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GREG - A friend of mine said you can't see God face to face and live. I told him Joseph Smith saw with his spiritual eyes. Was this correct?
JOEL - Your friend probably gets his beliefs from a couple of scriptures including the following:
"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)
No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us." (1 Jn. 4: 12)
However, through revelation Joseph Smith corrected these two verses in his inspired translation of the Bible to the following:
"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."
"No man hath seen God at any time, except them who believe. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us."
In your explanation to your friend I think the word you are looking for is "transfiguration". The scriptures tell us:
"For our God is a consuming fire."(Heb 12:29)
Which means that in our mortal state we could not survive His glory. It is this same glory and consuming fire that will cause the earth to burn at His second coming.
Transfiguration is a temporary physical and spiritual change that comes over a person so that they can behold the glory of God and stand in His presence.
Transfiguration bestows on individuals a temporary condition compatible to that of deity and allows them to see God face-to-face. This is what happened with Moses when He spoke with God "face to face" (Gen. 32: 30, Ex. 33: 11).
Modern revelation says that "no man has seen God at any time in the flesh, except quickened by the Spirit of God" (D&C 67:11). Soon after Moses' call, for example, he was transfigured so that he could withstand God's power; he later wrote:
"But now mine own eyes have beheld God; but not my natural, but my spiritual eyes, for my natural eyes could not have beheld; for I should have withered and died in his presence; but his glory was upon me; and I beheld his face, for I was transfigured before him." (Moses 1:11).
Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration so that "his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light" (Matt. 17:2). On the same occasion, the apostles were similarly changed, enabling them to remain in his transfigured presence.
After Jesus touched His Nephite disciples they were "caught up into heaven" and later reported:
"whether they were in the body or out of the body, they could not tell; for it did seem unto them like a transfiguration of them, that they were changed from this body of flesh into an immortal state, that they could behold the things of God." (3 Nephi 28:15)
Another important ingredient is the strength of one's faith. After seeing the finger of the Lord, God said to the brother of Jared:
"Because of thy faith thou hast seen that I shall take upon me flesh and blood; and never has man come before me with such exceeding faith as thou hast; for were it not so ye could not have seen my finger." (Ether 3:9)
So I guess the answer to your question is that Joseph Smith's body was probably changed so he could see God with his spiritual or transfigured eyes. Your friend might not agree with this since our understanding of most of this comes from latter-day revelation. You could describe it in terms of what happened to Jesus' body at the mount of transfiguration(Matt 17:2).