The discussion of “seeing” God is one of the subjects of the science of kalam in which views of Islamic schools of thought differed since the battle and argument on kalam started, shattering the unity of the Creed’s interpretation of many doctrinal bases upon which the structure of the Islamic Message was established. The Ahl al-Bayt (A.S.) took a stance towards the subject of “seeing” God which was in harmony with the pristine concept of tawhid as Islam intends it to be, regarding Him above being physically seen simply because that would be possible only for an object of limited dimensions.
As regarding the verses which give the impression that “seeing” God is possible, such as “Some faces on that Day shall be bright, looking towards their Lord,”175 and “Verily, from (the Light of) their Lord, that Day, will they be veiled,”176 and “Thy Lord comes, and His angels, rank upon rank,”177 as well as other such verses, Imam al-Rida (A.S.) interpreted them in a way which kept them in the context in which they were revealed. For example, the meaning of “… looking to their Lord” is that they were bright with hope and anticipation waiting to be awarded with their Lord’s rewards, that is, anticipating His generosity and prizes. The meaning of the second verse is that they are veiled from receiving the rewards of their Lord, for God Almighty cannot be said to occupy a physical space, a place, in which He would settle, veiling Himself from His servants. In the third verse, what is coming is God’s Decree, that is, your Lord’s Decree is coming to pass; otherwise, God Almighty cannot be said to come and go, for these movements are characteristic of His creatures, and it is impossible that He should have their attributes, for this would mean that there would be a place where He is not there! God is highly elevated above this degradation.
Thus are the Qur’anic verses interpreted according to the occasion upon which they were revealed. Moreover, such an interpretation which takes into consideration both context and occasion (or reason for revelation) does not depart even a little bit from the particular appearance of such verses simply because such an understood appearance is not derived from the verbal text alone; rather, other aspects which encompass the subject’s angles, and for whose explanation the text was revealed, have also to be taken into consideration.
175 Al Qiyama:22-23
176 Al Mutaffifin (or Tatfif):15
177 Al Fajr:22
Adapted from: “Imam al-Ridha (a.s.), A Historical and Biographical Research” by: “Muhammad Jawad Fadlallah”