Sunday, December 23, 2012

Seeing God-- now or later?

The pure in heart are blessed because they will see God.

Future promise is emphasized in The New Interpreter’s Bible commentary on Matthew 5:8, while a possible present realization is rejected.  This reading differs from the one found in United Methodist doctrinal standards.

According to the NIB, “‘Seeing God’ refers not to mystical vision in this world, but to the eschatological hope (1 Cor 13:12; Rev 22:4).”  Contrast this with Wesley’s comments in his Notes (“They shall see God - In all things here; hereafter in glory”) and in doctrinal Sermon 23--

But the great lesson which our blessed Lord inculcates here, and which he illustrates by this example, is, that God is in all things, and that we are to see the Creator in the glass of every creature; that we should use and look upon nothing as separate from God, which indeed is a kind of practical atheism; but, with a true magnificence of thought, survey heaven and earth, and all that is therein, as contained by God in the hollow of his hand, who by his intimate presence holds them all in being, who pervades and actuates the whole created frame, and is, in a true sense, the soul of universe.

These doctrinal statements point to an ability to see God now in the material world and later in the eternal world.  This present ability is not a mystical vision; it is the vision of natural philosophy, the science of Wesley’s day.

I’m going to side with Wesley on this one.  Not the natural philosophy reading of Matthew 5:8, but rather an interpretation that is consistent with the already-but-not-yet nature of the reign of God proclaimed in Matthew, one which I hear in the Beatitudes, as well.  The pure in heart are in a fortunate, privileged position because they will see God.  They will see God face-to-face in the realm of glory, and they will discern God's Spirit at work in the world now.

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