The one true and living God of the Bible does not, strictly speaking, “look like” anything. First of all, even if our finite, physical eyes could perceive His true divine nature, there is nothing in all of creation to which we might compare God and say that He “looks like this” or “resembles that.” Further, God’s nature is not material. He is not an object made out of matter and energy off of which light might bounce or refract for us to actually see Him. Therefore, we can not think of the eternal nature and being of God in physical terms of looks or appearances. God’s attributes are “seen” through His actions. We behold creation and observe His providential work and know He is there, as Paul writes:
“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse,” (Romans 1:20).
Yet we do not literally see God’s own being. Our eyes provide sufficient proof to know God is there through seeing what He has made and what He has done, but God Himself doesn’t “look like” anything.
The invisible, incomparable Spirit
The prophet Isaiah makes clear that there is no one and nothing to which we might compare God:
“To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare with Him?” (Isaiah 40:18).
If somehow we mere men could actually behold Him as He truly is, we would have no words to describe what we saw! There would be no analogy, no “like”. We would be unable to answer anyone who asked us what we had seen. Yet, the Bible also makes it clear that we ought not to think of God in physical terms, as the kind of being that “looks like” something. As Jesus Himself said:
“God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth,” (John 4:24).
Jesus likewise explains that a spirit cannot be examined with the senses and does not have flesh or bone, (Luke 24:39). Indeed, God is frequently described as “invisible,” (Colossians 1:15, Romans 1:20, 1 Timothy 1:17). God’s very nature cannot be seen by physical eyes.
He doesn’t “look like” anything
The New Testament writers go out of the way to make clear that men have never literally seen God, particularly the person of the Father. John writes in one of his letters:
“No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us,” (1 John 4:12).
Paul goes even further, explaining that we not only haven’t seen Him but can’t see Him, speaking of God the Father:
“who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen,” (1 Timothy 6:16).
Jesus claimed the exclusive status of having seen the Father, and even then was referring to having seen Him as God the Son in heaven before the incarnation, not to having seen Him with physical human eyes:
“Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father,” (John 6:46).
Jesus can tell us and show us who the Father is, but we cannot see the Father ourselves. Thus, again, the triune God of Scripture, in His divine heavenly nature, is not the sort of being that can “look like” something. He has no literal “appearance” in our finite, human sense.
Unseen yet seen?
Yet, while fully acknowledging and declaring this, the Bible also speaks of times where God has appeared to men in forms that could be seen. How are we to understand this? The New Testament writers make clear that this is the work of God the Son, the second person of the Trinity. As John explains:
“No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him,” (John 1:18).
Paul affirms of Jesus that:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation,” (Colossians 1:15).
The author of Hebrews likewise states of Christ:
“And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” (Hebrews 1:3).
So, when men have seen God, what they saw was a manifestation of the Son. No one has, in any sense, seen the Father. People have, in a certain sense, seen the Son. Yet, even here, we ought not misunderstand such manifestations. The Holy Spirit appeared as a dove (Matthew 3:16, Mark 1:10, Luke 3:22, John 1:32) and later as tongues of fire (Acts 2:2-4), but we would be wrong to argue about whether the Holy Spirit really looks like a bird or a flame. He doesn’t, in His divine nature, literally look like either. Such visible manifestations were meant to tell us something, not to provide us with a picture by which we should visualize God as such physical things. In the same way, the Son appeared to men in the Old Testament, but we ought not think of such manifestations as the literal, physical “shape” or “form” of the divine nature of God.
Is the body of Jesus what God looks like?
The incarnation of the Son as a man at the coming of Christ is a special case worthy of careful consideration. Here, God did not merely manifest His presence in some temporary visible symbol. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, (John 1:14). He added to Himself the very form and nature of a man, (Philippians 2:5-7). This was no temporary appearance. God took on a human nature. The eternal Son lived, died, rose, ascended, is enthroned in heaven, and will one day return as a man. Thus, in a very real and true sense, God now has a physical form that men have seen and that all believers one day will see. When we dwell forever with God, we will see Him and know Him in the bodily form of Jesus Christ.
Yet, this does not contradict what we have already said. The Son of God took on a second nature, a human nature in addition to His eternal divine nature. We can see that human nature. We can rightly say, “that is what the Son of God looks like.” Even so, we should not confuse the natures. What we can see is Jesus’ humanity. The men 2,000 years ago who saw Jesus truly saw the Son of God, but they did not see the nature of God. The person they beheld was indeed God. But what their eyes perceived was His human flesh, not His divine nature. They saw a man who was, in fact, God, but they could see Him only as man and not as God.
Thus, we must be careful not to let our minds become confused here. Jesus is God. But, even if we knew exactly what Jesus’ human body looked like, we would be clumsy at best to simplistically say “that is what God looks like.” We ought not picture the person of the Father as looking like a first-century Jewish carpenter. We ought not picture the Holy Spirit as a body with a form much like ours. We ought not think of the Triune God as a human-shaped being. Rather, we ought to recognize that God is a transcendent and incomparable Spirit who cannot be fully represented by any physical image, yet who has condescended to redeem us by taking on a human nature in addition to His invisible divine nature. That human nature can be seen, and is the man Jesus. In Him, the fullness of God dwells in bodily form (Colossians 2:9).
God is spirit and thus cannot be truly seen with fleshly eyes. His invisible attributes can be seen indirectly by observing the things He has created. Prophets have sometimes seen highly symbolic visions that represent God (Daniel 7:9, Ezekiel 1:26-28), Revelation 4:3, etc.). In the person of the Son, He has also manifested Himself in various visible ways. Yet, none of these things involve us directly seeing the actual divine nature of the triune God. God doesn’t “look like” anything.