“And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape.” (John 5:37)
Jesus was speaking to men here in John 5 that had no desire for the true things of God, even though they gave the outward pretense of religion and piety. He tells these men that they had “neither heard [the Father’s] voice at any time, nor seen [the Father’s] shape”. It’s certainly true that the natural man cannot hear God’s voice or see God’s shape, but for the born-again child of God, we can hear the gentle voice of the Lord guiding us in our lives and we can also see the imprints of God’s shape in the world all around us.
Jesus was here addressing Jews who sought to kill him for portraying himself as equal with God (John 5:18). These were men who “will not come to me, that ye might have life”; they would not come because they could not come (John 5:40). They had rejected the witness of the Father declaring Jesus as his Son and that witness even affirmed that the Father had sent Jesus Christ. As clearly taught in 1 Cor. 2:11-14, the natural man has no capacity to understand the spiritual things of God. It takes those spiritual ears that are only given in the new birth to hear the voice of God, and it takes spiritual eyes also given in regeneration that allows God’s redeemed to see the shape of God.
Regardless of how evident it should be in the natural creation around us that a Creator had to have orchestrated all this, it still takes faith (a product of the new birth) to understand that even the natural creation was formed by a powerful being that we cannot see with our natural eye. “Through faith we understand that the worlds we framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” (Heb. 11:3) While from a believer’s perspective anyone with just common sense should be able to surmise this did not happen by chance, instead it takes a “faith perspective”, a spiritual mind to interpret these natural things, and to believe that this was created by an invisible God rather than the product of random chance. Therefore, after the new birth, we have the faith to understand and believe that God was the sovereign and sole Creator of all the heavens and earth and is the sustainer of life here in this world as well.
Even though the unregenerate cannot “hear the Father’s voice”, the children of God can hear his voice, now that we have been given the appropriate spiritual ears. “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear… But blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear.” (Matt. 13:9,16) While we oftentimes are blessed to hear God’s voice preached in demonstration of the Spirit and power by the gospel minister, I believe we most often hear God’s voice speak quietly to our hearts. In our times of private devotion and prayer, God will speak to us in the “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:12) deep in the recesses of our heart and mind. With such a quiet voice, it’s crucial for us to have private, secret time with the Lord to drown out all the noise of this world that will prevent us from properly hearing the voice and direction of the Lord in our lives. “And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.” (Isaiah 30:21). That quiet “whisper” of a voice behind you (the Spirit of God speaking to your heart) is oftentimes how God directs us in the proper way of His will.
The born-again children of God also “see the Father’s shape” here in this world. Shape here means “a form, a figure, an external or outward appearance”. We see God’s shape through the physical and spiritual creation; we learn about the Creator by his creation. All of creation sings a song of praise out to God in adoration of its Creator. We see the mind of God displayed in the intricate design of all the heavenly bodies as well as earthly creatures that God formed. We see God’s shape in all the natural creation around us. We see God’s shape of love by witnessing the love displayed from one child of God to another. We can see his disposition of love as we loving serve one another. Certainly, we can see God’s form or shape in the Old Testament as he showed love, mercy, longsuffering and other attributes to the nation of Israel, as well as many types and shadows pointing towards Jesus Christ.
No man has the ability to hear God’s voice or see his shape apart from the spiritual nature given in the new birth. We are just as incapable of perceiving those spiritual things as any other natural man. However, by nothing more than God’s grace, we are given the proper spiritual ears to hear God’s voice and spiritual eyes to see his shape. Let us use those spiritual gifts to be perceptive to God’s voice and guidance and direction in our life, as well as see God’s shape and imprint that he has left in the world around us.