Haven’t you ever wondered what does God look like? It’s probably the earliest question we ask in Sunday School, and many of us never get an answer that really makes sense. Alternatively, some of us got dumbed-down answers (like being told that God is a person with a big white beard up in the clouds somewhere) that as adults we realize don’t quite work. Fortunately, the Bible does give us some direct answers to this question.
What Does the Bible Say God Looks Like?
The Bible talks about God’s traits in a variety of places. There are two particular points the Bible makes that are important here.
First, God is spirit. Verses like Deuteronomy 4:15-19 note that God can appear like a mountain of fire and differs from idols that are designed to look like human beings. John 4:24 boldly states “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” 1 Timothy 1:17 refers to him as the “the King eternal, immortal, invisible.” This indicates that although God can appear in various forms including human form (more on that later), he has no basic physical form.
Second, God has omnipresence. Based on Bible verses like Psalm 139:7-10 and Proverbs 15:3, this term means that God is in all places at once. This further indicates that God must be spirit, or all the whole idea of omnipresence doesn’t work. If God really was the figure we often see in Sunday School cartoons, a big man with a beard sitting outside the universe and then zooming down into the universe whenever someone needs him, he would be in one place at a time. Psalm 113:4-6 describes God as “enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth,” but this a poetic description, like Psalm 56:8 which describes God as holding the writer’s tears in a bottle. For God to be everywhere at once, he cannot have a basic physical form.
How Do We Know God Exists?
Since God has no physical form, that raises the obvious question, “How can we know that God exists?” There are many arguments for the existence of God, different proofs that people have put forward. Probably the most basic ones are these three:
Evidence from nature.
Psalm 19:1 says that “the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Similarly, Romans 1:20 says that “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” So, in some way, the natural world, with its intricate details and balance, provides proof that there is something bigger than us at work in this world.
Evidence from within.
Some theologians have suggested we all are born with a sense that there must be something out there, a God to find and pursue. John Calvin used the term sensus divinitatis (“sense of the divine”) to describe this sense. This may be up for debate, but it sounds similar to what the Bible says in Romans 2:14-15 about a sense of morality being written on people’s hearts. If we have an inherent sense of morality inside, then that leads to the question, “where does this sense of morality come from?” Similarly, if we feel an innate sense there is something else out there, that raises the question, “What is this sense for? Did something put it there?”
Evidence from Jesus.
At a certain point, we find that Jesus is the biggest proof of God’s existence. The more we try to understand what Jesus did and who Jesus was, the more we will be confronted with a simple fact: he claimed to be God. Specifically, he claimed to be the Son of Man, a term used in Daniel 7:3 to describe the Messiah. He claimed that before Abraham was born, he was born (John 8:58). When the Sanhedrin asked him if he was the Messiah, Jesus replied, “I am… and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62). Jesus repeatedly (although sometimes guardedly and only in the right place and the right time) claimed to be God’s son. As C.S. Lewis memorably put it in a chapter of Mere Christianity titled “A Shocking Alternative,” the fact Jesus claimed to be God means we can only see him in three ways:
“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call Him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher… Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.”
If God Is Spirit, How Can We Know What He Looks Like?
Although God the Father is spirit, the Bible talks about Jesus being “the image of the invisible God,” (Colossians 1:15-19). Some theologians have suggested that when God appeared to Abraham in Genesis 18, it was Jesus in a pre-incarnate form.
We aren’t told much about what Jesus looks like either, although one of the Messianic prophecies, Isaiah 53 says that “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2). We do however see what God is like from Jesus’ example. He is God’s representative on earth, and through belief in him, we gain the ability to become more like Christ and therefore nearer to God.
Why Does This Matter?
Since God is much bigger and more complex than we are, we are still trying to figure out what it means for God to be spirit, how that connects to us being made in his image, and so on. Since we are finite while God is infinite, at least on this side of heaven we will never fully understand this concept. However, understanding God has no physical form is still important even if we don’t entirely understand it. Here are some reasons why it is so important:
It helps us understand how God can be sovereign.
If God is like a pagan deity, living up on Mount Olympus and coming down to help people one a time, then he is a limited being. Recognizing that God is spirit and everywhere at once shows us how God can be in control. He can be in all places, the ultimate ruler of the universe that the Bible describes because he is spirit. Recognizing his spiritual nature helps us to see his sovereignty.
It shows us what makes Jesus special.
Knowing that God is spirit means that when Jesus came down to earth and took on physical form, something shocking had taken place. The all-powerful, all-knowing God had emptied himself (Philippians 2:7) to take on the form of a human being and dwell among us. This is very different from what we see in myths about gods coming to earth, like Zeus coming down from Olympus and turning into a bird to fly around Earth for a while. To say that Jesus was God in human flesh is something much more radical, and it sets Christianity apart from other religions in a big way.
It changes how we understand being in God’s image.
Theologians debate whether humans being made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) has a physical component. It is possible there is a God-given design to why humans look the way they do, and perhaps our physical design (our limitations, our abilities) tells us something about how we are God’s image-bearers. Regardless, the fact that God is spirit means we are not “in the image of God” in the strictest physical sense. There must be a spirit element to it because God is spirit. However, we interpret this idea, the fact God the Father is spirit affects what it means to be God’s image-bearers.
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G. Connor is a freelance writer and journalist, with a Bachelor of Science in Professional Writing from Taylor University. He has contributed over 600 articles to various publications, including interviews for Christian Communicator and book reviews for The Evangelical Church Library Association. Find out more about his work here.