A Coffin For God

The worst piece of art in the history of the world hangs under the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo_-_Creation_of_Adam

It is not, in and of itself, a technical or aesthetic failure.

Quite the contrary.

Indeed, if it were called

“Zeus Tricks Prometheus Into Pulling His Finger” or “Jor-El Sends Kal-El To Earth”

it would be great.

But as it is, it’s proven to be a destructive and divisive instrument to the Good News, a tribute to humanity’s vainglorious lust for ambition and power and not to the spiritual truths that bind us all.

It is -- and without the least sense of irony by either artist or patron -- in direct violation to one of the revered Ten Commandments:  “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”

There’s a reason for that, folks; it’s not just a petty tribal taboo.

Creating an image of the Divine basically puts God in a box.

A box of human making.

A box that serves human purposes.

A box to keep God confined.

A box in which God is dead and buried.

The Sistine Chapel exists very specifically to put a human face on the Divine[1], to change the Divine, in fact, into God, and to depict God as part of humanity’s authoritarian power hierarchy.[2]

That’s nonsense, of course.

Human power hierarchies are meaningless to the Divine.

It’s like trying to confine the vast reality of the oceans into the tiny word “sea” written on an index card and then claiming that because you are holding that card, you are the chosen representative of that “sea” and invested with the power and authority to decide who gets wet.[3]

Putting the Divine into God|box|coffin only benefits the makers of the box.

This is an old, old problem.

It first cropped up immediately after the Divine offered the Covenant from Mt. Sinai to the collected nation of Israel.

The collected nation of Israel freaked, and turned to a substitute God of their own making.

No, not the golden calf:

Moses.

They wanted Moses to be their intercessor, because they could not conceive of the Divine as anything other than a ruthless, merciless, violent tyrant.

Because ruthless, merciless, violent tyrants were the only authority they understood, and authority was the only social structure they could comprehend after having been subjugated to tyrants for centuries.

So Moses obliged.[4]

Moses did not so much interpret the Covenant so much as create loopholes.

“Thou shalt not kill” -- unless you violated this, that, or the other tribal taboo.

“Thou shalt not commit adultery” -- unless you’re a guy wanting to trade up to a newer, hotter model.

“Thou shalt not covet” -- unless you’re part of Moses’ own tribe, and in that case you don’t have to actually own anything ‘cuz you can just tell people you’ll turn off the God spigot unless they give you their best stuff.

He crafted laws that -- outside the context of building a unique national identity among people without one -- are at times insane excursions into pointless minutia.

What you eat?  How you cut your hair?  The type of clothes you wear?  The number of brass rings on the curtain rods in the Tabernacle?

Who cares?

The Divine certainly doesn’t.[5]

But we as the Church in the 21st century are stuck with the finely crafted coffin our predecessors have made for the Divine.

A coffin that imposes human concepts of gender and human concepts of emotion and human concepts of form and even human concepts of physicality onto the Divine.

As was said in only a slightly different context:

“Why seek ye the living among the dead?  He is not here, but is risen.”

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[1]  The Divine already did that a millennium and a half early, and with much better results.

[2]  And very explicitly to link God’s authority to that of Pope Julius II (Michelangelo’s patron) so he could justify laying the smack-down on anyone who rejected him as Head Honcho Of Everything On Earth.

[3]  It could be argued that water is a much better metaphor of the Divine than God the Father:  Water permeates every living thing, is comprised of basic, simple, easy to grasp characteristics, yet moves in its own way without regard to the desires of humans; indeed, humans who attempt to defy water invariably come to a bad end, while those who learn to move with and accommodate water find it a limitless bounty.  And while Jesus used many metaphors for the Divine, he was certainly fond of the water one.

[4]  No, we’re not trashing Moses; he had a tough job re transforming a mob of slaves into a nation of believers.  But the Bible is pretty clear he was a hot tempered, impetuous, judgmental, violent, murderous man and the laws he felt inspired to write often reflect those prejudices and peccadillos.  That he was even able to articulate “an eye for an eye” as a proportional limit to justice marks a significant positive growth and change in his worldview and probably one of the few genuine Divinely inspired laws he laid down.

[5]  Just ask Isaiah, Hosea, Amos, Micah, or Zechariah.

Groucho Marx by Joost Swarte

The Words Of The Prophets...