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1.3 Yahweh's Self-Portrait

Volume 1: Foundations—Chapter 3 

Yahweh’s Self-Portrait

When Yahweh instructed His people, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth,” (Exodus 20:4) the stated reason for the Commandment was that He was a “jealous” God; that is, because of His zeal, ardor, and passion for that which was His (i.e., us) we were not to give our devotion to some other god, whether one of our own manufacture or something else that He’d made. We were not to guess at what God might “look” like, and then make visual representations based on our conjectures. And we were certainly not to serve or bow down to our own conception of what God was.

No, the “image” Yahweh wanted us to see was the one He Himself had “carved.” But unlike the idol makers of Egypt, Yahweh didn’t fashion His self-portrait out of stone, wood, or metal (and His image in flesh, Yahshua, had a different job to do). Rather, His medium was more intangible and elusive, consisting of concepts and ideas, of thought and will. The image He fashioned wasn’t material, but metaphorical; it wasn’t corporeal, but conceptual. It consists of seven things (no surprise there) that are fundamental to our very existence—for He is the essence and first cause of that existence. Throughout scripture, Yahweh describes Himself in terms of these seven elemental symbols, all of which should be considered collectively as one comprehensive concept. (There’s our SeptiUnity theme again.) They’re essential to our understanding of who He is and what He’s like. These are not so much things Yahweh does (like creating, loving, judging, saving, and forgiving) but rather things He is—models drawn from our common human experience that reveal His nature and personality. Take away any one of the seven and our picture of Yahweh becomes unbalanced—incomplete and inadequate. Add to the list and it loses focus, becoming a reflection not of God’s revelation but of our own desires and preconceptions.

It’s remarkable, of course, that God should reveal Himself at all. If He is “big enough” to have created the physical universe, logic would tell us that we humans are insignificant specks within it. How could we possibly merit such close attention from such an awesome deity? But such a train of thought would reveal a fundamental misperception: that we could merely be one species of intelligent beings (intelligent enough to ponder such things) among millions that might have evolved on planets like ours throughout the universe. In other words, the theory (taught as gospel truth in every public school in the land) is that we are nothing but a happy accident, and that if there were a God, He’d be rather surprised to find us here looking for Him.

My view is precisely the opposite of this: we humans are the whole point of creation. No, we don’t merit God’s attention. He’s not involved here because we’re so all-fired interesting in our own right. He’s here in our lives because He wants to be, because He planned to be. Call me crazy, but I believe that Yahweh created the entire infrastructure of the universe in order to support the kind of life we mortals possess. And why would He do that? So He could interact with us as we exercise the free will He gave us: choosing our own destinies—and ideally, seizing the opportunity to joyfully reciprocate His love. The poets tell us that “Love makes the world go ’round.” I would submit to you that Love makes the universe exist!

If I’m right about any of this, then any attempt on our part to elevate ourselves above our brothers, any display of pride, any hint of self-importance, is the height of stupidity. From God’s point of view (based on what He told us), it’s like one paramecium in the petri dish trying to gain political ascendency over his fellow microbes. Pointless. It’s like a man trying to reach heaven by standing on a chair. Not remotely enough. And yet, if God had not told us what He’s all about, we would have been left with no alternative but to do something very much like that. We would have been as clueless to the nature of our real surroundings as single-celled creatures under a microscope. We would have been left longing for something we couldn’t even define, much less attain. The problem is that if we ignore what God had to say about His own nature we will be just as deluded, and just as frustrated, as if He had said nothing at all. Willful ignorance is still ignorance. What was it Yahweh said through His prophet Hosea? “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” (Hosea 4:6)

So Yahweh has painted for us a self-portrait, rendered in concepts that recur constantly in His written Word. The seven symbols He uses are like primary colors in His palette: He seldom utilizes them raw and unmixed, but more often employs them as ingredients or components in more complex expressions, blending them together into composite colors of inexpressible beauty. His “masterpiece” in this regard is Yahshua, the Messiah. But throughout creation, His “artwork” reveals the lengths to which God has gone for our benefit. If we know the Artist’s mind and method, we can perceive that everything good we see before us is comprised of these seven pure “colors.” That is, everything truly good, one way or another, reveals God’s personality or plan. He Himself is the source and substance of whatever life, peace, hope, love, beauty, and comfort we find in this world. Satan, meanwhile, does what he can to destroy or obfuscate what God has portrayed, like a vandal spraying gang signs on a pristine wall or scribbling a moustache on the Mona Lisa. It’s not terribly hard to identify his ugly handiwork, though: he’s only got one color to play with—black.

But there’s something going on here that might lead to an epiphany. There are two ways to bring color into your world—either (1) by applying pigments or (2) by projecting light. I hope this illustration won’t be too technical to follow, but it seems to me to be a perfect picture of how Yahweh communicates with these seven “colors.” God isn’t “painting” with pigments: paints, dyes, or inks—colorants that when applied to a white surface create visual impressions by absorbing various wavelengths of pure “white” light. An example of how this works would be a full-color magazine photograph. The picture is actually composed of tiny dots of color: in this system, they’re cyan—i.e., bright blue—magenta, and yellow. When they’re combined in full strength, they produce black, in theory, anyway. (The magazine will actually use black ink too, but mostly for “punch.” The color theory doesn’t require it, but real-world printing technology does.) This process is called “subtractive color synthesis” because the more ink you lay onto the page, the less light is reflected back to the eye.

But as I said, that’s not the system Yahweh is using. Color is transmitted differently when you’re looking at a television or a computer screen. In “additive color synthesis,” dots or pixels of pure colored light are introduced into a black, lightless environment. (Does the phrase “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” ring any bells? Genesis 1:3) Typically, these dots of light are red, blue, and green. In this system, the more color you add, the brighter the image becomes: you get “white” when all of the colors are presented in full strength and in perfect balance. In my admittedly overactive imagination, this is the system that symbolizes the way Yahweh reveals His character to us. The seven characteristics we’re about to study are, as I said, the “primary colors” in His personal palette. They’re beautiful all by themselves—rich and intense—but when we consider them all, blended together in perfect equilibrium, God’s “true color” is revealed: a brilliant, blinding white light.

Thinking of it in these terms, it becomes apparent that Satan, our adversary, can’t really add anything to the picture. Unlike Yahweh, he doesn’t have a creative nature: the apex of Satan’s “achievement” is to subtract something from the way we see the self-portrait God has painted for us. He can’t actually “add” black spots to the picture; all he can do is try to prevent us from seeing the light that’s there. And since he’s not part of the image Yahweh has “projected on the screen,” the darkness Satan shows us is actually an external impediment: he’s nothing but a big black bug buzzing around trying to distract us by blocking our view to God. (Don’t you just hate that?) It’s up to us to brush him away.  

(First published 2013)