Title: Images, Form and Spirits
Text: Gen. 3:8-9
God is spirit and so are we− that was demonstrated when God first created Adam out of the dust of the ground, and then breathed His breath of life into the man (Gen. 2:7-8). We also know that we have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in Christ, so clearly, we are both physical and spirit; the Scripture references of this are familiar to us all. That we are embodied is also obvious to all; what is not obvious is whether or not God has a form, a body, and appearance.
There are two theological terms I have used many times, that describe visual appearances of God. What’s more, there is a third theological term that is used to refer to comparisons of human references to describe or explain God’s attributes. These terms are:
Theophany: A temporary and visible manifestation of God in a human or other form.
Christophany: A pre-incarnation appearance of Christ.
Anthropomorphism: The attribution of human characteristic to God in order to explain or express His attributes. (Theological definition, there are other applications in science).
It stands to reason, does it not, that if we have theological terms about the “appearance” or visual manifestation of God, that God has an appearance, and if human attributes can be used to describe the attributes of God, that humans do indeed carry His image or likeness in some way. The only thing is, is the “form” in which God appears is temporary… or does He have a permanent form?
Let’s look at some texts:
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:8-9)
These verses come in the story of the fall and its aftermath (Gen. 3:1-24); both Adam and Eve had disobeyed God, and now they sought to hide from Him, and they “heard the sound” of God
walking in the Garden. God is Spirit, of that we can be certain, but on that fateful day, He was walking through the Garden, a physical act, making noise that could be heard by the physical ear, and spoke in language with a voice that could also be physically heard by humans. The text also implies that the sound of God walking through the Garden was recognized as Him walking, as though this was not unusual, and if it wasn’t unusual, then why were the two hiding? Why wouldn’t God relate to Adam this way when Adam was in his sinless state? God had a form and appearance in the physical sense in the Garden.
Shall we try another text?
Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When the two of them stepped forward, he said, “Listen to my words:
“When there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, reveal myself to them in visions, I speak to them in dreams. But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?”
Numbers 12:5-8 (full context Num. 12:1-16)
Who can forget the time when Miriam and Aaron were called out for daring to oppose Moses?
For our purposes, did you notice that God seems to think that He has a visible form? With other prophets, God deals in visions, dreams and riddles, but He gets with Moses face to face, in person.
The Hebrew word used is temuna (H8544) which means “form, image, likeness, representation, semblance” and is found ten times in the Old Testament (Ex. 20:4; Num. 12:8; Deut, 4:12, 15, 16, 23, 25, 5:8; Job4:16; Ps. 17:15) with consistent meaning and application.
It is beginning to be clear to me that God does in fact have a form, and He may from time to time, at His sole discretion, choose to be seen by humans, and it is also becoming clear to me that we cannot discount this as though it were some sort of a fluke. Yes indeed, God is Spirit, that fact is not in despite, but as I’ve long suspected, it is beginning to appear as though our understanding of what that means has been a bit short-sighted. Ask yourself a question: How many times have we read passages of Scripture in which someone saw an angel of the Lord? Angels are also spirit beings, and yet when the occasion arises, they too can be seen to have a form.
I don’t know about you, but I’m intrigued. Let’s continue to follow this trail; there are more passages to examine…
Take a look at Exodus 33:18-21:
Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” Then the LORD said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”
At this point in his experience, Moses wanted to see God, but that was not permissible, for no one could see God’s face and live. In order for this to be true, wouldn’t God need to have a face? So, God decided to let Moses see His back… Wouldn’t He need to have a back? Of course, it would also appear that He had a hand, since He was going to us it to cover Moses’ eyes…
The real question presented by these two verses is: What happened between Exodus 33 and Numbers 12 that made it possible for Moses and God to talk face to face? Nothing in our discussion thus far negates the fact that God is Spirit, nor does anything negate the fact that humans also have a spirit:
Humans as we know already have both form and spirit, and if God also has both form and spirit, then there is more significance for us in the here and now of being created in His image, than there would be otherwise, for it results in far-reaching implications.
The Image of God and the Western Mind
So far, our journey of exploration has found that God’s image, and our having been created in His image, runs headlong into the inescapable conclusion that it covers the whole package of human existence, body, soul and spirit. For many people, the idea of God having a form is a tough one to grasp, leading to difficulty in understanding that His image is also reflected in our human form. Certainly, there are many who would argue against this notion, and yet looking at Scripture, it’s hard to miss.
The difficulty that many of us have in seeing this is that most of us are Western in our orientation, and this makes quite a lot of Scripture hard to understand, for the Scriptures were not written by Western minds or in a Western mindset; they were written from an ancient Hebrew perspective, which is quite different.
In the early years of the church, the dominant mindset was Hebrew; even the Gentile believers learned to view things in the Hebrew manner, but as time moved forward, and Christianity became more and more populated by Gentiles, and Christianity became dominant in Europe, there came an impetus to move in a direction more akin to the traditions of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and away from that of the Jews. With time, even pagan ceremonies and observances were incorporated into the church because the church had become part of the State, beginning with Constantine making Christianity the State Religion of the Roman Empire.
By the time of the Reformation, Christianity in the West was dominated by Western thought, and many of our doctrinal traditions of today came out of this period when some of the greatest theologians of all time wrote from an entirely Western point of view, including such names as Luther and Calvin. To the Western mind, God is most notable for His free exercise of power, while to the Hebrew, God is most notable for His restraint. The Western mind sees the physical realm as fallen, corrupt and depraved, while to the Hebrew it is God’s perfect creation. To the Western mind, the human body is inherently evil, to the Hebrew the human body is inherently good; God’s own image. To the Western perspective, a spirit having a form is hard to conceive of, but for the Hebrew mind, it is a given.
The Scriptures are more difficult for those of us who were raised and trained in the West; we miss things like the proper role of covenants, the nature of our own beings and how to understand apocalyptic texts; we even understand writers like the Apostle Paul as Western, when in fact, Paul was a Pharisee among Pharisees, trained by Gamiliel; the intellectual antithesis of Greek philosophy.
Jesus and His Father
Last week we looked at the issue of images, form and spirits through the lens of a few Old Testament passages; here are a few from the New Testament in Jesus’ words,:
See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. (Matthew 18:10)
This falls within a larger section in which Jesus was “discipling the disciples”, teaching them about what it means to follow Him, and focusing in on His messianic mission. Remember also that this was a transitional verse that moved into the parable, and it was all about how a disciple should not disdain or diminish anyone. This transitional verse has a way of flying past us without much notice, but for our purposes have a look. Jesus speaks of the angels in heaven who “see the face of my Father” almost in passing, really as a given, as though it would be so obvious that it really didn’t deserve any attention of its own, as He moves onto His larger point. Yet for our present adventure, we need to see that God has a face means that even in heaven, God has some sort of a form.
If this were simply a turn of phrase or an idiom, wouldn’t we expect to see it in other places? Jesus only used this phrase once, thus it would appear that Jesus means the words literally. Shall we try another one?
I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
John 5:36-40 (emphasis added)
This passage falls within the context of 5:1-47, beginning when Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath. The man told the Jewish leaders who had done the shocking deed, and beginning in verse 16 they confront Jesus about His unlawful behavior. Jesus’ defense in vv. 19-30 is essentially that He is doing His Father’s work when the Father sees fit to do it, and then in 5:31 ff. Jesus is citing that He has two witnesses to prove this: John (the Baptist) and the Father Himself. Contextually speaking, His words in verse 37 (You have never heard his voice nor seen his form) are an integral part of His defense in which the fact that the Father has both a voice and a form are understood to be facts. If this were not the case, then Jesus is making a very poor defense and opening Himself up to further accusations.
To be quite candid at this point, the first time I looked at these passages, I was a little uneasy for even though the way I had been taught never rang true for me, and I could easily see its flaws, I find myself struggling at this point because I don’t understand how this works, and I am the sort who likes to understand how things work. Then, a certain statement that Jesus made, that we can all quote, came to mind; a passage that made the whole thing sensible to me.
The Scriptures contain God’s complete revelation of Himself to Mankind; everything He has revealed to us. Yet this is not to suggest that He has revealed to us everything that there is to know. When my kids were young, there was a time when I had taught them everything they knew about politics, but I hadn’t come close to teaching them everything I knew about politics. At that time, I was right in the middle of the fray, and I knew things they simply were not ready for or capable of handling responsibly. God, our Creator, our loving heavenly Father has not revealed everything He knows to us, simply because He knows things that we can neither handle nor properly comprehend; He has revealed to us what we need to know.
So, for the purposes of our exploration into the image of God, there are aspects of it that we will most likely not fully comprehend, and one of those is how a spirit can have a form which, on occasion, can be seen by a person. Yet Scripture does reveal that they do, and that God, who is Spirit, has a form and that we have been created in His likeness, as we have already seen.
As I mentioned earlier, this was a tough one for me to grab a hold of, to get my brain around, until I recalled this verse:
Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
Contextually speaking, this verse falls within Jesus’ final discourse with His disciples (John 14-17) on the night of His arrest. He is giving them encouragement and guidance for the trials that lay ahead, and in this particular part of the discussion, He is telling them that He is in the Father, the Father is in Him, and that He is in us, another little concept that is not easy to comprehend the mechanics of.
So, imagine you are there with Jesus that night, and He says this, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father”: What do you see when you look at Jesus? (Try to picture this in your mind)
If you are honest, the first thing you will see is His physical presence, His body, but knowing who you are looking at, you will perceive much more than that, for Jesus embodied the power of God, healing the sick, making the lame whole again, giving sight to the blind, chasing out demons and bringing justice and the Kingdom to the people, and just as we cannot separate
Jesus from the Word, we also cannot separate His humanity from His divinity. When Paul said that Christ was “the image of God” in 2 Corinthians 4:4, he spoke of the complete package.
Many scholars have observed, and I think rightly so, that Jesus was the Holy Spirit in a body. You and I are earthen vessels that contain the Holy Spirit, for in Christ, we have the Holy Spirit indwelling our mortal bodies, for we have been created in the image of God, body, soul and spirit, and it is the entire package that comprises God’s image and likeness.
I think I should give you some time for reflection on this, for it truly is a really big deal to be made in God’s image. I will conclude for now by simply saying that the more I think about this, the more I realize that the implications of this are beyond huge; they are profound and vast.
When we come back, I think we need to take a look at a few things Paul wrote about that will shed some more light on this line of thinking as we continue in this series.