The Doctrine and Covenants section 93 verse 1 reads:
Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am; (D&C 93:1)
This superlative promise was one of the foundations of Joseph Smith’s restoration, and whose revelations repeated throughout his calling as God’s prophet:
Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will. (D&C 88:68)
Furthermore, the promise is extended particularly to those who come into the temple:
And inasmuch as my people build a house unto me in the name of the Lord, and do not suffer any unclean thing to come into it, that it be not defiled, my glory shall rest upon it;
Yea, and my presence shall be there, for I will come into it, and all the pure in heart that shall come into it shall see God. (D&C 97:15-16)
LDS scholar Richard L. Bushman, in his extraordinary biography of the prophet, noted that a personal theophany was one of Joseph’s most important goals for the Saints. Indeed, the “endowment,” as the early Saints understood it, involved seeing God:
In the temple, the long awaited endowment of power was to take place. Joseph hoped his Saints would face God as Moses’ people never could. ((Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, 217.))
Oliver Cowdery told the Twelve, when they were ordained in February 1835, that they were “not to go to other nations till you receive your endowments.” Because they had not known Jesus in mortality, these modern apostles had to know Him by revelation. “Never cease striving until you have seen God face to face,” Cowdery told them. ((Ibid., 308.))
Joseph once taught this as key to the endowment:
I feel disposed to speak a few words more to you, my brethren, concerning the endowment: All who are prepared, and are sufficiently pure to abide the presence of the Savior, will see him in the solemn assembly. ((DHC VII p. 308-310))
Methodist biblical scholar Margaret Barker has recently shown that seeing God face-to-face was one of the original purposes of the temple in ancient Israel during the First Temple period (Solomon’s Temple) and before ((Margaret Barker, Temple Themes in Christian Worship, 146-49)). The heavenly ascent to the throne through the temple was rewarded by a face-to-face meeting with God, a fact that was later suppressed and edited from the Bible by a group known as the Deuteronomists. Indeed, the Bible is correct “as far as it is translated correctly” ((Article of Faith 8.)).
But what does it mean to see God face-to-face, or to see the face of God, or to even “be in God’s presence” when we go to the temple? Should we expect to see God physically with our eyes when we attend the temple? While this may be one of the meanings of the phrase, I believe there are several ways we may interpret this, and which may help to give us a fuller understanding of our temple experience.
Here is a short list of possible interpretations of seeing the face of God:
- Literally seeing God’s face, even our face before His face (face-to-face), with our physical eyes and senses
- Spiritually seeing God, through revelation and with our spiritual eyes
- Coming to a greater knowledge of God and his divine nature, being, and plan
- Seeing ourself, as heirs of God, becoming like Him
- Seeing our brothers and sisters, also as heirs of God, becoming like Him
I will attempt to go into more detail about each of these, and there is some overlap. This will be a series of posts, this first article focusing on the first point of literally seeing God, the Father and/or His Son, Jesus Christ.
This is perhaps our first and foremost interpretation of what it means to see God face-to-face, or to be in His presence. One of the inaugural events of the restoration of the Gospel in these latter days was the vision of God the Father and God the Son, Jesus Christ, to the boy Joseph Smith. He testified:
When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him! (Joseph Smith—History 1:17)
Later Joseph said,
I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; (Joseph Smith—History 1:25)
It could be said that Joseph’s purpose ever after this event was to help others, the Saints, have the same revelation. It was to bring them back into God’s presence, and to see Him. This was what the temple was to provide, and it did and has so provided.
John Murdock recorded his experience at a prayer meeting with Joseph:
During the winter of 1833 we had a number of prayer meetings in the Prophet’s chamber. In one of those meetings the Prophet told us, if we could humble ourselves before God, and exercise strong faith, we should see the face of the Lord. And about midday, the visions of my mind were opened, and the eyes of my understanding were enlightened, and I saw the form of a man, most lovely. The visage of his face was sound and fair as the sun. His hair a bright silver grey, curled in most majestic form, His eyes a keen penetrating blue, and the skin of his neck a most beautiful white. And He was covered from neck to the feet with a loose garment, pure white, whiter than any garment I have ever before seen. His countenance was most penetrating, and yet most lovely.. And while I was endeavoring to comprehend the whole personage from head to feet, it slipped from me. But it left on my mind the impression of love, for months, that I never felt before to that degree. ((An abridged Record of the Life of John Murdock, p. 23, Church Archives))
In January of 1836, a few months before the dedication of the Kirtland temple, Joseph recorded a vision while in the temple:
The heavens were opened upon us, and I beheld the celestial kingdom of God, and the glory thereof, whether in the body or out I cannot tell… Also the blazing throne of God, whereon was seated the Father and the Son. (D&C 137:1, 3)
Several other early members of the Church recorded that they saw Christ in the temple on that occasion:
The Bishop of Missouri, Edward Partridge, wrote that “a number saw visions & others were blessed with the outpouring of the Holy Ghost. The vision of heaven was opened to these also, some of them saw the face of the Saviour, and others were ministered unto by holy angels.” ((Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, 313))
On another occasion, Zebedee Coltrin, one of the presidents of the seventy, related this experience as recorded by Wilford Woodruff:
Zebedee Coltrin related a vision in the temple in Kirtland after the School of the Prophets was organized. He said while sitting in council, a personage passed through the room dressed in usual clothing. Joseph said that was the Savior. Soon another personage passed through the house clothed in fire His features and feet were visible, but his body was wrapped in flames. Joseph said that was God the Father… ((The Journal of Wilford Woodruff, October 11, 1883))
At the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, Edward Partridge recorded testimonies:
On the first day of the dedication, President Frederick G. Williams, one of the Counselors to the Prophet, and who occupied the upper pulpit, bore testimony that the Savior, dressed in his vesture without seam, came into the stand and accepted of the dedication of the house, and that he saw him, and gave a description of his clothing and all things pertaining to it. ((JD 11:10))
Shortly after the dedication of the temple, the Saints received their endowment. Joseph wrote,
The Saviour made his appearance to some, while angels ministered unto others, and it was a penticost and enduement indeed, long to be remembered for the sound shall go forth from this place into all the world, and the occurrences of this day shall be hande[d] down upon the pages of sacred history to all generations, as the day of Pentecost. ((Ibid., 318))
A few days later, Joseph and Oliver Cowdery received another vision in the temple:
The veil was taken from our minds, and the eyes of our understanding were opened.
We saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit, before us; and under his feet was a paved work of pure gold, in color like amber.
His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters, even the voice of Jehovah, saying:
I am the first and the last; I am he who liveth, I am he who was slain; I am your advocate with the Father. (D&C 110:1-4)
In the same vision the Lord promised his Saints:
For behold, I have accepted this house, and my name shall be here; and I will manifest myself to my people in mercy in this house.
Yea, I will appear unto my servants, and speak unto them with mine own voice, if my people will keep my commandments, and do not pollute this holy house. (D&C 110:7-8)
Many years later, on the day of the death of President Wilford Woodruff in 1898, Lorenzo Snow was in the Salt Lake Temple, seeking guidance from the Lord. This account comes from the Improvement Era:
Passing through the Celestial room and out into the large corridor a glorious manifestation was given President Snow which I relate in the words of his grand-daughter, Allie Young Pond, now the wife of Elder Noah S. Pond, recently president of the Northern States Mission:
“One evening while I was visiting grandpa Snow in his room in the Salt Lake Temple, I remained until the door keepers had gone and the night-watchmen had not yet come in, so grand-pa said he would take me to the main front entrance and let me out that way. He got his bunch of keys from his dresser. After we left his room and while we were still in the large corridor leading into the celestial room, I was walking several steps ahead of grand-pa when he stopped me and said: ‘Wait a moment, Allie, I want to tell you something. It was right here that the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to me at the time of the death of President Woodruff. He instructed me to go right ahead and reorganize the First Presidency of the Church at once and not wait as had been done after the death of the previous presidents, and that I was to succeed President Woodruff.’
“Then grand-pa came a step nearer and held out his left hand and said: ‘He stood right here, about three feet above the floor. It looked as though He stood on a plate of solid gold.’
“Grand-pa told me what a glorious personage the Savior is and described His hands, feet, countenance and beautiful white robes, all of which were of such a glory of whiteness and brightness that he could hardly gaze upon Him.
“Then he came another step nearer and put his right hand on my head and said: ‘Now, grand-daughter, I want you to remember that this is the testimony of your grand-father, that he told you with his own lips that he actually saw the Savior, here in the Temple, and talked with Him face to face.’” ((LeRoi C. Snow, “An Experience of My Father’s,” Improvement Era, September 1933.))
So can the Saints literally see God in the temple? The answer is, absolutely. As promised in D&C 93:1, D&C 88:68, and D&C 97:15-16, the Lord promises to manifest himself to us. Joseph recorded a few years later:
When the Savior shall appear we shall see him as he is. We shall see that he is a man like ourselves.
John 14:23—The appearing of the Father and the Son, in that verse, is a personal appearance; and the idea that the Father and the Son dwell in a man’s heart is an old sectarian notion, and is false. (D&C 130:1, 3)
Is it a common occurrence? Probably not. The early Saints had to prepare themselves substantially before such a manifestation was given them. In today’s parlance we might say that it is upon making one’s calling and election sure, receiving the more sure word of prophecy, and the Second Comforter, that such a revelation could take place in the temple. But it is certainly not unheard of, and it was one of the primary reasons the temple was restored in latter days. It is precisely what Joseph desired for the Saints in building the temple.
It is curious that we do not discuss this aspect of the temple more often today. We often teach that the temple is where we can go to be in God’s presence, and to feel His Spirit, but not necessarily to see His face. What are your thoughts about that? Please share with us in the comments below.