Image of God

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The image of God (concept of God) is understood to mean

  • either a physical representation of the divine (an image )
  • or an (inner) image that people connect with the term God , a conglomerate of ideas, feelings, associations (a construct ).

Images of God in historical development

Originally, images of God were plastic or painted representations of gods, which were supposed to express the idea of ​​God more realistically and were usually worshiped. They were especially widespread in the ancient religions of Mesopotamia , Egypt , the Orient , Greece and Rome .

The Jewish religion teaches to this day in their writings the Nichtanfertigen of God's images. The prohibition of images in Islam is not documented in the Koran , but can be proven in the hadith literature since the 8th century. Various religions claimed to dispense with images of God - for example Zoroastrianism or Shintoism  - but later produced images of gods.

In Hinduism and some forms of Buddhism gods representations are common.

Judeo-Christian images of God

The ban on images

In the Judeo - Christian religion, on the one hand, man himself created by God is understood as the image of God (cf. Gen 1: 27f.), On the other hand, a ban on images is stipulated in the Ten Commandments (cf. Exodus 20: 4-5). Worship is due neither to man made by God nor to man-made images, but to God alone.

Christian images of God

In terms of the psychology of religion , it is hardly possible to believe in a god without getting an idea of ​​him. Hence, Christian theology and philosophy have developed several means to minimize the dangers involved.

The Scholastics knew the Triplex Via , three times the transformation of an idea before it could be applied to God. This has also been called the analogy of speaking about God . In Christianity the conviction prevailed that the correct image of God can only be obtained from Jesus Christ , the "image of the invisible God" ( Col 1:15) and from the New Testament . It was an essential part of the message of Jesus of Nazareth to proclaim an image of God of mercy, unconditional love, willingness to forgive and non-violence. The seriousness of human misconduct was by no means played down, since God is credited with allowing human free will .

The Christian concept of God is rooted in the biblical tradition of the Old and New Testaments. The two basic "images" with which Christianity forms an idea of ​​God are: God as Creator and the Incarnation of God in Christ . The Creator (the Father) as well as the Son Jesus reveal themselves in the Holy Spirit in order to be present in spiritual form.

In the Old Testament, God meets primarily as the Creator (Gen. 1 + 2), as an all-determining reality. In this sense he is described as the one who acts in his creation and that in the supportive company of those who believe in him. The Old Testament God appears as a liberator (Exodus 3:14), as the protector of the people of Israel (Exodus 20), as a helping companion (Gen. 12: 1-5).

In the New Testament, the exclusive bond between God and Israel is replaced by the idea of ​​salvation for all people. Here God is portrayed as one God of all people, who has revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ . The basic statement is now: God is love (John 3:16).

Between conservative and progressive Christians there are partly different beliefs regarding the image of God: the punishing God (accountant God, judge God) on the one hand and on the other hand the loving, merciful God ("Abba", the God who forgives all sins, Jesus Christ in the Our Father and in numerous parables).

Especially after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (at Pentecost ), Jesus is present in the Holy Spirit (according to his promise to be with his own until the end of the world).

Artists and painters have repeatedly made biblical scenes that have to do with God as paintings or sculptures. These works are usually not designed to be worshiped.

Theological terms

The apparent contradiction between a ban on images and an image is based on an imprecise understanding of the text. In the original Hebrew text, for example, the word “zelem” (image, image) is used at the point mentioned . In his main philosophical work, Guide to the Indecisive , Maimonides shows that this term always indicates a spiritual quality, an essence. That is why the image of God in man is the human essence, that does not mean physical equality, but human reason. In contrast, it is the image (tmuna) and the (three-dimensional) still image or the statue (pessel) , which according to Jewish understanding and belief have an idolatrous character and are also explicitly listed in the form of prohibitions in the Decalogue . The ban on images is initially meant as a ban on making an artistic image for the purpose of cultic worship (idol image) and is polemical against a corresponding worship of foreign gods. The later theological interpretation u. a. In Philo's work, the prohibition of images also relates to concrete, anthropomorphic , physical and generally inappropriate ideas of God.

Images of God from other religions

Hinduism knows many different gods and accordingly different images of God.

Buddhism originally dispensed with images of God. Occasionally, however , the deified Buddha takes their place.

Philosophical images of God

In the Liber viginti quattor philosophorum (Book of the 24 Philosophers) from the late 12th century, various abstract definitions of God are juxtaposed, such as: B. that God is a sphere whose center is everywhere and whose periphery is nowhere.

This is a thought that develops from Nicolaus Cusanus to Blaise Pascal in his pensées . However, the idea is more related to natural philosophy and cosmology than to the doctrine of God.

Modern criticism of religion and modern images of God

Ludwig Feuerbach criticized images of God as projections of human desires and dreams, Sigmund Freud as images of the human psyche. Friedrich Nietzsche spoke of man killing God (through science, doubt and taste). Philosophers like Albert Camus described belief in a god as superfluous or even impossible.

These points of criticism have left their mark on modern theology. This is why the so-called “God is dead” theology arose above all in the USA, and was taken up by Dorothee Sölle in Germany . Here an attempt was made to establish Christianity without God.

Karl Barth and other theologians tried to counter objections critical of religion by pointing out that any images of God in humans are futile. Only the image of God that God has drawn in his revelation through Jesus Christ is true and does not fall under the theses critical of religion.

Wolfhart Pannenberg pointed out that the religious dimension is part of the human being. Man is condemned, so to speak, to think about the transcendent and in this sense to imagine God, that is, to make images of God.

Individual ideas of God

At the end of the 19th century, the sociologist Edwin D. Starbuck analyzed the personal image of God of white Protestant believers in the USA with the help of a survey and found that a third to a quarter of those questioned reported their experience of personal communion with God. He interpreted this as an expression of a universal need for community and friendship. The psychologist William James continued this work and distinguished between different types of piety and the associated ideas of a perceptible or imperceptible God. He distinguished u. a. Ideas of healthy and sick, happy and unhappy, converted or deeply absorbed in mystical immersion, as well as people from different religions.

Web links

Commons :  Images of God - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Liber viginti Quattor philosophorum . ( Wikisource )
  2. Centrum igitur mundi coincidit cum circumferentia , Chapter XI of the 2nd book of the Docta ignorantia
  3. Edwin D. Starbuck: Psychology of Religion . Scott, London 1899.
  4. ^ William James: The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature . Heraklion Press, 2014 (first 1902)