A Plural God
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness;”
The image of God as a stern, bearded, all-powerful, white man is primarily an invention of the West. Certainly, there are biblical references to this fearsome, limited image of God, but when considering the references to God in their totality, it is not a very accurate picture. The name generally translated as God in the Bible is Elohim; the name translated as Lord in the Bible is Adonai. These are the two most common scriptural designations for God, and both are plural nouns in their original Hebrew. The plurality of the names has been lost in translation, as witnessed by our common understanding of God and Lord as singular beings. Some other references are feminine. The point is that God expresses in a number of different ways and is not confined to any of them.
It should not be surprising that our One God manifests in a plurality of ways. It is true of much of creation, including us. I am a father, husband, co-worker, brother, and friend. In each of these roles, I express myself differently, even though each is a unique expression of one being. Intelligence is not a single aspect, but is a combination of intellectual, emotional, and instinctual intelligences, each expressing in unique ways and providing distinct perspectives to a single body of knowledge. There are numerous phases to each day: sunrise, morning, noon, evening, sunset, and night. All are discrete parts of one day.
The first biblical hint that God is a plurality occurs in Genesis 1:26, where it is written, “Then God said, Let us make humankind in our image.” The writing is distinctly and unmistakably plural. The question, then, is if God is One, as many of us believe, who are the others? This question is often reconciled by the religious doctrine of the Trinity – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In short, the Trinity names the three persons, or personas, or faces of the One God. I will address the Trinity later in this series, so that is all I will say at this point, except that God appears to manifest in multiple ways, always in relation to other expressions of God or parts of creation. Whether we believe God expresses in one, three, or many ways, it is clear to me that our One God has many faces.
The observation that God has many faces is encouraging. If our God is all-inclusive and if we are all created in God’s likeness, then the being of God must include the infinite variations among all of us: all colors, all cultures, all genders, all ages, all beliefs. That is good news for those who feel excluded from, unworthy of, or otherwise unable to access the all-inclusive love of God. In the Genesis creation story, God looks over the whole of creation and sees that it is good. We, on the other hand, look over the whole of creation and label some good and some not-so-good, some righteous and some evil, some like us and some not like us. We cannot begin to know and experience the depth of God’s love for us until we learn to see God’s creation as God sees it: wonderful and beautiful in all its awesome and infinite diversity. We are an inseparable part of one world expressing in countless ways, just like the image and likeness of the One God from whom we and all creation flow.
Our One God expresses in a plurality of ways.
Note: this is the third in a series of Life Notes on the Faces of God.