Jesus replied, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and yet you still don’t know who I am? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking me to show him to you? (NLT)
What is in your mind when you pray to God? Agreed, we do not make idols. Agreed, we can be mistaken in our imaginings. But when we address someone, we usually have a picture of them in our mind. We know what they look like. But who does God look like?
It is perhaps too easy to simply reduce God to a mere word, an abstraction. We can quite rightly recognise that God is revealed in his actions in the history of his people and in the creation of the world. But as we pray, do we have a picture of the Exodus in our minds? Or the starry heavens? Given we are praying to a person and not an idea, it would be good to have a notion of what that person looks like.
But this is not to be. God is not to be given a body and a face: he says he is beyond all that. And so we are left with these words of Jesus. He shows us the Father. But there is a catch. We don’t know what Jesus looked like and so we have no clear idea in our minds of the appearance of the one to whom we pray. Perhaps that is why some religious traditions have symbols and icons which serve as some sort of focal point.
When we pray, we pray to a person. And usually that person has a face. Not so when we pray to God. So, it is good to ask ourselves, what are we visualising? Are we imagining the face of Jesus? Or are we speaking into some vague space? Good questions, perhaps. But we go on praying anyway!