Roots of Religion and the Image of God
It is important to establish some level of agreement as to the form and function of a deity in order to believe in it.
A collective agreement on the nature of God most naturally includes the record and results of God’s interaction with the human race. The recorded history of religion is found in books such as the Bible and the Koran of Islam. Genesis and the Old Testament are traditionally regarded as the earliest-recorded history of the Judaic and Christian God. The roots of this same God are shared with the Muslim or Islamic faith.
Muslim, Jewish and Christian worlds remain at odds over “ownership” of God because there is a lack of agreement about the manifestations of God here on earth. Muslims believe the ultimate receiver of the Word of God was the prophet Mohammad, who interpreted the Koran to a scribe. Christians believe that Jesus was the Son of God and that the New Testament is a record of his ministry here on earth. Jews rely on the Torah, or “Old Testament” as delivered to Moses and Abraham. Many in the Jewish faith anticipate the arrival of a Messiah in the future. Both Christians and the Nation of Islam appear to agree that it will be Jesus who returns on Judgment Day.
God, however, is the constant through all these faiths. Religions may squirm and shirk all they like, but the roots of the major monotheistic faith traditions are intractably linked.
These similar but intensely differentiated interpretations of God’s image define the major religions of Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Each provides its own proof that the “image of God” is at once a tangible and intangible thing.
God’s image is consistently tangible in the sense that God holds to an element of form (the Almighty or Creator) but not of substance––hence the development of the Christian Triune God in Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Even within a given religious tradition, such as Christianity, God appears in different forms. These traditions also reflect changes in behavior and attitude of God within the biblical record. Religions love to claim that God is a changeless in the sense that God is always there, but it is pretty hard to argue that a God who calls for genocide and the God who brings Jesus with a call to “Love your enemies” is a changeless deity.
God also appears first as a burning bush and later as a voice in the clouds. Again these manifestations can hardly be characterized as ‘changeless,’ much less something upon which the “image of God” can be radically fixed in terms of a model for humankind.
So the “man in God’s image” model functions only in terms of imitating the being known as God in spirit, not in form, or even character. We are left with an interesting challenge; how to decide which “image” of God and humanity is most accurate and reliable in developing a closer relationship to God.
To solve this argument, religions traditionally turn the attention of believers to the idea of obeying the tenets of the God that defines their respective religious tradition. Though these methods people hope to achieve a reward of heaven or paradise in the afterlife, to be with God.
The process of pursuing a life in God bears many labels: enlightenment, fulfillment, atonement, grace, justification, hope, good works and sacrifice. All are modes of reconciliation to God. These methods of reconciliation are dictated through religious tradition and how that religion projects the image of God over the face of faith. It is these differences in tradition, and by degree, that bring religions into such conflict over how to worship God and live our lives on earth.
Heaven or paradise may be the goal, but the image of God in man––and how that image is to be reflected in our behavior––is what we wrestle over here on earth.
Today’s blog is drawn from excerpts of The Genesis Fix by Christopher Cudworth