How many people do you know whom you’ve never seen? In my line of work, booking artists to perform in Armstrong Auditorium, there are plenty of agents I talk with on the phone whom I never meet face to face. At some point, if we finally meet in person, they look nothing like I had imagined.
Even if they had described themselves to me beforehand, the image I created in my mind still wouldn’t have been a true representation of them. Even if I’d had their picture, that would be closer, but that’s not actually them. We can video-chat people, but if you’ve ever met someone in person whom you’ve only known on a screen, even that can drastically change your past perceptions.
When it comes to how most view God, they’ve heard about Him, but have never seen Him. On top of that, the whole world is deceived (Revelation 12:9). They may think they’ve seen a picture of God or Jesus Christ, but that’s definitely not Him.
What about you? How real is God to you? It’s challenging to forge a relationship with someone you cannot perceive with your five physical senses. But as sanctified children who have access to God (1 Corinthians 7:14), God wants you to know Him in a real way.
Educator Herbert W. Armstrong discussed this subject in his article “Why God Is Not Real to Most People,” published in the January 1985 Good News. He explained how our knowledge comes through the five senses, which means that of all the “dimensions of knowledge—the around, the within and the above”—we can humanly only perceive the around and the within. “But understandable knowledge of God comes from the third dimension—the above. And the above is spiritual. God is a spirit. Spiritual things cannot be seen, nor heard, nor felt, nor tasted, nor smelled.”
He told his readers: “And it is natural that whatever knowledge about God entered your mind—through the ear or the eye—was vague, misty, unreal. You couldn’t see God. … You couldn’t hear God. … You probably formed some imaginary picture in your mind of what you supposed He must be like—based on what might have been told you or what you may have read. But you didn’t see or hear Him—you read or heard only something about Him! And the picture was unclear, clouded, out of focus, ethereal. Is it any wonder He did not seem real—that He seemed so far off?”
Consider what Job said after he really got to know God through an overwhelming ordeal: “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee” (Job 42:5).
Hearing about a person is not really knowing him. What’s more, when it comes to God, what most people hear is distorted and wrong anyway!
On the last night of His physical life, Jesus Christ (God in the flesh) prayed to His Father: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).
Consider five ways we would get to know anyone that would make any relationship stronger—and apply them to God.
Reality 1: We must know God’s names.
In a physical relationship, knowing someone’s name doesn’t mean you necessarily know a lot about them, but it’s almost always where you start.
God has so many more names than we’re given at birth. And in His case, all His names describe who and what He is.
Exodus 34:5 says “[T]he Lord descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord.”
Verses 6-7 show what was proclaimed: “… The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.”
That’s a lot of names! This is only a few of them too. Our article “How to Praise God’s Name” (pcg.church/articles/3098) gives a more extensive list and description of each of God’s names.
Thayer’s Lexicon describes how, in the Hebrew tradition of name-giving, one’s name could imply “one’s rank, authority, interests, pleasure, commands, excellences, deeds, etc.” God is the originator of this tradition, because His name “reveals His high rank, authority, interests, deeds and—most important of all—His righteous character. In fact, the Bible shows that God has many names. Why? No one name can adequately express God’s fullness. Each name carries important meaning. We must hold great honor and respect for all of God’s names” (The Ten Commandments).
Christ admonished us: “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name” (Matthew 6:9). Every day when we pray, we must put high value on God’s names. We can’t simply gloss over this section and skip to the part we want to get to, or the God we’re praying to will not be real to us.
Reality 2: We must know God’s abilities and accomplishments.
Back to the example of Job: When he came to such deep repentance (Job 42:6), he saw God clearly in his mind. And what made God real to Job? It is found in Job 38-41—hearing, from God, about God’s greatness, which Job summarizes in one verse: “I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee” (Job 42:2).
This reality is so basic, and yet so easy to forget, because we tend to create God in a human likeness.
God reveals a lot about Himself in the Bible. Also, the evidence of God’s accomplishments are all around us if our minds are open to them.
That’s what Romans 1 is about: “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them” (verse 19). Verse 20, in the Moffatt translation, reads: “[H]is invisible nature, his everlasting power and divine being, have been quite perceptible in what he has made.”
Mr. Armstrong commented on this: “That is, the material things He has created and made reflect plainly the nature, power and divine being of the invisible Maker” (op cit).
We can know God and still not glorify Him for what He is. As verses 21-23 show, this can lead to us diminishing God’s glory. The rest of the passage says that those who follow this path end up worshiping the created rather than the Creator. We must always see God in His creation.
This is partly why God gives us the Sabbath day—a weekly prompt to meditate on God’s creation: “It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed” (Exodus 31:17).
A sign identifies something. God’s people are identified by this sign. But God is also identified to God’s people.
Verse 13: “Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you.”
The Sabbath helps us to know God. It should make Him more real, partly because we’re dwelling on His abilities and accomplishments each week. The annual Sabbaths do this too—they put our mind on what God is doing, in terms of His plan of salvation for mankind. Also, because His presence is in the Sabbath, He is visiting us!
Reality 3: We must know God’s appearance.
To help illustrate his point about why God isn’t real, Mr. Armstrong used an example of an administrator at Ambassador College named Raymond McNair. “You may have read one or two of his articles …. But let us suppose you have never seen his picture—you have never seen him in person, you have never talked with him. Suppose someone has told you a few things about him, twisting the facts and giving you untrue information. You may know a few things about him—and some of those distorted—but you surely could not say that you know him. If you have not even seen his picture you don’t know what he looks like. … But if you were suddenly thrown in his company almost constantly, seeing him virtually every day, talking with him, seeing him in his office and in his home, you’d get to know him! I know him well. I have known him ever since he came to the front door of my home in Pasadena nearly 37 years ago. Three days later he entered Ambassador College as a student. In four years he graduated. He continued his studies, doing graduate work, earning his master’s degree. I see him fairly often. I spend a good deal of time talking with Mr. McNair about college problems, about student and manpower problems, about personal interests. I have gotten to know him! But if you have not even seen his picture, you don’t know him! You haven’t seen God’s picture either. But He gives you a certain description of what He looks like, in the Bible. Yet not as to His exact features” (ibid).
The most detailed description is how John recorded his vision of the glorified Jesus Christ: “… clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength” (Revelation 1:13-16).
A few biblical figures interacted with a physical manifestation of God. Enoch and Noah, Scripture says, walked with God (Genesis 5:22, 24; 6:9). Abraham interacted with Melchizedek (who became Jesus) and was a “friend of God” (James 2:23). Joshua saw the Captain of his army (Joshua 5:13-15). Many in the early Church, John says, “handled” the resurrected Jesus Christ (1 John 1:1). Christ told Philip, in fact, that they’d seen the Father through Jesus Christ (John 14:9).
One remarkable example is the relationship between God and Moses.
Exodus 33:9 says “[T]he cloudy pillar descended, and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Moses.” Verse 10 says, “[A]ll the people saw the cloudy pillar stand at the tabernacle door ….” Verse 11 begins: “And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.”
Elsewhere, God explained that He didn’t speak to Moses as He spoke to most prophets—that is, in visions or dreams. “I speak mouth to mouth … and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold” (Numbers 12:8). By contrast, Israel only heard God’s voice, but saw no “similitude” (Deuteronomy 4:12).
For all those cases where God’s servants had some interaction with a “similitude” of God, they never saw Him with their own eyes in His glorified form as Revelation 1 describes. This actually created a yearning in Moses. He wanted to see his Friend as He really was!
Imagine if you had a friend like that: You got to know him really well, but he was always somewhat disguised. You’d yearn to see what he really looked like.
“And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory. And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy. And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live. And the Lord said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen” (Exodus 33:18-23).
God agreed to show a sliver of His back for a moment (God’s full brightness would have killed Moses instantly). God then also proclaimed His name (what we read in Exodus 34).
Like Moses, we must do everything we can to make the glorified God as real as possible in our minds!
Our Ten Commandments booklet states: “If God seems unreal to us, there is something seriously wrong with our religion!”
Reality 4: We must know God’s fatherly nature.
In Mystery of the Ages, Mr. Armstrong wrote: “Many people say, ‘God just doesn’t seem real to me.’ God is a great mystery to them. Their own human fathers don’t seem like a mystery. They seem real.”
The Bible reveals this aspect of God’s nature that should help make Him real.
God can do anything and knows all our thoughts. Thankfully, the Bible reveals that He is also kind!
It reveals Him as a Father. Yet plenty of human fathers are unloving. Not God the Father!
“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not” (1 John 3:1).
God is a loving Father. That also means God corrects us (Hebrews 12:7).
What kind of Father do you think God is? If you don’t really have a good father, it’s harder to answer that question. But that’s no excuse for a poor relationship with God as scriptural examples attest.
In Who Is ‘That Prophet’?, Mr. Flurry opens up about his own father at the beginning of Chapter 2. God’s apostle in this end time was not doomed to a poor relationship with God because of that. He found other ways to see God as his Father, which he writes about.
“Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness” (verses 12:9-10). There is expectedly some difference between a human father and God. Perhaps this is an even more common problem in our day. Malachi 4:5-6 say a man of God—near the end of this present age—would have to turn the hearts of fathers to children!
Psalm 103 is helpful in addressing this obstacle. Verse 13 reads: “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him.” The word pitieth means to love, to behold with the tenderest affection or compassion. It is often translated as “to show mercy” or “to have compassion.” God does that to us just like a loving father does to his children. Verse 11 says God’s mercy is as high as the heaven above the Earth.
Verse 10 reads: “He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.” God doesn’t punish us to “get back” at us or to “get even.” He chastens us to help solve the problem because He loves us.
“He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever” (verse 9; New International Version). Even if we do make Him angry, God doesn’t hold on to it. He doesn’t nag us or “guilt” us into action. He doesn’t manipulate us.
Verse 12 says He removes the sin as far as east is from west. That’s not just removing it from His mind, but removing it from us. Again, He is helping us overcome.
It is good to acknowledge what might be holding us back. We might create God in either our own image or our faulty human father’s image. That should drive us to God and motivate us to make Him real. He will help us forge an entirely new relationship.
If you try to talk God into things or try to make deals with Him (as if we have anything He wants), or try to win back His favor with either “good” or punitive behavior (as in “penance”), these are signs you’ve made God in your own image.
Mr. Armstrong wrote this about how he came to know God: “His Spirit opened my mind to spiritual comprehension. I could understand the Bible—a bit at a time, of course. In it, the living Jesus Christ began talking to me. I began to talk to Him—often, daily, in a sense constantly, in spirit. When I studied the Bible, it was like listening to the most wonderful Friend I had ever known! It was wonderful! It was interesting—inspiring—revealing! So I studied the Bible often on my knees. You see, as I read the Bible, God was talking to me. But as I prayed, I was talking to Him! And by studying His Word on my knees, I was able to carry on a two-way conversation with Him—mixing prayer with listening to Him through reading His words” (Good News, op cit).
He describes a conversation, which leads into the final relationship reality.
Reality 5: We must know how to communicate with God.
Mr. Armstrong continued: “As He told me about Himself—as He talked to me, instructed me—and as I talked to Him—I got to know Him! He became real! He was no longer way off! He was very near—in spirit, in the very same room. I have never seen God or Jesus Christ physically—with my physical eye—but I see them often, spiritually, in my mind. Not precise definite features, of course—but I see in my mind’s eye eyes flashing out like a flame of fire—His face shining as brightly as the sun in full strength—His head and hair white as the cleanest, whitest snow. And all around where He is sitting is gleaming, glistening, beautiful splendor and brightness, with lightning flashing forth.”
A famous account of a real conversation between a man and God comes from the reign of Judah’s King Hezekiah. When he received a threatening document from Assyria’s ruthless king, “… Hezekiah went up unto the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord” (Isaiah 37:14). You can read his prayer in the next six verses, where he says to God: “Incline thine ear, O Lord, and hear; open thine eyes, O Lord, and see: and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which hath sent to reproach the living God” (verse 17). He took the actual document into his “prayer closet” and showed it to God! God was quite real to Hezekiah at that moment.
Around the same time, Hezekiah received some news of an illness that would soon take his life (Isaiah 38:1). Notice his immediate response in the next verse: “Then Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall, and prayed unto the Lord” (verse 2). He turned to the wall—as if God were right there in the room with him. Reading his prayer, you’ll see he didn’t even ask for longer life; he just cried to God.
Building such a relationship with God is far more difficult when we are too close to the physical. Mr. Armstrong elaborated on this in his 1985 article: “Why is God ‘so far off—so unreal’? It is because people are so far off from Him—so close to the physical, material things and interests of this evil world! Because their minds are on physical pursuits all the time. Because they have no time for God! You get to know those you are close to—in constant contact with—in conversation with!”
And it’s a cycle. Being too close to the physical makes God less real. And because God is less real, we care what the people in our lives think more than we care what God thinks.
If our relationship with God is to be a real relationship, our conversations must be real conversations! This applies to our formal, daily prayer, but also being “instant in prayer” (Romans 12:12)—and praying “without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
That makes the concept of walking with God (as Enoch and Noah did) more real. He’s right there, walking with you, so you can mention things to Him—just as you would if you had a friend with you throughout the day.
Now, communication does not just involve prayer. As Mr. Armstrong said, we listen to God when we study His Word. That is one of the greatest ways to get to know God.
In Mystery of the Ages, after stating his purpose for Chapter 1 (to make God more real), Mr. Armstrong wrote: “God does reveal Himself to us in the Bible, if we will just understand it, so that He will seem real to us.”
What someone says reveals a lot about him or her. The same is true of God. Not only is the Bible a compilation of His words, one of Christ’s names is the Word (Revelation 19:13). The book we call the Holy Bible is what He is.
Mr. Armstrong’s January 1985 article states: “Perhaps some children were told nothing about God at all as they were growing from babyhood toward adolescence and into early adulthood. But most probably they have been told more or less about God before they actually read anything about Him in the Bible. Also they very probably had read what others had written about Him before reading anything in the Bible for themselves. So what did they know? They knew only what had been told or communicated to them by those around them. They knew only what they had received from other people who did not themselves know God. Those from whom they learned knew only what they, in turn, had gathered from still other misinformed and deceived people. Not from the above—but from the around! Not from God Himself, but from the around. And your Bible says the other people constitute a deceived world! And when such a person, approaching or reaching early adulthood, does read the Bible, his concept of God has been so firmly implanted in his mind by other people, he continues picturing God in the same way.”
We have to base our perception of God on what He says—on His Word. That Word is truth (John 17:17). That is how we relate to and interact with God.
Everything we just covered can be summed up in four practical action steps that can foster a better, stronger, more real relationship with God.
ACTION 1: Put God first.
When it comes to the time you spend with God, make that your top priority every day. If you did that with another human being, you’d have an inseparably bonded relationship. Show God that no other relationship is as important as this one.
ACTION 2: Have a proper impression and image of God in your mind.
Really see God as the Bible reveals Him. Don’t put Him in the mold of an imperfect human, like a poor authority figure.
ACTION 3: Understand, respect and value God’s name.
With that comes realizing all His accomplishments, His reputation and His authority.
ACTION 4: Use the Sabbath to get to know Him better.
He sets it aside for that purpose! Think on His creation. Think on His names. Spend extra time in conversation. It’s a time to perfect that relationship.
These four action steps are basically just a rewording of the first four of the Ten Commandments! Those are the commandments that govern our relationship with God. Obey those, and you’ll have a stronger relationship with God. He will become more real!
”And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3).
Not only will you know Him, you will know that you know Him. This relationship and this Being will be utterly real to you.
Notice where it leads as John discusses a bit later in this letter: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
Moses will finally get to see God in full glory. So will we! In one sense, nothing will replace seeing Him with our own eyes, but in another sense, He will be no more “real” to us in the future than He is today—because He is already real to us.
Make God real to you now, and soon we shall truly “see Him as He is.”