“No man hath seen God at any time.” (John 1:18) Though no one has seen God, many people have a mental image of God. They may imagine God to be like an man with white hair and a long white beard. They may have in their minds a picture from a children’s Bibles or from their own imagination. Whatever their picture of God is, probably most people recognize their mental image of God is not what He actually looks like. What does God look like? Does the Bible tells us?
God is a spirit. (John 4:24) The words of Jesus teach that God is entirely spirit. A spirit does not have flesh and bones (Luke 24:39) so God’s appearance is not defined by the physical norms with which we are familiar. As a spirit God may have a discernible appearance, but God is likely not a bilaterally symmetrical upright anthropoid (He probably doesn’t look like a human being). Genesis 1:26 says God created man in His own image. This image almost certainly does not refer to the human form. Instead, the image of God probably refers to the intellect, spirit and ability given to man.
Though God is a spirit without physical form He has appeared to men in human form. When God told Abraham of His plan to destroy Sodom and Gomorrha He came to Abraham in the likeness of a man (Genesis 18:1). When God appeared to Joshua He appeared as a human warrior ready for battle (Joshua 5:13). God also appeared to men in other forms. He descended on Mt. Sinai in smoke and cloud accompanied by fire and lightning (Exodus 19:16). He descended on the temple in the form of a glorious cloud (2 Chronicles 5:14). Yet, later God appeared to Elijah but He was specifically not in the earthquake, the whirlwind or the fire (1 Kings 19:11-12). None of the forms in which God appeared to men are the natural appearance of God. They are coverings which mask His glory so that men may see His presence.
Few places in the Bible describe the actual appearance of God. In Revelation 1 the resurrected, glorified Jesus speaks to the disciple John. Jesus is described as having hair as white as wool, eyes like flames of fire, feet glowing like molten metal, a voice like a roaring flood and a face like the noonday sun. (Revelation 1:14-16) Most of the descriptions of God the Father focus on the majesty of His throne room and the magnificence of the angels which attend Him. Ezekiel 1 is a most vivid description of the throne of God. Though Ezekiel said much about the glorious things in God’s presence all that was said about God Himself is that His appearance was of a “fire, and it had a brightness round about it.” (Ezekiel 1:27) All Ezekiel could see was the “likeness of the glory of God” (Ezekiel 1:28). Ezekiel could not see God Himself. No one can see God. God told Moses that no one can His face and live. (Exodus 33:20) The holiness and glory of God are so great that no person can survive the full majesty of His presence.
The Bible uses various allegorical descriptions of God. All of these descriptions are metaphors, not intended to give a physical description of God. For example, He is described as a Shepherd (Psalm 23), though we know God does not actually carry a crooked staff and spend most of his time in a pasture. The Old Testament frequently speaks of God having arms and hands. These are descriptions of His power, not His limbs. Much is said about the mouth of God, but this refers to God as the source of revelation to men not the features of His face. God has healing in His wings (Malachi 4:2) and His people can trust under His wings (Ruth 2:12). God is not actually winged like a chicken, an eagle, a jet fighter or an angel. These various images are descriptions of God which present Him in a form humans can understand. They are intended to be understood as word pictures, not literal depictions. A great bridge may be described as a beautiful woman with her hands reaching out to grasp the shores and her mighty arms holding up many travelers. No one imagines the bridge is shaped like a human woman, but all understand the description as a metaphor which describes the beauty and strength of the bridge. The metaphors of God are not literal descriptions of His appearance but images to tell us a little about His glory, character and nature.
The question of God’s appearance is a fascinating one. Maybe one day in heaven the redeemed will be able to fully enjoy an unhindered sight of God in His glory. What is most important is that men know God’s character. God has not told us what He looks like. He has told us who He is. He revealed to us His love, mercy, holiness, grace, perfection, power, presence and limitlessness that men may know Him, worship Him and trust Him.