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Image and Likeness of God spiritual wisdom logo
Right at the beginning of the Bible you can find these words:

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness."  Genesis 1:26

But how do you feel about the terms Image and Likeness? Do you use these words interchangeably or do you think they mean different things? image and likeness of God

Most of us at some time have had to produce a picture of ourselves for some official document, maybe a passport or a bus or train pass. Often when we look at the picture of ourselves we exclaim "it doesn’t look like me at all", which is a bit strange given that for some documents like passports we have to get a third party to witness that the picture "is a true likeness".

Most people take photographs and produce fine pictures of people and landscapes but relatively few people are able to sketch or paint people or landscapes. Is there a difference between a good photograph of someone or a painting of them. Which would you describe as an image and which would you call a likeness?

If you take photographs with a traditional film camera what do you look for in your pictures? - colours, contrast, brightness, sharpness/focus, size, or do you worry about any of the technicalities such as shutter speed, focal length, aperture, film speed etc. But what if you take the pictures with a digital camera – do you worry about such things as the number of pixels and colour depth? Whatever you use do you think of the pictures you take as images or likenesses?

I guess the answer is probably as images. The world of photography and photographic images is full of facts and figures and scientific know how. It is something very tangible that you can learn about and communicate to others clearly and exactly.

But how many people can paint a picture or portrait of someone and what is special about a portrait that does not seem to come from a photograph? Is it perhaps something to do with the character, feelings, and something of the real person? The great masters seem to be able to capture the real essence of the person they paint and can convey their moods and thoughts. Do you think of these sorts of paintings as images or likenesses?

I guess the answer is probably as likenesses.

So we now we begin to have a difference in mind:

Images are associated with what is measurable, well defined and to some extent hard and fixed. But likenesses, on the other hand, are softer, conveying feeling and open to interpretation.

Is that not the difference between truth and goodness or wisdom and love. Is not truth and wisdom measurable, well defined and in a sense angular? Is not goodness and love something soft, associated with feelings and in a sense rounded?

So from this analogy we can begin to see that when the words Image and Likeness are used in the Bible they are describing different things. Image relates to truth and wisdom. Likeness relates to goodness and love

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness."

Emanuel Swedenborg tells us that we are created to be an image of God because we are able to receive Divine Truth and Wisdom into our understanding. We are also created to be a likeness of God because we are able to receive Divine Goodness and Love into our will.

Right from the moment of our creation, as spiritual beings destined for a life to eternity, we are able to receive love and wisdom from God. But of course what is offered freely to us demands our response.

We can turn away from God and fail to fill our understanding with truth or fail to fill our will with the love to do good. Or we can turn to God and accept our need for his wisdom and love. To the extent to which we live according to God’s commandments we will grow into even better and better images and likenesses of God, which is of course what he hopes and intends that we should do.

The likeness and image of God appear clearly in angels, for love from within shines forth in their faces, and wisdom in their beauty; and beauty is the form of their love. I have seen and perceived it. Divine Love and Wisdom 358


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