I recently had a conversation with a young man in my congregation who was struggling with his faith. I had baptized him as an infant and been his pastor his entire life. He was at college and a friend of his, an atheist, was raising good questions that he’d struggled to answer. Among these was, “If there really is a God, why doesn’t he just show himself to us?” He asked me, “Pastor Adam, have you ever seen God?”
I began by reminding him that the universe is, by some calculations, about ninety-three billion light-years across (a light-year is how far light travels in a year at 186,000 miles per second). Some suggest the universe is far larger still. God created all of it, stands outside and beyond it, while at the same time God’s presence permeates it all. God animates the cosmos, sustains it, and holds it together.
Moses once said to God, “Show me your glory,” God replied, in essence, “You could not survive the experience.” A couple of years ago, we had a terrific solar eclipse in Kansas City. Everyone was gearing up to see it. But do you remember the warnings given at a solar eclipse? Again and again we were told, “Don’t look directly as the sun during the eclipse. You could seriously damage your eyes.” We bought special glasses to be able to see. This concern for our eyesight was over looking at our relatively modest star, the sun, even as it was being obscured by the moon. The universe is thought to contain between two hundred billion and two trillion galaxies, each containing billions of stars like our sun. They reflect God’s glory, which is greater than the total of these combined! Like Moses we say, “Show us your glory,” And God says, “Really?”
The psalmist recognized this, “The heavens are telling the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). Yes, I have seen God, or at least a reflection of him, in the world around us. The sun, moon, and stars, the beauty of the earth from the highest mountains to the marvel of human DNA—it all reveals God.
But, I told this young man, the God whose glory fills the cosmos actually did what you asked, and what Moses asked, and what every thoughtful human being has asked—he did come to show himself to us in a way we could see. He came to us in Jesus. He is, the scriptures say, “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). The author of Hebrews writes, “He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” (Hebrews 1:3a). Jesus said to his disciples, “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30), and “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
So, yes, I see God through the world that God has made, I told this young man, but I see God most clearly when I look at Jesus.
When I picture what God is like—God’s character, love, mercy, and grace—I see Jesus. I see him loving broken people, eating with sinners and tax collectors. I see him healing the sick and restoring vision to those who were blind. I see him touching the lepers who were treated as untouchables and restoring them to the community by healing their affliction. I see him coming upon a funeral procession and sharing the grief of a mother who had lost her son, and then raising the young man back to life. I think about the Jesus who cast out demons from those who were mentally ill or plagued by forces greater than themselves. I think of the compassion he showed to the prostitute who wept at his feet. I think about the Jesus who said, “the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). When I pray, I pray to the God who showed me what God is like, thanks to all the ways that Jesus revealed God’s heart. This is what Emmanuel means to me.