Bible Review 19:6, December 2003

Seeing God

God appears in a colorful spectrum of images in the Bible.

By Mary Joan Winn Leith

Bible Review

How are we to perceive the divine when the Bible presents God in so many different guises? A familiar metaphor—the rainbow—might be helpful. A rainbow forms when drops of water split invisible white light into its component visible color spectrum. Similarly, the Bible makes God visible in a spectrum of characters.

What does this God spectrum register? Roughly, the degree to which God is portrayed as human (or demonic) or transcendent. At one end of the spectrum there is the royal God of the Seven Days of Creation (Genesis 1–2:4)—transcendent, ineffable, omnipotent. This God has only to command, “Let there be light!” and, to borrow the words of Pharaoh Yul Brynner in Cecil B. DeMille’s Ten Commandments, “So must it be.” For Jews, Christians and Muslims, this is the most familiar view of God: a benevolent deity who speaks and divides and sees that all creation is “good.” The God of Genesis 1 defies definition (in the Latin sense of the word fine, “border”) most notably by transcending elemental human categories of male and female (Genesis 1:27).

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