The Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic faith from Vatican I in describing the nature of God uses the term “spiritual substance.” This truth is generally agreed upon by Christians. Scripture attests that “God is spirit” (John 4:24), that Jesus is the image of the “invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), that God is invisible (1 Timothy 1:17), and that He is not a man (Numbers 23:19, 1 Samuel 15:29).
However, there are also Scripture passages that speak as though God has a body. Many in fact. They speak of God’s face (Psalm 27:8-9), God’s arm (Exodus 15:16, Psalm 89:10), God’s footstool (Isaiah 66:1), God’s hand (Act 7:55-56, Isaiah 66:2), God’s eye (Psalm 32:8, Job 34:21), and God’s mouth (Deuteronomy 8:3, Isaiah 1:20).
Christians in general view these Scriptures that speak as though God has a body as being anthropomorphic. At this Evangelical site states:
Some question why the Bible sometimes speaks of God as if He has a body. For example, Isaiah 59:1 mentions God’s “hand” and “ear.” Second Chronicles 16:9 speaks of God’s “eyes.” Matthew 4:4 puts words in God’s “mouth.” In Deuteronomy 33:27 God has “arms.” All of these verses are examples of anthropomorphism—a way of describing God with anatomical or emotional terms so that humans can better understand Him. The use of anthropomorphism, a form of figurative language, does not imply that God has an actual body.
Why is this topic that important? First, it is important than we understand God’s nature as He’s been revealed to us. “God is spirit” (John 4:24) is a clear and unequivocal statement about the nature of God. Second, it is important to understand that a literal reading of Scripture does not exclude the idea that some passages are anthropomorphic, figurative, allegorical or metaphorical. In other words, to read these passages literally is to understand they are anthropomorphic. In contrast, to read them in a “literalist” sense would require us to adhere to the exact letter and conclude God does indeed have a physical body. A “literalist” reading of Scripture will lead to inevitable internal conflicts, as well as a theology that lacks cohesiveness and unity and has the potential for grave errors.
Third, it’s important for us to understand that at least one major religious group who professes Christ has a very different view of the nature of God, and that is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (sometimes referred to as Mormon). Consider this from their site:
God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!…
These ideas are incomprehensible to some, but they are simple. It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God, and to know that we may converse with Him as one man converses with another, and that He was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ Himself did; and I will show it from the Bible.
If we have the opportunity to have discussions of faith with those who belong to the LDS it is important to recognize this distinction and the concept of anthropomorphism as used in Scripture, and the reality of the nature of God as being “spirit” and the Scriptures which attest to this truth.
3 thoughts on “God is Spirit”
I do understand that God is a spiritual being, but my thoughts on are that people are comforted when they “see” a good and loving God that embraces them or embraces little children. Lots of comfort in the arms of Jesus!
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Indeed Laura, great comfort. God becoming man, Jesus becoming visible to us is at the heart of our redemption!
Yes – I do find comfort in the imagining of God as a physical being that we can dream of touching. But I also take great comfort in knowing He is so much more than that!
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