Is God Invisible?

Is God invisible? What does the Bible say about it? If you’re like me, even if you’ve grown up in church all or most of your childhood, you would say, “of course God is invisible”. Everyone says that, everyone teaches that. But, what does the Bible say about it? And what exactly does that mean?

Commonly, believers will point to Colossians 1:15, among many other verses, to show that God (as in, God the Father) is invisible. Colossians 1:15 says “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” (NIV).

Referring to Jesus (the son) being the image of the invisible God, we would gather that God the Father is invisible. I should also note that in this article we are examining whether or not God the Father is invisible. Clearly, God the Son (Jesus Christ) is not invisible, that’s the purpose of the Gospels, to provide a witness to seeing God the Son in the flesh.

Hebrews 11:27, speaks about Moses leaving Egypt “because he saw him who is invisible.” Or, as the NLT puts it, “He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible.”

John 1:18 says, “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”

1 Timothy 6:16, speaking of God says he “alone is immortal and lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see.” (NIV). The NLT version of this verse is also quite interesting, as it states, “He lives in light so brilliant that no human can approach him. No human eye has ever seen him, nor ever will.”

Exodus 33:18-20 also gives us an interesting picture, “Then Moses said, ‘Now show me your glory.’ And the Lord said, ‘I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.’”

I’m not a Biblical scholar, nor do I have any training in Greek or Hebrew. But after just a very short period of research into these and other verses and reading the Greek and Hebrew texts - I would like to propose the the idea of God being invisible is much more complex than a simple physical quality of being “not visible”.

The Greek word used in Colossians 1:15 which is translated as “invisible” is “aoratou”, which occurs only once in the New Testament. The word in Hebrews 11:27 which is translated as “invisible” is “aoraton”, which also occurs only once in the New Testament. However, both of these words come from the Greek word “aoratos”, which occurs in four different forms a total of only five times throughout the New Testament. (Other occurrences include Romans 1:20, Colossians 1:16, and 1 Timothy 1:17)

The Greek word “aóratos” is usually translated as “invisible”, but it comes from the Greek words “A” which means “not” and “horáō”, which means “seen”. The definition of aoratos is understood to be literally translated as “unseen” or “not seen”. In the English language, the word “invisible” does mean “unable to be seen”, but it also means “not visible to the eye”. In our American culture, when we hear the word invisible, we often think of a ghost who is standing right in front of us but physically unseen, unable to be seen, perceived or detected by our eyes.

But, it seems that perhaps the word of God is speaking of something much more complex than a simple physical quality.

I could be sitting behind a wall and that would make me “unseen”, but it wouldn’t make me “invisible”. If you came to the other side of the wall, you would still see me. I have not vanished from the physical world just because I’m behind a wall. Now, yes, God is substantially different - as we know that the physical realm is not the only realm. There is a spiritual realm which we do not see or perceive, which is invisible to our senses, and which is dwelling and happening among us and all around us (see Ephesians).

John 1:18 uses the Greek word “heōraken” which is translated to “has seen”, when we read “no one has seen God”. This word occurs 10 times in the New Testament and is a variant of the Greek word “horao”, which occurs 684 times in the New Testament and literally translates to mean “to see”, “seen” or “to perceive”. This word is used in Matthew 2 to described that Herod had seen (or perceived) that he had been tricked, as well as other references making a literal reference to having physically seen something.

In the context of the full sentence, if Jesus, who himself is God and is in closest relationship with God “has made him known”, then perhaps this is saying that no one has seen, or perceived God.

1 Timothy 6 says God lives in unapproachable light. Or lives in light so brilliant that no human can approach him. Brilliant light is visible. Even infrared light (outside the visible spectrum) if brilliant enough (powerful enough) becomes visible to the human eye. This verse clearly states that no human has ever seen God nor ever will. But, taken in context of the rest of the verse, let alone these other verses, it indicates that the reason we can’t see him is because of the brilliance that shines around him, blinding us to the ability to see God who is inside this brilliance.

Exodus 33 also paints a similar picture when God tells Moses “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” Again, not directly saying his face is not visible, but saying you are not capable of seeing my face. You, as a mere mortal, cannot see something so brilliant and live.

So, perhaps God is physically invisible, as we’ve come to understand that word in our English speaking culture. Or, perhaps he’s not actually “invisible”, but rather unseen. Regardless, I don’t believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ or the reality of God being the Creator of the Universe hinges on whether or not God has the physical property of being visible or invisible. However, I think that all of this points us to a much deeper reality - Which is that God is holy. God is so holy that we are not capable of seeing him. He is unseen. We can’t see him.

God dwells in unapproachable light - light so brilliant that simply looking at the light which surrounds God would blind us.

In Exodus 33, God tells Moses “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you”. In verses 21-23, it says, “Then the Lord said, ‘There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.’”

God is about to pass by Moses. He is clearly shielding Moses from seeing Him. If God were just simply “invisible” - then God would be able to pass by Moses undetected, without needing to shield Moses’ eyes from seeing him. But there is clearly something to be seen. Something so bright, so brilliant, so holy, that if Moses were to see God, he would die. And then, God says to Moses, “you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” - If Moses can see God’s back, then God isn’t invisible, or at least not always invisible. God doesn’t say “my face can’t be seen”, meaning his face doesn’t have the ability to be seen, but he says, “my face must not be seen”, meaning, as we’ve looked at above, seeing something so glorious would be the end of Moses.

What if we all, like Moses, simply sought to see the glory of God? What if we were so in love with God, and so in awe of Him, that we could see just a taste of His brilliant glory and our own faces shined bright like Moses’ face when he came down from the mountain?