March 28, 2021 - Does God Have a Bod

Audio file of this program

 

Today we’re going to take a look at: Does God have a body? What do you say to someone who is determined to prove to you from the Bible that God the Father has a body of flesh, and that our bodies are literally made in God’s image? If you have never heard the Biblical case that God has a literal human body, where do you go for evidence to the contrary?

 

What do you say to the person who gives the following examples where the Bible states so plainly that God has a body? God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” so we must look literally like God. God walked in the Garden of Eden, so God must have literal feet and legs. Moses and Aaron and 70 of the elders of Israel saw God, and under his feet was a paved work of sapphire stone. Moses spoke with God face-to-face, and he saw God’s back. Isaiah saw God and was blown away by the sight.

 

Jesus taught that God is our Father. So why should I not believe that God is my Father literally in every sense of the word? Jesus says in John 8:17-18 that the witness of two men is true and that one of those two men is the Father—therefore the Father must be a man.

 

In his speech to the philosophers at Athens in Acts 17, Paul teaches that we are God’s offspring, therefore God must be human like us. The Bible says that we are God’s heirs. A dog cannot be our heir, but only a human like us; doesn’t that mean that we and God must be the same species? According to Hebrews 1:3, Jesus is the express image of his Father; therefore, his Father must be a human being, a man like his Son. Stephen looked into heaven and saw Jesus Christ standing on the right hand of his Father, therefore God must have a body like ours.

 

OK, friends, what do we do with these verses? Where is the Biblical basis for our belief that God is Spirit and not flesh when we need it most? Let’s take a look.

 

First, we need to ask: If the visions of God that I just quoted are visions of a literal human body, how does that square with God’s words, “You cannot see my face and live”? God's face (whatever that means) must not be like ours. The only time the Bible says we will be able to see God’s face is on the last page of the book of Revelation (22:4), and here it says so as one more reason why heaven is so much different than our experience right now. Often, the human-like appearances of God turn out to be angels or “messengers” of God. Even to see just an angel seems to be enough to trigger meltdown for most people. But the appearance of God that I find to be most revealing is in Revelation 20:11, where John says, “Then I saw a great white throne and the One who sat on it, from whose presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them” (to flee to).

 

Here are four New Testament verses that conflict with the idea that God has a body:

The first one is John 1:18: "No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known." In other words, the Incarnation, where God becomes flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, has shown us God in ways that would have been impossible to see without the Incarnation.

 

The next verse is Colossians 1:15, where Paul writes that "He (meaning Christ) is the image [literally the “icon”] of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation." ("Firstborn" means that Christ existed before anything in the universe was created, including any supposed divine ancestors God could have had.) The God for whom Jesus is the visible icon or image is an invisible God. Paul says that God is invisible in 1 Timothy 1:17: "Now to the King of the ages, incorruptible, invisible (a-oratō), the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever."

 

In 1 Timothy 6:15-16, Paul speaks of "the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, the only One who has immortality, the One who dwells in inapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see." God is not invisible simply because he’s hiding out of view at the moment; Paul stresses that no one has either seen him in the past, or can see him at any time. These verses are the key to our understanding of any passage that talks about visions of God. Whatever Biblical characters may have seen when they speak of seeing God, they did not see flesh and blood.

 

Isaiah seeks to refute the Babylonian belief that God has a body like ours. Isaiah 40:15 says, "To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness will you compare with him?" Isaiah 40:25 says, "To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal?" You say God has hands? Isaiah 40:12 says, "Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?" Those must be big hands of his! And God must have big arms to carry us all in his bosom (Isaiah 40:11). Hebrews 1:10 says that the heavens are the work of God’s hands; how can a finite being of flesh create the stars and planets? Exodus 15:8 says, “At the blast of thy nostrils the [Red Sea] waters piled up” – God must have huge nostrils! (According to Psalm 91:4, God must even have wings and feathers.)

Yes, Isaiah saw God, but the train of God’s “robe” was so big that it filled the Temple. God's "body" is so big that by comparison, "the nations are a drop in a bucket, and accounted dust on the scales" (Isaiah 40:15). And God says in Isaiah 66:1, “Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool; where is the house you would build for me, and where is the place of my rest?” What Isaiah saw was so massive and awesome, he could only describe it in non-literal language.

 

In Deuteronomy 4:15-16, Moses tells Israel, “You saw no form when the Lord spoke to you at Horeb,” therefore “do not act corruptly by making an idol for yourselves, in the form of any figure, in the likeness of male or female.” If the Bible rejects anything, it rejects idolatry, and one major kind of idolatry is making God in man’s image. That’s what a lot of people say we all have done. Making God in man’s image is a huge mistake, no matter how it’s done, and the truth is that the best parts of us are reflections of God, rather than the other way around.

 

(Isaiah 40:13-14 also refutes the idea that God is an exalted man who once went thru our process of learning: "Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, or who as his counselor instructed him? Whom did God consult for enlightenment, and who taught God the path of justice? Who taught God knowledge, and showed God the way of understanding?")

 

Eventually, the belief in a God with a human body crashes and burns on the issue of God’s omnipresence. In Jeremiah 23:24, God asks, “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” Solomon says to God, “Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27) God’s body is everywhere! David says to God in Psalm 139:7-10, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” God’s hands are everywhere!

 

Let’s go back to Acts 17:28. At Athens, Paul quotes the pagan poet Aratus as being correct about God when he writes, “In him we live and move and have our being.” How does the whole human race get inside this God of flesh to live and move around? Paul's point is that God is not like their idols, neither the material they are made of, nor their physical shape. We are God's offspring in ways which idols can never be.

 

Proverbs 15:3 tells us, “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch over the evil and the good.” (Similarly, 2 Chronicles 16:9 says “The eyes of the Lord roam throughout the whole earth.”) Either God has a lot of eyes, or this is symbolic language designed to communicate the fact of God’s omnipresence.

 

Colossians 2:9 says, “For in (Christ) dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (somatikōs). What would the point of that verse be, if God already has a human body? Paul’s point here is that in Christ is the only place where God resides bodily. In every other place or person in all the universe, God dwells only through his Spirit. Jesus says in John 4:24, “God is Spirit.” God is not material, although God declares that the material world is “very good.”

 

What is so amazing about the birth of Christ is here is the only place where God comes to earth to dwell in a body of flesh. John announces in John 1:14 that “the Word (meaning Christ) became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father.” The reason John’s announcement is so newsworthy is because it’s the only time it has happened or ever will happen. We call it THE Incarnation: God incarnates as one of us. What’s the big deal, if we are all incarnations of God in embryo?

 

God says in Numbers 23:19 and 1 Samuel 15:29, “God is not a man, that he should change his mind.” The question is not whether we believe the Bible on whether God has a body, but whether we correctly understand what the Bible is saying. Here, we must go beyond the literal sense, if we want to make sense of all that the Bible says about God.

 

One might ask, “If God is not a man, then why does the Bible keep using that kind of language, if it doesn’t mean what it says?” The reason is because God chooses to speak to us in symbolic language to describe realities for which we have no other words. Even science speaks of waves and particles, because it can’t find more accurate words to use. Or think about your computer. Why do we speak of windows, or a menu, or a mouse, or viruses, or cookies? Are these literal? Or course not, but what other words do you suggest we use? If we say that the Bible’s language is misleading when it uses human body terms to describe God, it has not misled Judaism, historic Christianity, or Islam, all 3 of whom reject the idea that the God of the Bible is a literal human made of flesh and blood.

 

One might ask, “If God is not an actual glorified human being, then what exactly does the Bible mean when it says that we humans are made in the image of God?” The image of God is what makes humans unique in the material world; angels are the only other creatures who share the image of God, and they do not have material bodies like we do.

 

Humans alone reflect the image of God in the fact that we are personal beings with a spiritual dimension. We can communicate. We can intelligently connect with God. We have a moral compass planted deep in our hearts, a sense that is inexplicable apart from God. We are capable of the highest kind of love. Animals may have instincts here and there that resemble some of these traits, but God has packaged all of these together in us. God is glorified by the way he created bodies of dust like ours, and put into us minds that can grasp eternity, and hearts that can rejoice in God’s love. That’s the image of God, not our bodies of flesh.

 

God is not an impersonal God, like the Hindu concept of Brahman (ultimate reality), or like the God of pantheism, where God is everything. God is not like energy, or the sky, or a mountain. We can’t pray to an impersonal God. God is personal. We can talk to God, in ways beyond any other material creature. We and the angels alone are on God’s wavelength.

 

God has a heart – not a literal heart of flesh, but God has a capacity to care for us that is bigger than our entire world of pain. Pain, grief, and death are evils that (figuratively) break the heart of God. We see that when the Son of God weeps at the grave of Lazarus. God feels our pain, but God is not wounded or damaged by our pain.

 

God is the quintessential Father. God is like and unlike human fathers. The actions of some human fathers unfortunately give God a bad name. God is the kind of father who loves us, desires the best for us, and who knows and provides for our needs beyond what any human father can do. Indeed, human fathers are imperfect and are finite, while our Heavenly Father has no limits except that he cannot sin. God is also our Father in that God is our true authority and guide in the way we should go. But God is not our physical father, God is only our Creator. We get our flesh and our spirits only from our earthly parents. God has only one begotten Son. The rest of us can only be God’s children by adoption. (That’s another broadcast.)

 

Both men and women are made in God’s image, and neither one of us reflects God’s image more than the other. Because God does not have a human body, God is neither a literal male nor a literal female, but both men and women reflect God’s image in different ways.

 

God also created us to reflect his holiness. That’s one part of the image of God that has been severely damaged since the fall of our original ancestors. Today, we reflect God’s image like a broken, distorted mirror. But God has a plan to restore that image in us, gradually (during our lifetimes), and then completely when we are raised again to new life.

 

We make God too small if we make God into a glorified human being, particularly if we agree that even a glorified human must have either ancestors or a Creator. For every previous divine power who exists out there or any power who may arise in the future, God’s dominion gets sliced smaller and smaller. If God has ancestors or a Creator to whom that God owes existence, I would say the God who brought all those other powers into existence is the one who is truly worthy of worship.

 

Take a look once again at the God Athenagoras proclaims to the pagans of his day back in the 2nd century AD, as he explains to them what Christians believe (we talked about this last week). He describes the God we worship as “uncreated, eternal, invisible, cannot suffer, incomprehensible, and limitless, who can be comprehended by mind and reason alone, who is encompassed by light, beauty, spirit, and indescribable power, and who created, adorned, and now rules the universe through the Word that issues from him.” That is the God of the Bible.

 

Some might say it is idolatry to believe that God has a body of flesh. I prefer to see it as a mistaken misunderstanding. No one goes to hell simply because of such a mistaken belief. It is idolatry to say that there are three Gods, or to believe that God has divine ancestors, and/or to believe that each of us can become gods. Again, we do not end up eternally lost for the sin of idolatry, but only for rejecting Christ’s offer to take away all of our sin. But who wants unrepentant idolatry on their record?

 

The Bible reveals a God who is eternal, unlimited in power, presence, and knowledge, and invisible. Flesh and bone cannot be a fundamental part of who God is. But the Bible also proclaims that God came down out of heaven and became one of us in the person of Jesus Christ. If God came down to earth to become one of us, as I believe that he did in the coming of Christ, we would want to know exactly what that person said and did.

 

But how do we know exactly what he said and did? There are all sorts of claims out there about Jesus. A lot of people think they are free to make it up for themselves, to make Jesus into whoever we want him to be. But if we want to be honest, then we want to know the facts, not wishful opinion. So what and how much can we know about the historical Jesus? We’ll talk about that next time on Biblical Words and World.