What is your image of God?

God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness..So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them;  male and female he created them.  Gen 1: 26-27

What does the image of God look like?

Michaelangelo’s creation scene on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel of St. Peter’s basilica, in Rome.

In the Hebrew Bible, the word for image is ‘Tzelem’ which has two similar meanings. One is referring to an ‘idol’ as can be seen in the following example from the Second Book of Kings:

“Then all the people of the land went to the house of Baal and tore it down; his altars and his IMAGES they broke in pieces, and they killed Mattan the priest of Baal before the altars. And the priest posted watchmen over the house of the LORD.” (2 Kings 11:18)

The second meaning is a more metaphoric way to describe the tangible item and that is how we received the other meaning of ‘image’ which can be found in the Book of Genesis.

It refers to a pattern or form; it is not the actual thing but bears a resemblance. Tselem is used of sculptures of mice tumors as described by Samuel (1 Sam 6) and false gods (Lev 26:1). It is the word used to describe the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up in the plain of Dura with orders that all were to bow down to it (Dan 3). (It reflected idolatry and is suggested by some to have been a statue made to look like the king himself, accounting for his insanity in chapter 4.)

So in Genesis 1, the idea is clearly that man somehow represents something of or about God, including His presence in the world and His authority. Since we know from other passages that it is not that God has arms, hands, or other bodily parts, the resemblance must be less concrete and more “essential.” None of the other creations of God (whether animal or angel) are in God’s image. We resemble His attributes as much as the material can emulate the perfect Immaterial.

 If both males and females are the image of God does that means that God is androgynous? It seems as though the patriarchal religion of Judaism ignored this possibility. Christianity certainly did! Most depictions of God in Christianity have human male characteristics which may have come from the book of Daniel in the bible.

 In the book of Daniel, God is referred to as “the Ancient of Days” who “took his seat” on the throne and “His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze”. Dan 9:7 It was the venerable appearance of old age that was uppermost in the writer’s mind.” What Daniel sees is not the eternal God Himself, but an aged man, in whose dignified and impressive form God reveals Himself. We see this depicted in Michaelangelo’s creation scene on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel of St. Peter’s basilica, in Rome.

Ezekiel claims God is “ high above on the throne”  “a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.” Ezek 1:26-28

Jesus said, “ I and the Father are one.” and used the word “abba” which is Aramaic for father. John 10:30

However, in the Old Testament

In Hosea 11:3-4 God described as a mother

God: “Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I who took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.”

In Deuteronomy 32:11-12 God described as a mother eagle

“Like the eagle that stirs up its nest, and hovers over its young, God spreads wings to catch you, and carries you on pinions.”

In Deuteronomy 32:18 God who gives birth

“You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.”

In Isaiah 66:13 God as a comforting mother

God: “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”

In Isaiah 49:15 God compared to a nursing mother

God: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.”

In Isaiah 42:14 God as a woman in labor

God: “For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept myself still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant.”

We must also remember the Commandment:

In Exodus 20:4 we read: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 

This was taken so seriously, that not even the name of God was to be spoken!

So, we also read:  “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And He said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14).  This eternal nature is conveyed better in Hebrew than in English.

The first time God says I AM (“I AM WHO I AM”), the Hebrew says, “Ehyeh asher Ehyeh”,  which translates as “I will be what I will be.” The Tetragrammaton, YHWH, appears over six-thousand times in the Bible, even in modern English translations. The Hebrew scribes were very careful to neither say aloud, nor fully spell out the holy and sacred name of God, Yahweh. Instead they would put it in all capital letters, and say Adonai. They put the vowels of Adonai into the consonants of Yaweh to get YAHOWAH, which English Christians translated into Jehovah. Today, any time a translator wants to acknowledge where YHWH is in the original Hebrew text, they use the word LORD in all capital letters.

Perhaps the most significant use of the name I AM in the Bible comes from Jesus Christ. The religious leaders would often try to catch Jesus in heresy, in a lie, or blaspheming so they could be rid of him. In John 8, the Jewish people challenged his authority, and they brought up Abraham. Jesus tells them how glad Abraham is to see the day of the Lord. When asked by the crowd how He speaks as if He knows Abraham, “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was, I am’” (John 8:58). 

 “I AM WHO I AM” is important for today’s Christians to understand the complexity of who God is. God is all-encompassing and self-sufficient. God is portrayed in the image and likeness of Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

So  “ in the image and likeness” can mean to live according to the manner of God. We are to be compassionate, merciful, forgiving, loving, indeed just in loving all for as Jesus says, “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Mt 5:45

A more modern theology depicts or describes God more as a presence, power, influence, or energy.

Ilia Delio, writes: “Teilhard de Chardin’s theology of God is scattered throughout his works; yet, the presence of God in creation pervades his works. In his Christianity and Evolution he summed up the problem of God in an evolutionary world by saying:

‘In the case of a world which is by nature evolutive. . .God is not conceivable (either structurally or dynamically) except in so far as he coincides with (as a sort of “formal” cause) but without being lost in, the center of convergence of cosmogenesis. . . .Ever since Aristotle there have been almost continual attempts to construct models of God on the lines of an outside Prime Mover, acting a retro.  Since the emergence in our consciousness of the ‘sense of evolution’ it has become physically impossible for us to conceive or worship anything but an organic Prime-Mover God, ab ante.  Only a God who is functionally and totally ‘Omega’ can satisfy us.  Who will at last give evolution its own God?’

In Christianity and Evolution he said that God is a dominant causality among the other causalities, a divine energy which is imperceptible. God acts on the whole body of causes without making itself evident at any point. Every element is an overflow of God who is First Cause so that God makes things to make themselves. God acts from within, at the core of each element, by animating the sphere of being from within. Where God is operating, it is always possible for us to see only the work of nature because God is the formal cause, the intrinsic principle of being, although God is not identical with being itself. As principle of being, God imparts to creation its inner dynamism. Because creation is essentially relatedness and God is love, evolution is the unfolding process of God-related dynamic love.

The key to Teilhard’s understanding of the God-world relationship is creative union. He did not hold to a separate doctrine of creation but saw creative union as the integral core of creation which includes the mysteries of incarnation and redemption. Creative union is the union of God and creation in evolution; hence, creation, incarnation and redemption form creative union.  In his “Mon Univers” he wrote:

The theory of creative union is not so much a metaphysical doctrine as a sort of empirical and pragmatic explanation of the universe. This theory came to birth out of my own personal need to reconcile, within the confines of a rigorously structured system, the views of science respecting evolution (which views are accepted here as being definitively established, at least in their essence) with an innate tendency which has driven me to seek out the presence of God, not apart from the physical world, but rather through matter and in a certain sense in union with it.

Teilhard recognized that every act of evolving nature is the self-expression of God, since the very act of nature’s transcendence is the energy of divine love. God unfolds in the details of nature; thus, evolution is not only of God but is God incarnate.  In his Phenomenon of Man he describes evolution as an unfolding process of withinness and withoutness.  The within is the mental aspect and the without is the physical aspect of the same stuff. Although this relationship between within and without points to the role of consciousness at the heart of matter, I think it also points to the unfolding simultaneity of God and world: God is the withinness of the withoutness of matter in evolution.”

Read more at: https://christogenesis.org/teilhard-de-chardin-and-the-future-of-god/#:~:text=As%20principle%20of%20being%2C%20God,world%20relationship%20is%20creative%20union.

Roger Haight writes in: “Jesus Symbol of God”

“Jesus had a genuine human freedom and was not a puppet of God as Logos; God did not operate in Jesus independently of his freedom any more than in any other human being. Because the human reality of Jesus is the symbol of the Logos in history, the truly human Jesus is the self-expression of the Logos. From God’s side, God as Word assumes an integral human reality through which it expresses itself or communicates”  itself to history.

“Reality itself and humanity in particular are so oriented and open to God that the incarnation fulfills the human. The problem with humanity is not the inability to recognize God,””but the failure to recognize the God-given and guaranteed dignity of the human. “It is forbidden to man to think little of himself because he would then be thinking little of God….”Human nature is precisely that which is able to be united with God. And this union in Jesus, because it is symbolic of the self-communication of God to all human beings by grace, constitutes the very source and the finality of creation itself. The event of Jesus Christ is not only coherent with evolution, the intimate union represented in him but realized in the first appearance of human existence is the goal toward which evolution from the beginning has been moving. The fulfillment of reality is the final union of all history and creation with God in glory.”

Our image of God certainly impacts how we live and how we relate to one another as the world community of the Creator’s children. Haight writes:”Christianity is construed as a sect; it cannot really learn from and communicate with those who are “other.” By contrast, Logos christology predicates of Jesus universal relevance. An apologetic, anthropocentric starting point in christology seeks to discover how Jesus has a bearing on all humankind. Jesus Christ cannot really be savior and reconciler at all unless he is significant for all. Logos christology, therefore, appeals to the utopian dimension of human yearning in all human beings. It seeks to provide the very grounds that forbid totalizing systems that exclude certain persons or groups. It understands Jesus as the historical symbol”

When we refer to “God” in any capacity, we must comprehend and imagine a presence that is more mysterious than a facsimile of a human person let alone a “man”. We must view the universe as the evolving loving energy of the Creator and that means we show respect and concern for all of creation whether on this planet or on any other.

About Dr. Ernie Sherretta, D. Min.

Retired Director of Religious Education for the Catholic Church since 2014, granted a B.A. in Philosophy from St. Charles Seminary, an M.A. in Religious Studies from St. Charles Seminary, an M.A. in Counseling Psychology from Immaculata University, and a Doctor of Ministry from the Lutheran Theological Seminary. Spiritual Well-Being Counselor
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