One teaching that makes the Mormons unique is that of being able to see God. When Joseph Smith was fourteen years old, he became concerned about how to choose which church to join. He was studying the Bible one day, when he found his answer. James 1:5, written by the Savior’s own brother, instructed us to turn to God if we sought wisdom. Joseph saw this was the only way to obtain an answer, because only God could be trusted to tell him the truth. He had received too many differing instructions from the various ministers of his area.
He went into the woods and began to pray. After a time, God and Jesus Christ both appeared to him. God introduced Joseph to Jesus and Jesus instructed him not to join any of the churches currently on the earth, because they were incomplete. Joseph followed this counsel, and later, when he was grown, he was taught by an angel and prepared to help bring the restored gospel to the earth.
Is it possible for a mortal to see God? The Bible records many instances in which mortals, normally prophets, saw God. Let’s look at a few of these.
Stephen was chosen to assist the apostles in their work after the death of Jesus. However, he angered many people because of his testimony and faith. He was arrested and accused of blasphemy. Despite the false accusations, Stephen refused to defend himself, instead using the time to preach the gospel. His face was like that of an angel, and God was with him.
55 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,
56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. (Acts 7)
Stephen was stoned to death for testifying of that he had seen God and Jesus. The world has generally not been accepting of those who testified of this sacred experience.
Jacob also saw God after wrestling with a messenger from God:
30 And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved. (Genesis 32)
Moses, Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel saw God:
9 Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel:
Later, Moses saw God’s face, and then His glory but not His face. (Exodus 33). Solomon saw God twice and then still turned away from Him, making God angry. Isaiah saw God as well, and was nervous because he was unclean. A servant of the Lord cleansed him of his sins.
Despite the many times the Bible reports of people who have seen God, there is one scripture which says, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. (John 1:18) This scripture is sometimes used to try to discredit the Mormon teaching that Joseph Smith saw God. However, if we look at chapter 6 of the same book, we discover an explanation of this statement: Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father. (John 46:6) In other words, to see God, you must be spiritual and worthy to do so. Joseph Smith taught that the first scripture, John 1:8, is properly translated to be that you can only see God when quickened by the Spirit. Jesus offered additional insight into this topic when he taught: “All things are delivered to me of my Father: and no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him.(Luke 10:22)
God has shown Himself to only a select few people over the course of history, but He has shown Himself at times when it was important, to those who were worthy.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.