In the last part of this post we explored what it means to see the face of God in the temple. Seeing the face of God is promised to us in the scriptures, and as we showed, it was one of the foremost purposes of the prophet Joseph Smith in building up temples. Such a witness was key to what was called the endowment. As Joseph described the endowment,
All who are prepared, and are sufficiently pure to abide the presence of the Savior, will see him in the solemn assembly.1
In the first part we discussed one interpretation of seeing the Lord – in a physical sense. Many early members of the Church literally saw the Lord, Jesus Christ, and even God the Father, within the walls of the temple on several occasions, and have seen Him since in the temples of the Lord.
What else might “seeing God” mean?
Another related sense that one might see the face of God in the temple is in a spiritual sense, in a vision or dream, in the mind’s eye, and through revelation. Surely, even those experiences which have been described as physical were also supremely spiritual in nature. A person does not just see God with his corporeal eyes; he sees Him with his whole soul, body and spirit.
This is the reason we talk of transfiguration. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism defines transfiguration:
Transfiguration for mortals consists of a temporary physical and spiritual change, allowing them not only to behold the glory of God but to enter his presence. It is characterized by illumination of countenance such as Moses experienced (Moses 1:11; Ex. 34:29–35) and comes about by an infusion of God’s power (MD, p. 725). Because God is a being of transcendent glory, it is impossible for men and women to enter his presence without their physical bodies being spiritually “quickened.” The Prophet Joseph Smith explained that God “dwells in eternal fire; flesh and blood cannot go there, for all corruption is devoured by the fire. “Our God is a consuming fire”‘ (TPJS, p. 367; cf. Heb. 12:29; Deut. 4:24). Transfiguration bestows on individuals a temporary condition compatible to that of deity and allows them to see God face-to-face.
To see God, an individual receives a portion of God’s glory, or is “quickened” by the Spirit (D&C 67:11). As Elder McConkie described it, “Transfiguration is a special change in appearance and nature which is wrought upon a person. This divine transformation is from a lower to a higher state; it results in a more exalted, impressive, and glorious condition”2.
We have several records of transfiguration in the scriptures. Most notably, Moses describes his experience:
But now mine own eyes have beheld God; but not my natural, but my spiritual eyes, for my natural eyes could not have beheld; for I should have withered and died in his presence; but his glory was upon me; and I beheld his face, for I was transfigured before him. (Moses 1:11)
Note that Moses said he saw God with his “own eyes” but that his eyes were changed to be made of a more spiritual and glorious nature. He received of the glory of God so that he could behold the face of God (Moses 1:2). The effects of the transfiguration were prominent:
And it came to pass, when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses’ hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him. (Exodus 34:29)
The glory of God had not completely departed from Moses from the transfiguration, such that his face still shined as he came down from the mount (an analog of the temple).
Paul describes being transfigured in words that he could not tell whether it was a physical or spiritual transformation, words echoed by other prophets who have experienced it:
I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. (2 Corinthians 12:2)
Joseph Smith likewise described seeing God and his kingdom in the vision that took place in the Kirtland 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)
Christ too was transfigured, which is where the Mount of Transfiguration gets its name.
And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. (Matthew 17:1–2)
Interestingly, Christ described this very literal physical experience to his disciples that witnessed it with their eyes as “a vision” (Matt. 17:9), and latter-day revelation says that the apostles Peter, James, and John also experienced transfiguration during the event3.
The Three Nephites from the Book of Mormon also experienced transfiguration:
And it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words, he touched every one of them with his finger save it were the three who were to tarry, and then he departed. And behold, the heavens were opened, and they were caught up into heaven, and saw and heard unspeakable things. And it was forbidden them that they should utter; neither was it given unto them power that they could utter the things which they saw and heard; And whether they were in the body or out of the body, they could not tell; for it did seem unto them like a transfiguration of them, that they were changed from this body of flesh into an immortal state, that they could behold the things of God. (3 Nephi 28:12–15)
Seeing God, therefore, is an experience that involves the whole soul, and it cannot be strictly determined whether it is a physical or spiritual experience. Early Church member John Murdock explained his vision of God:
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.4
In a likewise manner, in the temple we may be caught up in the Spirit and receive such a manifestation of God such that we don’t know exactly how we experienced it, whether in our mind, body, dream, vision, etc. It is not something that we see strictly with our eyes, but it a much more encompassing and sublime encounter.
(To be continued…)Notes: