The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
(Colossians 1:15, NIV)
In a hyper-visual age, Christians might be tempted to find God’s invisibility embarrassing.
We are so used to seeing images and clips of everything that we can doubt an event’s reality or relevance without images. A news story is less likely to be selected for a news website or TV news if there are no pictures to go with it. If I can’t show you my selfies of my trip to Scotland, it’s as if I haven’t been. To qualify as real or important, a story needs a picture. So the very existence of a God who cannot be seen seems hard to justify.
1) The very first verse of the Bible tells us that In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. This implies that the creation is distinct from the Creator. We inhabit creation and can experience and view creation; but God is outside that. Why in principle should we be able to see Him?
2) When God does reveal something of Himself (by no means all!) visibly to Isaiah (chapter 6), the experience is terrifying. The prophet is conscious of a moral gulf between himself and God; he deserves to die. Fallen humanity is not fit to see God.
3) God has provided an image of Himself – us! “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…” He says (Genesis 1:26). This does not mean we resemble God perfectly (for we are both finite and sinful) but we do have something to go on in terms of what He is like.
4) But most significantly, He has sent Jesus into the world who is, as Paul’s words above say, the image of the invisible God. Jesus really does image God to us.
Of course, no contemporary pictures of Jesus – if there ever were any – survive (nor do images for many of His contemporaries, such as Pontius Pilate). But the gospels do give us a picture in words: not of His physical appearance, but of Him as a person, in so many ways. And what a picture they give!
Moreover, the risen Christ gives to everyone who trusts in Him a real, felt, inward experience of God by His Spirit. You can’t picture that, but it is real nonetheless, and shared by countless millions all over the world.
Every Christmas we remember that God has made Himself known in this extraordinary way. Happy Christmas!