That was a simple question Jesus asked his accusers on the subject of allegiance (Mk.12:16). It is a question we should repeatedly ask as we are inundated with magazines and news. Today we associate the building of images representing the supernatural powers of the world as an activity of primitive people. Their concepts now shattered by science. We think we know better, but let’s not deceive ourselves, we have not outgrown image making. The human mind creates images, invests them with power and lives by them.
We no longer create them with metal, wood, stone, or concrete. We are sophisticated, using words, slogans, captions and pictures in their latest technical format of cell phone, Internet and television. Presidents from Trump to Putin, politicians, film stars, manufactures from Microsoft to Mercedes, and commercial businesses from Nivea to Chanel employ agents, spin-doctors, designers, consultants, the media to create and present, in the most persuasive manner possible, an image that will win them ardent public support and financial gain. The image may be false but being enhanced, repeated, enlarged, paraded, it becomes a permanent fixture in our mind by which we evaluate everything else. What is our image of the United States of America, China, or Russia? What is our image of Hollywood, NASA, the ANC, or the EFF? It is created in our mind by the media each with their own particular bias.
A more critical question is – what is your image of God? You do have one. Due, in part, to the Lord’s Prayer and Christianity’s patriarchal and cultural origin our Western mind has been dominated by the masculine image of God as Father, Creator, Lord, Ruler, Master, King. Strangely, though God’s incarnation depended on the consent and co-operation of a woman, the feminine dimension has been given no prominence; with the exception of the veneration of Mary in Roman Catholic teaching, we have in our liturgies balked at the idea of addressing God as Mother. We have grown up with the image of God as Father, visually depicted by Michael Angelo on the Sistine Chapel ceiling as a white, bearded man floating in space.
We need to remember God has no gender or race; all religions have different images created by their belief and understanding of the origin, nature and purpose of the universe and life itself. This truth became a reality for me when I assisted with the arrangement of an Inter-Faith Art Exhibition of works by African artists in the Durban City Gallery. Our image of God is important because it shapes and governs our lifestyle.
What a panoply of images the human mind has created. I recently read Fr. Richard Rohr teaches ‘that we can find God’s freely given image in all of creation, beginning with ourselves.’ Sister Joan Chittister writes, ’it is not belief in God that sets us apart. It is the kind of God we choose to believe in that in the end makes all the difference.’ We have created many images of God – Law Enforcer, Abusive Manipulator, Terminator, Prosperity Benefactor, Supreme Judge, Reluctant Doctor, Sr. Chittister admits ‘I have allowed God to be mediated to me through images of God foreign to the very idea of God: God the puppeteer, God the potentate, God the persecutor’. In my own spiritual journey I too have made the same mistake. My image of God, shaped by belief, has undergone changes with time and I regret that my past conduct and teaching may have erroneously created for others distorted images of God. It is only an image but it has the power to influence our values and conduct toward others. We mirror the images we create. Revolted by some religious images no wonder some choose atheism, or agnosticism.
It was Meister Eckhart who prayed God would save him from his idea of God. Shattering our limited images of God science has revolutionized our concept of Creation. God is only a word we use for the indescribable life force pulsating in space, in our own heart-beat, the cell of every living creature, and in the structure of the entire universe. We cannot get away from the life force energy we call God. We are because of him. Jesus, in his short life-span, taught us the essence of that energy is Love and Goodness. He is the incarnation of God’s nature. He is the blue print of who we are in our deepest nature, who God sees us to be. God in love, totally surrounds us and is present in everyone, closer than breathing. ‘Love is the energizing elixir of the universe, the cause and effect of all harmonies’ (Rumi).
See in Jesus the image of the mystery called God, but guess what, here is the stunning surprise – God’s image is in you. Yes, it’s true! Look in the mirror deep into your eyes and see your true nature. Gen.1:26 ‘God spoke: ”Let us make human beings in our image, make then reflecting our nature”….‘God looked over everything he had made; it was so good, so very good’. You were born good, blessed, intended to become a true likeness. That’s your true self. Here is a daily mantra “God’s life is living itself in me.” Use it, it will change everything you do and how you see all creation.