The Bible is full of metaphors and images to describe God, at the same time proclaiming that God is beyond our imagination and understanding. Each of us has one of more images in mind when asked to think about God. These images are often the result of early childhood influences, especially our parents. Part of maturing spiritually is to acknowledge that God is not limited by our images, but is far greater than all of them. Spiritual growth consists in widening our horizons and being open to God’s perspective on the world.
Icons in the Orthodox traditions are windows for contemplation. We gaze into the icon with a receptive attitude to be lifted into the eternal presence. We do not believe that God is contained in the icon, but that with humility in our hearts the icon may become God’s eyes for us. The beautiful icon, The Angel Trinity by Andrei Rublev, transports us into the sweet communion of the Trinity of God. We are invited to partner in the friendship and the celebration.
At our weekly meditation group I was asked “what is your image of God?” I struggled to put into words how I see God: “the loving ground of our being; spaciousness and freedom; the spaces and silences without which words would have no form, no meaning; or in a word, mystery.” But, is not Jesus the image of God? Why not picture him when I think of God? He reflects the wonderful qualities of God – like compassion, mercy, integrity and wisdom. He used many images of God in his teaching and ministry, and had a very close relationship and awareness of his “heavenly Father”. All very true, but I have difficulty conjuring up a mental image of Jesus.
So I took a different tack. I considered how people responded to Jesus in the gospels. Can we get an idea of what the image of God looked like in him from peoples’ reactions to him? If you scan through Mark’s gospel for peoples’ reactions, there is a definite pattern: people were amazed, awe-struck, spellbound, and afraid (both enemies and friends). There is only one explanation: that Jesus carried within himself the mystery of God. People never knew quite what to make of him and were often surprised by him and challenged to the point of being afraid of following him. The last word of the original ending of Mark’s gospel is the word “fear”.
The mystery of God may be a way of saying that human beings are very limited in their understanding of life and the universe, but it also a way of saying that we need great humility and trust when we approach the God whose image we see in Jesus Christ.