Reaching for the Invisible God

yancey invisible-godLast year I sought a book on the invisibility of God as a divine attribute. So I decided to read Reaching for the Invisible God: What Can We Expect to Find? (2000), by evangelical author and former Chicago pastor Philip Yancey. Although he lives in the real world in this book, I do not share his “real world” experiences. Yancey is a blind leader of the blind.

I have serious doctrinal issues with Yancey. First, he does not believe in a 6-day creation and 6000-year-old earth. I believe in both because God says it in his Word, which is evidence enough (we either believe God or not), and because creation science shows that God is true and trustworthy. Yancey also questions the Salem Witch Trials. Some people convicted of witchcraft may have been innocent, but others were guilty. Demonic activity is alive and well, ever since Satan tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden. 1692 Salem was no exception. Finally, Yancey and I strongly disagree on homosexuality.

Many people have asked Yancey what a “personal relationship with God” looks like. He tries to answer them in Reaching for the Invisible God. However, Yancey says little worth repeating. He wants to see and hear God with natural eyes and ears, so Ian McFarland is right. Yancey evinces “fallen humanity’s ever-present urge to contain God within the limits of the visible” (vii). This sinful urge produces idolatry, which Yancey believes is the only right way to approach a transcendent God, unlike the evangelicals he both ridicules and questions. However, Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches can teach true believers nothing about Christian worship; instead, they have much to learn.

Invisibility is an attribute of a transcendent God, which believers should glory in (Colossians 1:15, 1 Timothy 1:17, Hebrews 11:27). Heaven is God’s throne and earth is his footstool (Isaiah 66:1, Matthew 5:34-35). If God fills heaven and earth and people are like grasshoppers (Isaiah 40:22), then how can they see him with natural eyes? The term visible also refers to things that are made or created, with a beginning and end. Everything invisible is unmade and uncreated, with no beginning or end. What is seen with natural eyes is temporary; what is unseen, with spiritual eyes, is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18). Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, so how can it see him (1 Corinthians 15:50)? God thinks little of our weak, frail flesh anyway. “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing” (John 6:63).[1]

If God is invisible, then how do we see and hear him? How do we experience the transcendent in our fleshly bodies? Yancey futilely tries to make the invisible visible, to connect to God as Jodie Foster’s character connected to aliens in Contact (1997). He fails to hear God’s voice in creation (Psalm 19, Romans 1:20), the Word (Psalm 103:20), his spirit (Isaiah 30:21), and dreams and visions. An eternal God speaks to our eternal Spirit. This truth leaves no room for the flesh. God rarely speaks with an audible voice to natural ears, but he still speaks. God often speaks to my spirit, as well as through his Word and dreams. Unlike Yancey, I have never considered religious alternatives either. Protestant Evangelical Christianity, preferably Pentecostalism, is and will always be the only spiritual choice for me.

We walk by the spiritual eyes of faith, not by the natural eyes of sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). God is a Spirit, not flesh and bones (Luke 24:39, John 4:23-24). He wants people to worship him in spirit and in truth rather than have confidence in the flesh (John 4:23-24, Philippians 3:3). So in order for us to see and worship God as a Spirit, he must fill us with his Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:10-14). This spiritual realm has different rules from everyday human experience.

jacob-ladderHowever, some people have asked to see God and he has graciously said yes. On Mount Sinai, Moses asked God, “Show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18). God told him that “no one can see my face and live,” so Moses saw only his “back parts” (33:20, 23). All other visions of God were not sought: Abraham in Canaan (Genesis 18), Jacob at Peniel (Genesis 32), Moses in the desert (Exodus 3), Joshua at Jericho (Joshua 6), Peter James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17), and John on the isle of Patmos (Revelation 1-22). Even Jacob said, “I have seen God face to face and my life is preserved” (Genesis 32:30).

God does not change (Malachi 3:6). What he did in Bible times he still does today. Dreams, visions, and miracles have not passed away. So will we choose to believe God? Faith is more than believing he exists. It is also believing that he hears and answers prayer (Hebrews 11:6). Do we have faith that God is speaking to us? Are we even listening?

When periods of spiritual darkness and apathy come, it means that God has told me something in his Word or through another spiritual avenue, but I have not responded in repentance and faith. Spiritual darkness comes only when we say no to God’s light (John 3:19-21). So what is Yancey saying no to? Has he ever humbled himself, repented of his sins, and stepped out on faith? Has he been truly converted?

I cannot identify with the death of Yancey’s father from polio or his cynicism toward evangelicalism, but bad experiences in bad churches at the hands of bad Christians do not mean one should “throw out the baby with the bathwater.” Yancey must submit to God, let faith replace doubt, and let Jesus heal his wounds. Yet I wonder if he has ever witnessed real Christianity – Pentecost. God still speaks. He still moves, saves, and heals. Has Yancey witnessed God’s works and ways? I have. So have others. Countless ministries daily give testimonies of God’s voice and presence.

streams-in-the-desertIf all Yancey’s works are like Reaching for the Invisible God, then why does anyone read him? Libraries and stores contain much better books on the Christian life. Works by David Brainerd, Amy Carmichael, Mrs. Charles Cowman, Jonathan Edwards, Jonathan and Rosalind Goforth, John Hyde, Henry Martyn, D. L. Moody, George Mueller, Leonard Ravenhill, John Stott, A. W. Tozer, and others come to mind. Even Bible saints had stronger, more stable relationships with God. In their lives, God spoke and moved. He is still speaking and moving. I highly recommend the Bible and these authors, but not Yancey.

Still, this world is like a dream. Only the invisible realm is real and eternal.

“To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20). Yancey is a blind leader of the blind. His world is full of spiritual darkness, fog, and mist and his writings contain little spiritual light. I pray Yancey humbles himself, repents, and prays earnestly to God for light and truth.

[1] New King James Version (NKJV), unless otherwise noted

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One thought on “Reaching for the Invisible God

  1. I’ve always wondered why people read Philip Yancey. There are Bible-believing saints; then there are those who merely have name recognition. Many readers cannot tell the difference. Yancey is a Liberal. If you are a true believer, go find a Conservative.

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