And yet there is something in the world that the Bible does regard as a symbol of God. It is not a temple nor a tree, it is not a statue nor a star. The symbol of God is man, every man. God created man in His image (Tselem), in His likeness (Demuth). How significant is the fact that the term tselem which is frequently used in a damnatory sense for a man-made image of God, as well as the term demuth, of which Isaiah claims (40:18), no demuth or likeness can be applied to God — are employed in denoting man as an image and likeness of God.
-Abraham Joshua Heschel
from “Man the Symbol of God,” p.124
Man’s Quest for God
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
–Colossians 1:15 (NASB)
Yes, I know. They don’t quite match. Heschel is talking about every human being as being made in the image (tselem) of God, even though that Hebrew word is typically used to describe detestable man-made images of gods. I’m hardly a language expert, so I have to wonder if Paul in calling Yeshua (Jesus) the “image of the invisible God” was thinking of the same word for “image” as Heschel mentions.
The reason I bring this up is that one of the more traditional Jewish arguments against Jesus-worship is that we are worshiping an “image” based on Colossians 1:15. Yet if each individual human being in general can be considered a symbol for and image of God, how much more can Messiah, the unique human presence on Earth, the mediator of the New Covenant, be considered the symbol for and image of God?
Kind of makes you wonder.
For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
–John 1:1-3, 14
It is understood that God actually “spoke” the world into existence with His Word. In human terms, our words emanate from us, we generate speech and it exits our mouths. If others are around us, they can hear what we say. So I can only imagine that the Word emanates from God, but in His case, His Word does so much more than just make sound or even language.
I really don’t have that much more to say on the topic. I’m wrapping up the last few notes I took while reading Heschel’s book (I have to get it back to the library) and wanted to make sure I didn’t lose track of the information. It’s part of my continuing process of trying to “get a handle” on the nature of Messiah and also on the nature of man.
And in this sense, Hillel characterized the body as an “icon” of God, as it were, and considered keeping clean one’s own body an act of reverence for its Creator (citing Leviticus Rabba 34, 3; also see Midrash Tehillim, 103).
And what is more, Biblical piety may be expressed in the form of a supreme imperative: Treat yourself as a symbol of God. In the light of this imperative we can understand the meaning of that astounding commandment: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2).
This may add some dimension to another equally astounding commandment:
Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
To be holy and perfect because our Father in Heaven is holy and perfect. It doesn’t seem like such a tall order if we are to consider ourselves symbols for God and images of God. The “Word became flesh” and sojourned among us so that he could be perfectly human and yet the perfect image of God, a living example, our High Priest, but only in the Heavenly Court, who was tempted but did not sin.
Not that we can perfectly refrain from sinning ourselves, but we can be better symbols and images of our God, just as the Master illustrated.
But all may be guided by the words of the Baal Shem: If a man has beheld evil, he may know that it was shown to him in order that he learn his own guilt and repent; for what is shown to him is also within him.
from “The Meaning of this Hour,” p.148
If what we are shown is also within us, what if we’re shown good and not evil? What if we’re shown a perfect symbol and image of God in seeming contrast to our own imperfection as symbols and images? If being shown evil teaches us to repent, shouldn’t being shown good inspire us to draw nearer to the Source of that good?
From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
I don’t think we can accept any longer the argument that Yeshua is not worthy of glory, honor, and devotion because he is considered the “image” of God, because we too are “images”. Each human being is, in some sense, representative of our Creator, and in a greater sense, Messiah is even more representative. How all this works is highly mystical and as such, I can’t explain it, but the “imagery” (pun intended) is compelling.
Our Master is the living embodiment, encased in flesh and blood, of what we should be or at least of what we should be attempting to be: holy and perfect representations of our Creator in human bodies. To do that, we must be in a constant state of repentance before God for nothing that is holy is compatible with sin.