Christians Need to See God
Theology in the Bible is always pastoral. It is spoken into the real circumstances of life. Scripture contains laws for a real nation, prophecies for real exiles and epistles for real churches. Therefore, you cannot be satisfied with just knowing what the truth is. You must know how that truth impacts church life.
I suspect that part of the reason the Beatific Vision has fallen on tough times is because it is seen as impractical. Yet in this article I want to argue that a knowledge of the Beatific Vision is pastorally necessary.
To do this, I will present seven different people in a church who need this doctrine. This list is not exhaustive. Nevertheless, I hope it demonstrates that the Beatific Vision is not ivory tower speculation, but a grounded doctrine that makes a real difference to Christians.
First and foremost, Pastor, you must pastor yourself with this truth. Whether personal friends or “celebrities,” you no doubt know of men who failed in ministry. Many things can cause this, but surely among them is an eye on the wrong things.
What greater motive is there to pursue holiness than this: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8). Any pastor who gives in to temptation has forgotten seeing God is for the pure of heart. As Paul says of ungodly teachers, “Their mind is set on earthly things.” (Philippians 3:19).Too much ministry in this present day has descended into pragmatism. The church needs pastors who are heavenly minded. Click To Tweet
If the end of the road is to behold God, why would you turn to adultery or success or power to satisfy? Too much ministry in this present day has descended into pragmatism. The church needs pastors who are heavenly minded.
Do not think that taking time to stir your heart with thoughts of the beatific vision is a waste of time. Your church needs a God-entranced pastor. That doesn’t mean you only think about eschatology, but also that you take time to enjoy the lesser sight of God you have by faith now. What Paul prays for the Ephesian church, pray for yourself:
And I pray that you being rooted and established in love may have power together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God (Eph. 3:17b-19).
Those who regularly evangelise will know non-Christians love to ask about eternal life. This isn’t a surprise. After all, the good news is primarily fulfilled in the future.
I was once in an evangelistic course with a non-Christian man. Having struggled with suicidal thoughts, he asked “Why is living forever a good thing?” This is an understandable question. Life is so often hard. Why would an eternal life not be as tedious as this?
One could talk about the new body, the new creation and restoration of loved ones. Yet these are secondary joys. The greatest joy of our future is God himself. As Piper memorably put it: “God is the Gospel.” The good news of heaven is him.
An unbeliever who reads the gospels and falls in love with Christ, dips her toe into the future joy. Pastor, what you should offer to the outsider is God himself. Those sheep of his pasture will hear that voice.
Imitate the method of John. He describes the new heavens and the new earth, including the promise “They will see his face” (Rev. 22:4). Then he ends his book with a stirring call to the outsider to come in:
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life (Rev. 22:17)
Describe the beatific vision and then call people to come and quench their thirst on God’s majesty.
The Church Member
Yet this is not just a truth for the novice in the Christian faith. It is something needed throughout the Christian life. John says this to established Christians:
Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. (1 John 3:2-3)
The Christian hope is the Beatific Vision: “we shall see him as he is”. But this hope has a consequence: “All who have this hope will purify themselves, just as he is pure.”If you are meeting the king of heaven, you will take seriously the call to make yourself pure. Click To Tweet
I have a friend who went to an upper class British school. Once, while he was head boy, they had a visit from Queen Elizabeth II. The senior students were tutored in protocol: what they should say, what they should wear, how the school should look. The hope of meeting the Queen led to a change of behaviour.
So it is for the Christian. If you are meeting the king of heaven, you will take seriously the call to make yourself pure. As the author to the Hebrews says, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). Knowing holiness is part of seeing God, every Christian will make that effort. Each church member needs to have this vision of glory to motivate them for the hard graft of sanctification.
Most parents and children’s leaders will be familiar with children’s incessant questions about heaven. “Will there be pets in heaven?” or “Is there ice cream in heaven?” or “What about the jewelled city?” None of this is bad, but children should be grounded in the centrality of God in the new heavens and earth.
One of our family’s favourite books is The Garden, The Curtain and The Cross by Carl Laferton. It grounds the biblical story in the presence of God. The joy of the garden is “People could see God, and speak to God, and just enjoy being with God.” The primary curse of the Fall is described this way “It is wonderful to live with him… but because of your sin you can’t come in.” After describing the salvation of Jesus the book ends by circling right back to the start. “We will see God and speak to God and just enjoy being with God – just as he planned.” This simple gospel overview, grounds the good news in being with God. Children can understand this. They can grasp the joy of seeing and enjoying God.
You may not use the phrase “Beatific Vision.” But you must ground the future hope in God. One of my children as a pre-schooler talked about heaven “And when I die, I’ll see Jesus and give him a great big cuddle.” Pedants may want to question whether the return of Christ includes a beatific embrace. But surely the idea of the great joy of heaven being God himself is something we must impress on our children.