And being thus overcome with the Spirit, he was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God.
He saw God…
With the help of the next verses, I gather that Lehi saw a vision of God the Father, with angels all around, and that Jesus Christ was among the angels, and He (Jesus) came down, with his twelve apostles following behind. Finally, Jesus comes to Lehi and gives him a book.
I only jump ahead like that to illustrate here that it appears that it really was God the Father (not Jehovah) that Lehi saw sitting on the throne.
If I’m correct about that understanding, then this was a rare opportunity for Lehi. Even among prophets, seeing the Father during mortality isn’t common. What do we know about the opportunity to see the Father, either in vision or by visitation?
Can a Person See God?
Some outside our faith argue that a person can’t see God and site the scripture, “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). But Joseph Smith clarified this verse when he presented the correct translation of the verse: “And no man hath seen God at any time, except he hath borne record of the Son; for except it is through him no man can be saved.”
John 4:12 says, “No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us,” but again Joseph Smith gives us a better translation, “No man hath seen God at any time, except them who believe…”
There is a verse in Exodus that says, “And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.” (Exodus 33:20) but the Joseph Smith Translation clarifies, “And he said unto Moses, Thou canst not see my face at this time, lest mine anger be kindled against thee also, and I destroy thee, and thy people; for there shall no man among them see me at this time, and live, for they are exceeding sinful. And no sinful man hath at any time, neither shall there be any sinful man at any time, that shall see my face and live.”
Yes, a person can see God, but like I said, seeing the Father is a very rare blessing.
Who Can See God the Father?
These inspired scripture revisions may give us some of the biggest clues to who may have the opportunity see God. According to the three verses cited above, three qualifiers of those who can see God include:
- They bare witness of the Son of God.
- They believe.
- They have no sin.
Obviously, prophets aren’t perfect, but through repentance, they can be cleansed of sin, like the rest of us. Perhaps that last one is the reasons many heavenly visitations begin with the words like, “Thy sins are forgiven thee.” They are forgiven, and then they see God.
What other qualifiers have people had to meet before they could see God?
I’ve put the qualifier phrases in italics:
- For no man has seen God at any time in the flesh, except quickened by the Spirit of God.
- Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father.
- Yea, and my presence shall be there, for I will come into it, and all the pure in heart that shall come into it shall see God.
- Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will.
- Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
- But great and marvelous are the works of the Lord, and the mysteries of his kingdom which he showed unto us, which surpass all understanding in glory, and in might, and in dominion; Which he commanded us we should not write while we were yet in the Spirit, and are not lawful for man to utter; Neither is man capable to make them known, for they are only to be seen and understood by the power of the Holy Spirit, which God bestows on those who love him, and purify themselves before him; To whom he grants this privilege of seeing and knowing for themselves; That through the power and manifestation of the Spirit, while in the flesh, they may be able to bear his presence in the world of glory.
Which Prophets Have Seen the Father?
Though a great many of the prophets have seen Jesus Christ (who is Jehovah, God of the old testament), a few have seen The Father.
Adam and Eve–in person, in the garden of Eden
Lehi–in a vision of God on His throne
Alma the younger–in vision, after the angel comes, right after he calls out for Jesus
Stephen–in a vision of God on His throne, with Jesus at His right hand.
Joseph Smith–in person, in the first vision, (better named, the first visitation)
Others in the early history of the church:
Zebedee Coultrin was interviewed regarding the following incident that took place in the school of the prophets in the Kirtland Temple:
Joseph having given instructions, and while engaged in silent prayer, kneeling…a personage walked through the room from East to west, and Joseph asked if we saw him. I saw him and suppose the others did, and Joseph answered that this was Jesus, the Son of God, our elder brother. Afterward Joseph told us to resume our former position in prayer, which we did. Another person came through; He was surrounded as with a flame of fire. [I] experienced a sensation that it might destroy the tabernacle as it was of consuming fire of great brightness. The Prophet Joseph said this was the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I saw him….
He was surrounded as with a flame of fire, which was so brilliant that I could not discover anything else but his person. I saw his hands, his legs, his feet, his eyes, nose, mouth, head and body in the shape and form of a perfect man. He sat in a chair as a man would sit in a chair, but This appearance was so grand and overwhelming that it seemed that I should melt down in His presence, and the sensation was so powerful that it thrilled through my whole system and I felt it in the marrow of my bones. The Prophet Joseph said: “Brethren, now you are prepared to be the apostles of Jesus Christ, for you have seen both the Father and the Son and know that They exist and that They are two separate personages.
Everyone Who Inherits the Celestial Kingdom Will See God
We are genuinely children of God, and deep down, we know Him well. He’s our Father, and we are well acquanted with Him. Brigham Young explained,
“I want to tell you, each and every one of you, that you are well acquainted with God our Heavenly Father, or the great Elohim. You are all well acquainted with him, for there is not a soul of you but what has lived in his house and dwelt with him year after year; and yet you are seeking to become acquainted with him, when the fact is, you have merely forgotten what you did know.
“There is not a person here to-day but what is a son or a daughter of that Being.”
We need not be troubled that we don’t see the Father now. In the end, all of the faithful will see God.
…there is a space between death and the resurrection of the body, and a state of the soul in happiness or in misery until the time which is appointed of God that the dead shall come forth, and be reunited, both soul and body, and be brought to stand before God, and be judged according to their works. That will be a glorious experience. Ezra Taft Benson said,
“Nothing is going to startle us more when we pass through the veil to the other side than to realize how well we know our Father [in Heaven] and how familiar his face is to us.”
If we’re living right, it really doesn’t matter if it’s in this life or the next. There is no point in laying eyes on Him just to prove He exists. Now is the time to exercise faith in Him.
Lehi’s Prayer was a Selfless One
Lehi saw a vision of the Father and the Son, not because He asked for that blessing, but because his prayer was an unselfish one, on behalf of His people. There is power in praying for others. David A. Bednar:
We learn a vital lesson from the example of Lehi in the Book of Mormon. Lehi responded in faith to prophetic instruction and warnings concerning the destruction of Jerusalem. He then prayed unto the Lord “with all his heart, in behalf of his people” (1 Nephi 1:5; emphasis added). In answer to this fervent prayer, Lehi was blessed with a glorious vision of God and His Son and of the impending destruction of Jerusalem (see 1 Nephi 1:6–9, 13, 18). Consequently, Lehi rejoiced, and his whole heart was filled because of the things which the Lord had shown him (see 1 Nephi 1:15). Please note that the vision came in response to a prayer for others and not as a result of a request for personal edification or guidance.