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 Image of the Invisible God 

According to Maori legend, the god Tiki created the first man from clay and brought him to life by breathing into his mouth and nostrils.  Sound familiar?  As James Frazer documented in Folklore of the Old Testament, key elements of the biblical creation story are found in ancient legends throughout the world.  It’s true that Tiki’s Claymation figure promptly sneezed, a detail missing from the biblical account.  But with both stories the man was created in the image of his maker, and in the Maori version he was called Tiki-ahua, meaning Tiki’s likeness.

With pagan deities, any resemblance between man and god is immediately apparent, since there no prohibition against the making of graven images, as there was with the ancient Hebrews.  Not only were Jews forbidden from worshipping dumb idols, their God mostly kept out of sight.  Moses tried to coax him into showing himself on Mt. Sinai but was only able to catch a quick glimpse from behind, having been told that he could not gaze on the face of God and live. 

Eventually the idea took hold that God was not only unseen but invisible.  But if God has no appearance, what does it mean to be created in his image?  Among those who pondered this question was the Jewish philosopher Philo, who lived in Alexandria during the time of Jesus.  A student of Greek philosophy as well as of the Torah, Philo equated God’s image with a Platonic archetype that has no physical attributes but leaves its imprint upon the world.  The divine Logos, as Philo called it, is manifest in creatures endowed with reason.

As the first-born of creation, Jesus was made in “the image of the invisible God,” St. Paul said.  The same, of course, is true of everyone in creation.  But we can’t go by appearances here; we are talking about essences.   Leave it to philosophers to assume the divine essence is to be found in our human powers of reason.  Yet if God has no earthly attributes, why should this be the exception?  We must go beyond appearances, beyond attributes, beyond anything that we can name, to the core of our being.  We will know we have found our center when we become transparent to ourselves.  The image of the invisible God is not something but nothing, at least nothing that can be named; we too are, in essence, invisible. 

Colossians 1:15

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