The Tao of Christ

In the Image of God

May 21, 2022 Marshall Davis
The Tao of Christ
In the Image of God
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode look at some famous verses in the first chapter of Genesis about the creation of human beings and talk about what it means to be made in the image of God from a nondual perspective. 

Today I am going to look at some famous verses in the first chapter of Genesis about the creation of human beings and talk about what it means to be made in the image of God from a nondual perspective. First it should be noted that according to the first creation account in the Bible, the God Elohim created all things and creatures, including humans, simply by speaking them into existence. This is significant because in other Ancient Near Eastern creation accounts the heavens and the earth and living creatures are formed by other means – usually violence or sex. But the Hebrew account has the deity simply speaking the world into existence. 

Elohim created by means of words. All things are essentially words of God. All of Creation is the Word of God. Which is how we are to understand the opening words of John’s gospel, which says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” This word – logos – is then said to be the eternal Christ. It says, “Everything was made through him and without him nothing was made that was made.”  

In other words John is saying that everything is divine word. Everything is holy. That is what the author of the Genesis account is saying when he declares everything is good, and at the end of the story declared that it is very good. I wrote a blog recently entitled “Everything is holy now.” That title came from the song “Holy Now” by Peter Mayer. He sings:

When I was a boy, each week

On Sunday, we would go to church

And pay attention to the priest.

He would read the holy word

And consecrate the holy bread

And everyone would kneel and bow.

Today the only difference is

Everything is holy now.

Everything, everything,

Everything is holy now.


That is what this creation story is saying. I got some pushback about that blog from a longtime friend of mine, who has become a fundamentalist. He replied, “If everything is holy, nothing is holy.” That is a dualistic way of seeing, believing that holy can only exist as distinguished from unholy. I responded to him, “If everything is not holy, nothing is holy.”

The Genesis account is saying clearly that all things are words of God and good – very good. Everything is an expression of God’s being and nature and goodness. Instead of simply speaking the world into existence, we might imagine God singing the universe into existence. We could the physical world the Song of God. The universe is the original psalm, the original scripture and revelation of God, long before there was human language and writing and books. If you want to know God, look around you. God communicates through all things. 

Looking at it another way we could say that the physical universe is no more real than words. In what sense can we say that the words we speak are real? They are simply vibrations in the air. They are vibrations created by our mouths and received by other’s ears and understood by our brains. They are nothing more than vibrations. So is the world. Physicists tell us the universe is nothing more than vibrations. 

That is the heart of this biblical creation story. God speaks and the universe exists. God simply says, “Let there be, and there is.” “Let there be light and there was light.” And “Let there be a firmament” and “Let there be the moon and the stars and living creatures.” Everything is the expression of God, ideas of God expressed in time and space. In other words, everything is divine. Everything is holy. Including humans. According to the story, after the Hebrew God Elohim created land animals on the sixth day, he finally got around to making humans. It says:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

We are made in the image of God. That statement of scripture has prompted centuries of speculation as to exactly what it means to be made in the image of God. Exactly what is the image of God? Some say it is the rational mind. Some say it is the immortal soul. Some say it is a divine spark in us. Some say that it simply means that the ancient Hebrews pictured God as having human form, like Michelangelo’s depiction of God on the ceiling pf the Sistine Chapel. God as an old white guy with a beard. 

The Greek philosopher Xenophanes said, “The Ethiops say that their gods are flat-nosed and black, while the Thracians say that theirs have blue eyes and red hair. Yet if cattle or horses or lions had hands and could draw, and could sculpt like men, then the horses would draw their gods like horses, and cattle like cattle; and each they would shape bodies of gods in the likeness, each kind, of their own.”

Perhaps that is all it means to say that God made man in his own image and likeness. Perhaps it really means that men have made God in their own image. As Voltaire said, “In the beginning God created man in His own image, and man has been trying to repay the favor ever since.” But I think there is a profounder truth here.

And the truth is found in the meaning of the Hebrew word for image. I am no Hebrew scholar. There was a time when I could sit down and translate a page of Hebrew with no problem. I knew Hebrew well enough to be admitted into the Ph.D. program in Old Testament. But I transferred out of that program in a D. Min program and have forgotten nearly all I knew of Hebrew. But I still remember how to use a lexicon.

The Hebrew word translated here image is םלֶצֶ tselem, tseh'-lem. It is from the root meaning “to shade; a phantom, and illusion.” According to Gesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon, which was for a long time the chief scholarly authority, the first definition of this word is “a shadow.” When the creation story says that human were made in the image of God, it is saying we are the shadow of God. You can imagine how that word would come to mean image because our shadow is a sort of image of us.  

Think what that translation of םלֶצֶ tselem, tseh'-lem  as shadow means for a moment. It is picturing God as the Real and we are the shadow of the real. It makes me think immediately of Plato’s allegory of the cave, which says that we are not what we think we are and this world is not what we think it is. Everything, including us, are simply the shadow of the Real. You look in a mirror and you know the image in the mirror is not you. It is a reflection of you. We are the reflection of God. Zen talks about people mistaking the reflection of the moon in a bucket of water for the moon itself. 

We are the reflection of God, reflections of the real. We are the shadow of God. To say we are made in the image of God is a metaphorical way of saying that we have no substance. We are an illusion. Yet what we are a shadow of what is real. And this Real is what we truly are - our true nature. The seemingly two – the shadow and the Real - are seen as actually one. There is only one Real. Nondual. 

At the entrance of the Delphic oracle was the inscription “Know Thyself.” When we do self-inquiry and investigate what we really are, then we see what the shadow points to, and we turn to the light. We emerge from Plato’s cave into the light where there are no shadows. Only the one Reality. We are the image of God. When we know what we are deeply and thoroughly, that is spiritual awakening.