How can you see something that is invisible? How can you see SOMEONE who is invisible? The Bible speaks both of something and someone who is invisible and yet can be seen; and both of these invisible entities pertain to God. The book of Romans says that “His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made...” (Romans 1:20 NASB) Likewise, Colossians, speaking of Jesus, tell us, “He is the image of the invisible God.” (Colossians 1:15) One passage speaks of “invisible attributes” that are “clearly seen” while the other passage speaks of the “image” of one who is invisible. How can these things be?
The first issue deals with an apologetic argument for the existence of God. Some would say that since we cannot see God, then HE cannot truly exist. Of course on a purely philosophical and even scientific level, this argument holds no water. Lots of things exist that we cannot see, as even the most skeptical scientists will readily attest to. The Apostle Paul, in the book of Romans, argues that though God is invisible His attributes are clearly seen. Where might we go to see these attributes, you ask? The verse tells us that we see His attributes “through what has been made.” We see the creation around us and it screams to us of a Creator. We see rain fall from the sky and food grow out of the ground and it screams of a Creator. We perceive through scientific study of our planet spinning on an axis at a constant rate for as long as we can trace it. And it screams of a Creator. The earth does not slow down, nor speed up. How can this remarkable consistency remain lest there be a God behind it all? We orbit the sun at a constant rate bringing the four seasons of the year; and this again happens every year. How do we explain this? Evolutionary atheism fails us at such points for evolution does not teach the uniformity and constancy of our world, but rather the massive flux and change of all things, even to the point of animals changing species. Evolution would have you believe there is no God and that chemical and creative processes simply sparked from no viable source. And while the Christian may be mocked as a religious fool by the atheist, the Bible is quite prescient when it remarks, “The fool has said in his heart, 'there is no God.'” (Psalm 14:1) Fool being defined as one who refuses to see what is plainly in front of him. Fool as being further defined as one who rejects the invisible attributes that are “clearly seen.”
To truly “see” and know the Lord in a saving way requires a work of God. Jesus said, “You must be born again.” (John 3:3) So God must take spiritually dead sinners and grant them spiritual life (regeneration) for them to embrace Christ and the gospel. But regeneration is not required to know that God exists and that He is a God who works wonders. This is clearly seen in the creation through both His “eternal power” and “divine nature.” A scientist, no less brilliant than Albert Einstein himself, once remarked the following: “There are moments when one feels free from one’s own identification with human limitations and inadequacies. At such moments, one imagines that one stands on some spot of a small planet, gazing in amazement at the cold yet profoundly moving beauty of the eternal, the unfathomable: life and death flow into one, and there is neither evolution nor destiny; only being.”
Einstein's conclusion was wrong, but his instincts were right. His personal belief could best be described as “agnostic” but even at that he could grasp the idea of the eternal. And in this way, the great physicist is described eerily in Romans 1, for Einstein could “clearly see” God's “eternal power” though he refused to recognize it as such. Instead he did what all mean do by nature, he “suppressed the truth in unrighteousness.” (Romans 1:22) God's attributes then are “clearly seen.” So too, is God's Son.
Jesus is described as the “image of the invisible God.” This profound phrase would have sparked much consternation among many of the Jews to whom Paul wrote; for “images” of God were strictly forbidden under Mosaic Law. Amazingly, no painter nor sculptor could supply an image adequate anyway. For God alone would provide His own image in a living, breathing, flesh and blood person. Do you want to know what God looks like? He looks exactly like Jesus because Jesus is “exactly” God. There is one God who exists in three constant, eternal forms: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This doctrine of the Trinity is mesmerizing, yet clearly taught in Scripture. Also clearly taught is the “oneness” of God as Jesus declared, “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30)
Jesus showed His divine nature, time and time again during His earthly ministry. He commanded the wind and the waves and they obeyed Him (Luke 8:22). He commanded demons and they obeyed him (Matthew 8:32). He commanded physical sickness (Luke 5:24) and blindness (Mark 8:22-25) and it obeyed him. He even commanded the dead to come alive and they obeyed him (John 11:43)! These physical manifestations of Jesus's divinity are amazing examples that we would classify as miracles. Phenomenon which occurred outside the boundaries of the laws of nature. But Jesus didn't limit His authority to the physical world alone. Indeed He reigned over the spiritual realm as well. Jesus forgave sins. What man has the authority to truly do that?
In the gospel of Luke we are told of a paralyzed man whose friends were so desperate to get him to Jesus that they tore up the roof in a home where Jesus was at and lowered his stretcher down to him. The text records, “Seeing their faith, He said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” The scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, “Who is this man who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?” But Jesus, aware of their reasonings, answered and said to them, “Why are you reasoning in your hearts? “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins have been forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? “But, so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,”—He said to the paralytic—“I say to you, get up, and pick up your stretcher and go home.” Immediately he got up before them, and picked up what he had been lying on, and went home glorifying God. They were all struck with astonishment and began glorifying God; and they were filled with fear, saying, “We have seen remarkable things today.” (Luke 5:20-26 NASB)
First of all, Jesus could “see their faith.” What does that mean? It doesn't mean that He could simply see their desperation and their belief that Jesus had the ability to heal. You and I might be able to see the “effect” of faith, but Jesus could see their “faith.” Jesus could see something that was non-physical and invisible. What does faith look like? Where do you buy it? What does a box of faith look like? Faith itself is not tangible. The effects of faith can be seen, but faith is invisible. Yet Jesus could see it.
Also, we know that the “faith” Jesus saw was much more than simply their belief that Jesus had the power to physically heal. We know this because of what Jesus went on to say next as He declared, “Your sins are forgiven.” Sins are not forgiven on the basis of a belief that Jesus is a really good medical doctor! Forgiveness of sins is not based on a positive attitude that Jesus could grant a miracle. Sins are forgiven on the basis of saving faith that recognizes Jesus for who He truly is as the sinless Son of God. The paralytic and his friends had such faith and Jesus “saw” it, granting forgiveness.
The Pharisees who were present grumbled that no on can forgive sins but God alone. In this they were correct, yet they were standing in the very presence of God and rather than worshiping Him they hated Him. And yet again we see Jesus's divine knowledge on display when we are told He knew “the reasonings” in their hearts. While you and I might think we know what someone is thinking; Jesus knows beyond all doubt. He confronted them over their grumbling and then proceeded to do the amazing yet again. Jesus not only forgives the man's sins, but He also grants the physical healing. Clearly this was no mere carpenter from Nazareth as evidenced by His authority and His power. And hearkening back to Romans 1, we might say His “eternal power and divine nature” were clearly seen through what He did. Likewise, we might say and see clearly that Jesus was “the image of the invisible God.”
God has revealed enough of His attributes that all people are “without excuse” in their rejection of Him. (see Romans 1:20) While unseen with the physical eye, God's presence is painfully obvious to all. By nature we can see God is there, but also by nature we “suppress” this truth and reject Him. No person is a natural born atheist, but all people are natural born sinners. Being “dead in our trespasses and sins” we ignore the obvious traits of God before our eyes and instead seek to be “gods” in our own right. We refuse to submit to God, who “is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:27) And we refuse to believe in His son, Jesus Christ. The image of the invisible God came and lived and died and rose again. And in our sin we reject Him, to our peril. But God is still there and He still sent His Son. And if you saw the Son, you saw the Father. (John 14:9)
So if you had lived in New Testament days and you saw Jesus in all His glory; performing miracles, giving sight to the blind, and life to the dead, then realize this: You would have seen the image of the invisible God!
Likewise, if you had lived in those days and saw a dirty, sweaty carpenter from Nazareth who ate and drank with “sinners” and tax collectors, and stooped down to wash the filthy feet of His ungrateful disciples: You would have seen the image of the invisible God!
Even today, if you read these words about God becoming man and dwelling on earth; and living a perfect life and dying a sacrificial death to pay the eternal sin price for all who trust in Him. If you believe He is who He says He is, and want to follow Him with your life and are willing to suffer for the sake of His name. And you do this knowing you will suffer and maybe even die for the faith. And IF you still say, “I want to know and follow this Jesus of whom you speak.” Then realize that you have just seen God. The eyes of your heart have been opened to see what your physical eyes and your rock hard heart would never see on its own. You have just seen the image of the invisible God. Which is amazing when you consider that it's impossible to see the invisible. Impossible, that is unless God allows it. Because what is impossible to man is possible for God. For with God “all things are possible.” (Mark 10:27)
(Note: To hear an audio message I preached on this topic, click here).
 Jeremy Bernstein, Einstein (New York: Viking Press, 1973), 11.