Harrowing Of Hell
July 21, 2019

The Invisible God

The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.

To listen to the sermon click here.

I want to talk about invisible things today. Now you might be wondering why you should invest any intellectual space this morning in invisible things, giving up this valuable sermon time when you might otherwise compose your grocery lists.

Here is why: There are things that are visible and there are things that are invisible; and both visible things and invisible things have an impact on us. And if you don’t know you are being impacted by invisible things, then life can feel weird when it doesn’t have to,

Most often we know how visible things impact us. We know how day and night affect our behavior. We know what we do when it rains, depending on how hard it rains. Those are visible things and we act in full knowledge of them accordingly; and so do other people because they generally experience visible things the way we do.

There are also visible things that we can’t see; like wind and molecules and germs. We used to think those were invisible things, but we know better now. They are just small things that we understand through science: like when a virus enters our body, we can’t see it, but we know it is there when we sneeze.

So, because of the knowledge of how visible things impact us, we act accordingly. For example: I know a bus will run me down if I step in front of it when it is moving, so I don’t.

Invisible things work exactly the same way, it is just that we don’t see them; and because we don’t see them we too often don’t accept their existence; and if we don’t accept their existence then we fail to respond appropriately to their impact upon us…which can have the effect of feeling like being hit by a bus that we don’t accept as having hit us. And so, we’re walking around feeling like we have been hit by a bus and have no explanation as to why. And I want you to know why you’re feeling that way, because I love you, so, let’s talk about invisible things.

Paul kickstarts this conversation in his letter to the Colossians by reminding us that God is invisible. It is a big idea to get your mind around. Wouldn’t it be so much easier if that wasn’t so? I mean, it would put an instant end to God conversations with atheists at cocktail parties. Don’t you wish that God would just pull aside the clouds and look down and yell: “Hey, Judy, here I am! It’s me, God. I’m not invisible any more.  Isn’t this great?”

I’m not the first one to imagine this scene.  Which is why the author of Proverb’s open his writing with these words: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov 1:7a). Which is why in the book of Exodus God is quoted as saying to Moses: “No you can’t see my face, it is enough for you to just see my back after I have walked past you” (Exo 33:23 para). And then continued this conversation with: “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” (Exo 33:20)      

That sounds scary and maybe even like a threat, but it is not. God knows that God is God and that if we, humanity, were to see God it would freak us out. It would just shake us to our core; and in that total mental decomposition the very reason for our existence would be snatched from us…that is – to love God and know God’s love for us. That is why we exist. That is why humans walk this earth…any other reason is shallow and limited. We are here because, and for, the love of God.

And so, to be able to love God we must have freedom to choose God; because, as I always say, there can be no love if there is no freedom. And so, if we were to see God, visible, in the fullness of God’s being, if, indeed, we weren’t scared literally to death, our choice would simply vanish instantly, as we fell on our faces, despite ourselves, and worshiped the superior being: God, visible, right there in front of us. 

Do you get that? God is doing us a favor by remaining invisible. To see God in God’s fullness would instantly rob us of our freedom, and love would vanish. It is because God loves us that God remains invisible.That means two interesting things:

  • The biggest and most powerful thing to exist (God) is invisible;
  • and we have the power, the freedom, to pretend God does not exist at all.

And so, we are free to occupy our life with only things that can be seen, and ignore all of the things that cannot be seen, including the most magnificent thing of all – God; and we can do so because we are loved by that same invisible God.

So, let’s get our minds around this theology for a second…God realizes God’s awesomeness would so confound our senses that we would instantly fall on our faces and worship God despite ourselves. And so, because God loves us and knows that love requires free choice, God remains hidden. Which means when children ask: “Why God is invisible?”  You can say: “Because God loves you!”

I don’t know what other things there are in this vast, mysterious creation that are invisible, but I do believe that there are things in this vast, mysterious creation that are invisible. And some may be maleficent, and some may be kind.  Some may be mean and dangerous, and some may be generous and hospitable. I do not know.

What I do know is that if they are out there, they can have an impact on us just like things that are visible have an impact on us.  And that impact may be favorable, or it may be unfavorable.  It may stir within us a feeling of ease or it may stir within us a feeling of angst. 

But whatever these invisible powers may be, I know too, that they are lesser than God. And I know that this great and awesome God loves us. So, the Good News is we only need to know or care about one invisible thing, the greatest thing, that is GOD! And God will overcome all lesser things that may impact our lives. 

And all of that is what Paul is talking about in the letter to the Colossians we hear today. You see, the people of Colossae have been distracted by a Jewish sect of mystics called the Merkabah. At the core of the Merkabah teaching is that invisible angels are responsible for carrying people on chariots into the presence of God. And so, through secret knowledge, and the worship of invisible angels, one gains access to God. The Merkabah were encouraging the Christians in Colossae to worship angels and seek to commune with angels as the primary way of knowing the invisible God.

Paul responds in this letter to the Colossians by saying, first, yes God is invisible. And then he turns to Jesus. He does this understanding the impossibility of knowing the invisible God through another invisible source, like an angel. Paul is not saying there are no angels, he is just saying you can’t know God through angels or any other secret or invisible source. Paul argues the singular clearest way to understand and encounter the invisible God is through the visible person of Jesus.

The Gospel of John backs up this logic saying: “The one whom God sent, speaks the words of God, and shares the Spirit of God without measure” (John 3:34). And again: “No one has seen God, it is God the Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, that has made God known” (John 1:18). To know the invisible God, look to the visible person of Jesus. That is Paul’s message to the people of Colossae. 

And so, I say to you, there is much that is invisible to us in this vast, mysterious creation. Some may be positive, and some may be negative, but of all that is invisible there really is only one invisible force worth knowing about…that is GOD. 

The force of God is a force of pure love, directed at me and at you, made and meant to overcome all lesser things: visible and invisible. And Jesus is the visible articulation of this invisible love.

And so, I encourage you to read and study the Gospels…Go to Peter Strimer’s Bible class for the next five Sundays. or maybe even come to my Friday morning Bible study. 

There are things visible and there are things invisible. They impact us. But here is the Good News, we have been given a response: Love, given by an all-powerful God that loves us, made known clearly through the person of Jesus Christ. “He is the image of the invisible God.”