, let’s press our noses up against that glass and look, and look, and look again. Look at invisible stuff. He’s waiting for you.