Christianity and faith related issues

Why can’t we see God?

Image from Desiring God

Why can’t we see God? Though misrepresented by rationalists as an obstacle to reasonable supernatural belief, this question deserves a satisfactory reply. In response, there are various cogent reasons we cannot see God, some of which are outlined below.

God is a spirit

Everything that exists is either material or spiritual. A material thing is something that you can see, touch, smell, or hear. A spiritual thing is real, but it is not material… God is a spirit–He has no body, therefore you cannot see God (page 12 of Lessons in the Catholic Faith, approved by Rev. Edward B. Brueggemen S.J.). 

This is the main reason we cannot see God. To those who regard this explanation as a convenient excuse, consider: You likewise cannot see your thoughts–or take a picture of them–for they arise from the spiritual, immaterial intellect. No-one can deny the existence of our thoughts, therefore, our inability to see God does not preclude His existence. 

The Divine Essence and the human intellect 

Given the disproportion between the infinite Divine Essence, and the finite intellectual faculties of creatures, in this life, God cannot be the object of such faculties. Accordingly, humans must be strengthened by a Divine light and assimilated to His infinitely simple Intellect, in order to gaze upon the Divine Essence (page 173 of A Manual of Catholic Theology, by Joseph Wilhelm D.D. PH.D and Thomas B. Scannell D.D).

For those who die in a state of sanctifying grace, this process of assimilation occurs, to enable their admission into the Beatific Vision. In this life, however, we cannot (except for extremely rare instances of private inspiration) see God.

His created effects

Emphasis should not be placed on the direct visibility of God and lack thereof. The key point, instead, is that through observing and reflecting on His created effects, we can deduce the logical necessity of an eternal, necessary, omnipotent God.

When we see footprints on the sand, we conclude that someone has passed that way. The universe is filled with the footprints of a Supreme Creator. Every single existing thing or being gives clear testimony of Him (page 12 of My Catholic Faith, approved by Rev. Louis LaRavoire Morrow, D.D; my emphasis).

Specifically, without accepting His existence, we cannot explain:

(a) The origin of matter, even the most elementary;

(b) The origin of motion;

(c) The origin of the very first living organism and of the spiritual soul of man; and

(d) The origin of the order and law so apparent in the universe (page 29 of My Catholic Faith).

The merit of faith

It can, indeed, be conceded that not being able to see God challenges the human intellect. Because His existence cannot be established through the senses alone, this agitates against the animal side of our nature.

Even so, there are good reasons for this challenge. Creation was undertaken for the glorification of God–not for our own good or on account of our prospective merits. Given this, a finite creature must personally expend effort, to have any hope in obtaining an eternal reward from his Creator. But there would be little effort on our part if we all necessarily knew that God existed–as opposed to believing in His existence. Thus, belief in God is made meritorious when we persist in it, irrespective of the difficulties imposed on the intellect and will.

After St. Thomas doubted the Resurrection, Jesus Christ appeared to and rebuked him along these lines:

Because thou hast seen me, Thomas, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed (John 20:29; my emphasis).

When considering the merit of belief in God from Him being unseen, it is fortunate that we cannot see God.

Our limited nature

As mentioned above, belief in God prescribes certain challenges on the intellect and will, especially those which emanate from the latter. From a Catholic perspective, belief in God results in strenuous moral obligations–concerning fasting, alcohol consumption, and sexual morality–making life more restricted in these ways than for an atheist. Many people, on these grounds, openly refuse to entertain the possibility of Catholic truth. The justification accompanying this refusal is generally simplistic, narrow-minded, and dismissive.

This refusal to engage is misconceived, because a limited, flawed perception of reality does not change objective reality or the consequences of our failing to recognise it. As regards objective reality, God is foremost: He is “the ultimate reality with which we are engaged during every moment of our existence and consciousness” (The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss by David Bentley Hart).

To deny God because He cannot be seen, is like to “a blind man who refuses to believe there is a sun, because he cannot see it. Is God limited because we are?” (page 25 of My Catholic Faith).

Our mediate knowledge of God

In this world, we are only ever granted to obtain a mediate, as opposed to a direct, knowledge of God. It should be kept in mind that this obscured knowledge of God shall be illuminated in the world to come, by means of the Beatific Vision. “We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

2 thoughts on “Why can’t we see God?

  1. “Creation was undertaken for the glorification of God–not for our own good or on account of our prospective merits. ”

    This makes complete sense, and for my doubts, it helps to have that insight. The whole “merit of faith” section was really useful for me at this time….


    1. I am happy to hear it Matt and appreciate your perspective. The answers are out there for us natural sceptics, if we persist and are sincere in seeking the truth.

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