Wednesday, September 19, 2018
What would humans be without the image of God?
This is the first blog in a series I call “A Radical New Understanding of Humans.” Why is it important for 21st century Americans to understand what humans are? It is because that our view affects and influences everything we do – and everyone else’s view affects and influences what they do.
Humans are social creatures and that means from conception to the disposal of the body humans are dependent on other the actions of humans. In most of the “good” and “bad” things humans experience in life, they are the result of actions of other humans. So, individual and cultural understandings of “what humans are” and “why humans do what they do” are very important.
In many cases, “understandings of what humans are” is related to “understandings of what gods are.” Conflicts over gods and their relationships to human have been major factors in the rise and fall of nations, as well as the types of governments that exist and the quality of life those that are governed experience.
If your understanding of gods and humans is linked to the book of Genesis, it probably includes the belief that “humans are created in the image of God.” But, it is a fact that Christian and Jewish religions have very different “understandings of God.” Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the leading Jewish theologians and philosophers of the 20th century, provides insights that are very relevant to this topic.
In many religions, man is regarded as an image of a god. Yet the meaning of such regard depends on the meaning of the god whom man resembles. If the god is regarded as a man magnified, if the gods are conceived of in the image of man, then such regard tells us little about the nature and destiny of man. Where God is one among many gods, where the word “divine” is used as mere hyperbolic expression, where the difference between God and man is but a difference in degree, then an expression such as the divine image of man is equal in meaning to the idea of the supreme in man.
It is only in the light of what the biblical man thinks of God, namely a Being who created heaven and earth, the God of absolute justice and compassion, the master of nature and history who transcends nature and history, that the idea of man having been created in the image of God refers to the supreme mystery of man, of his nature and existence.
Leaders of Jewish and Christian religions have been arguing about those differences for almost two-thousand years now – and the belief gap between them has widened not decreased. So, I propose that we take a different approach by asking a different question -- “What would humans be without the ‘image of God’”?
The answer to that question was very important to Ezra and his group of scribes that produced the first Torah scroll in Babylon in the fifth century BCE. They were descendants of the Jewish captives taken to Babylon after the First Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 BCE. Their answer is found in the activities that take place on the Sixth Day of Creation.
I will continue this study in the next blog in this series on “A Radical New Understanding of Humans.” The next blog will be about the Sixth Day of Creation.
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