The ultimate goal of the Christian life is to see God face to face.
Christian theologians call this sight of God the “beatific vision,” which the Catholic Encyclopedia defines as following: “The immediate knowledge of God which the angelic spirits and the souls of the just enjoy in Heaven. It is called ‘vision’ to distinguish it from the mediate knowledge of God which the human mind may attain in the present life. And since in beholding God face to face the created intelligence finds perfect happiness, the vision is termed ‘beatific.’”
Notice several things about this definition. First, the beatific vision is an immediate knowledge of God rather than a mediate knowledge. In layman’s terms, the difference between the two is the difference between witnessing a traffic accident and hearing about it secondhand. The beatific vision is seeing God yourself, not hearing about him through “media,” the biblical prophets and apostles. As Paul put it, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror, then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part, then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Cor. 13.12).
Second, the beatific vision lies in our future. Angels and souls in heaven have that vision now, but not us. For example, Jesus speaks of the guardian angels of believers who “always see the face of my Father in heaven” (Matt. 18.10). While we do not now have an eyewitness view of God, we do have the secondhand reports of eyewitnesses to God (the Bible), which we use to learn the way of salvation. “That which was from the beginning,” John writes, “which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life” (1 John 1.1).
And third, the beatific vision is the source of our eternal happiness. “Blessed are the pure in heart,” said Jesus, “for they will see God” (Matt. 5.8). Jesus himself connected happiness (blessing) with the sight of God. So did John, who wrote of believers, “They will see his face,” and, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 22.4, 21.4). Given the eternal happiness that comes from seeing God, is it any wonder the Psalmist exhorted us to “seek [God’s] face always” (Ps. 105.4)?
But how do we attain the beatific vision? Jesus suggests that it belongs to those who are “pure in heart.” But as I wrote yesterday, since none of us is pure in heart, none of us will be able to see God. Instead, we turn to Jesus to lead us to God. He is, as it were, the Mediator who leads us to an immediate knowledge of God. As Paul put it, “God…made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4.6).
In other words, see Jesus, and you see God.