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What Does God Look Like?

Genesis 1:26-27
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

If we assume that God has a fixed aspect, then if mankind was made a physical likeness of God, all humans would look alike, male and female, and would look like this fixed aspect of God. But this is not the case. There are vast differences in colors, size, musculature, etc. that mean that human beings are each individual.

But God does not have a fixed aspect. God is all things and in all things, therefore how could He have made man in His image? There is a way: the “image” is not a physical resemblance, but a mental one. When God created mankind in His image, he made us capable of conscious thought – of logic and reason and the ability to overcome our natural shortcomings, which is the essence of free will and the reason for the tree in the Garden. And if we are made in the image of God in terms of our ability to reason, wouldn’t it stand to reason that to purposely ignore that capacity would be wrong? To deny our likeness to God would be to deny God Himself.

I have had a great many friends of many faiths who have sat with me to tell me the tenets of their faith as they understand them, and I am always alarmed at those denominations who tell their adherents “You are not allowed to think these thoughts, to see these images, to know these things. To do so is an offense against God.” But our minds are made such that thoughts occur to us all the time, unbidden. We don’t necessarily have control of the things that occur to us. But we do have control over what we do with those thoughts. Buddhist discipline says that when you have an unwelcome thought, you acknowledge it, do not judge it, and let it go like a breeze. Those thoughts that are unproductive and hurtful can be dismissed without condemning the thinker for the simple act of having them. But we also acknowledge that harboring those thoughts is dangerous – not the thoughts themselves, but because they influence our actions. The more you think bad thoughts about a person, the more likely you are to act badly toward that person.

By treating their congregations as so many idiot children, modern churches accomplish two things: they feed the modern tendency to leave thinking to someone else, and they exacerbate the intolerance that seems to be the hallmark of modern organized religion.

People nowadays are inundated by choice to the point of paralysis. Anyone who had stood in the aisle of a supermarket trying to make a decision can testify to this fact. There are numerous movements that seek to “simplify” people’s lives, but they all come down to the same thing – reduce the amount of time that people spend making decisions. If one subscribes to a particular “lifestyle,” then one need only look at the choices that lifestyle offers and no further. By offering a spiritual lifestyle, churches give both a prescribed and a proscribed set of behaviors so that the adherent need look no further and need never bother looking at situations individually and thinking hard about either their causes or their effects.

Similarly, one way in which different religions distinguish themselves is by that very list of prescriptions and proscriptions, so that the members of a religion are taught that anyone who does something that this religion forbids is “bad,” and anyone who doesn’t do things that this religion finds important are likewise “bad.” And yet, in terms of Christian religions, they all profess to following the same word of the same God.

The danger of ignoring our own part in the Godhead is mental and spiritual atrophy along with judgmental hypertrophy. People lose their ability to think critically at all, depending instead on people and things outside themselves and their circumstances to tell them how to cope with lives that increasingly alienate and confuse them. They lose their connection with what it feels like to be spiritually engaged in the world by being spiritually engaged with all the things in that world – including the billions of the world’s poor, the animals who cannot defend themselves against us and of whom God made us stewards, the earth itself which was created to house us and which our own apathy is spoiling. And our judgmental hypertrophy means that we can look at those people and things that are being affected and say "They brought it upon themselves."

I would call on people to think for themselves, but that sort of call is useless. Those people who are already doing so wouldn’t listen to me, and the rest would resent the accusation that they don’t. So instead, I leave it in my journal for myself.

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
recursive
Dec. 14th, 2004 10:41 am (UTC)
the modern tendency to leave thinking to someone else

I am not sure that's merely a modern tendency. I suspect people have been doing it roughly forever, it's just easier in certain situations (feudalism, consumerism?) than others (various nomadic living perhaps?). I think what is so repugnant about it today is that, on average, access to information and education is a lot better than it once was, and yet people still, on the whole like to leave thinking to someone else.
hangedwoman
Dec. 14th, 2004 10:55 am (UTC)
*wild applause*

And virtual chocolates, if you'd like them.
wordweaverlynn
Dec. 14th, 2004 11:50 am (UTC)
Dorothy Sayers wrote a fascinating book on the theology of creativity called The Mind of the Maker. She posits that the image of God in us is the ability to imagine and create.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )