Is Creation Itself an Image of God? A Jewish Perspective

Rabbi David Seidenberg’s book, Kabbalah and Ecology: God’s Image in the More-Than-Human World is an important study that has the power to awaken all students of the Bible to the deep ecological wisdom that is contained there. 

Kabbalah and Ecology by Rabbi David Seidenberg

It links us to the holiness of creation once again.

Following are some of Rabbi David’s findings. 

First, the image of God (Tselem) is found everywhere in Jewish thinking and applies not just to individual beings but to the universe as a whole.  He writes:

The motif of the world being in God’s image is woven throughout the history of Jewish thought and Kabbalah….It is completely consonant with the rabbinic tradition and Kabbalah to regard both the whole universe and the Earth as being created in God’s image.

This echoes Thomas Aquinas’ teaching in the thirteenth century that the most excellent thing in the universe is not the human but the universe itself.

Divine sparks everywhere. Photo by Snowy Vin on Unsplash

Rabbi David teaches that every being carries the divine spark. 

For Kabbalah, there are sparks of the dimension of divinity in all things, whether inanimate or living, whether wholly of nature or human-made. 

All things in this sense have some intrinsic value.  [We need to] recognize divine sparks everywhere.

These sparks depict the divine presence, the intrinsic holiness and sacredness of all beings.  Therefore the “intrinsic value” deep within all things. 

Is this not Shekinah, the divine light in all things? 

The Tree of Life, with correspondences to the cosmos and the human body. Image by Edaina, on Wikimedia Commons

In my tradition some of the earliest texts of the Gospels celebrate this same Shekinah as present in Jesus and the wisdom that accompanies him.  “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.”

There is a pattern (the “pattern that connects?”) to the universe as a whole and to humans, a micro/macrocosmic psychology is proposed here. 

God’s creative pattern, as big as the universe, is expressed in all its detail within the human frame, is a kind of miracle…This pattern is the divine image.

If this very pattern is the “divine image,” then in my tradition that means it is the Cosmic Christ (or Cosmic Wisdom if you prefer) that is “as big as the universe”  (See Colossians 1.15-20).

An artist’s interpretation of the Cosmic Christ. Artist unknown; image from “Franciscans on the Cosmic Christ” on The Mystic Trinity

New Testament scholar Bruce Chilton has written that the earliest writer in the New Testament, Saint Paul, preaches not just a Cosmic Christ but a “metacosmic Christ.”   

Our task, according to Rabbi David, is to bring Shekinah and the divine light alive—this is what right action consists of.  We are to

…complete the process of ‘bringing the Shekhinah down’, through concrete ecological action and through theological and spiritual insight.

To say that creation is an Image of God is Judaism is, of course, to say it is so in the Bible—both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible. 

This is the tradition after all that Jesus was steeped in.  And all the writers of the Christian Bible as well.

Citations are taken from David Seidenberg, Kabbalah and Ecology: God’s Image in the More-Than-Human World.

See Matthew Fox, The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times

Also Matthew Fox, The Coming of the Cosmic Christ: The Healing of Mother Earth and the Birth of a Global Renaissance

Also Matthew Fox, Stations of the Cosmic Christ.

Banner Image: Radiant forest. Photo by Valeriy Andrushko on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation

What does it mean to say that the Image of God applies to all creatures and all of creation as a whole?  How does that move you to ground your work on behalf of healing the earth in a deeper spirituality?  How do you see this attitude permeating the consciousness of Rabbi Jesus?

Recommended Reading

The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times

A stunning spiritual handbook drawn from the substantive teachings of Aquinas’ mystical/prophetic genius, offering a sublime roadmap for spirituality and action.
Foreword by Ilia Delio.
“What a wonderful book!  Only Matt Fox could bring to life the wisdom and brilliance of Aquinas with so much creativity. The Tao of Thomas Aquinas is a masterpiece.”
–Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit

The Coming of the Cosmic Christ: The Healing of Mother Earth and the Birth of a Global Renaissance

In what may be considered the most comprehensive outline of the Christian paradigm shift of our Age, Matthew Fox eloquently foreshadows the manner in which the spirit of Christ resurrects in terms of the return to an earth-based mysticism, the expression of creativity, mystical sexuality, the respect due the young, the rebirth of effective forms of worship—all of these mirroring the ongoing blessings of Mother Earth and the recovery of Eros, the feminine aspect of the Divine.
“The eighth wonder of the world…convincing proof that our Western religious tradition does indeed have the depth of imagination to reinvent its faith.” — Brian Swimme, author of The Universe Story and Journey of the Universe.

Resurrection Logic: How Jesus’ First Followers Believed God Raised Him from the Dead

Bruce Chilton investigates the Easter event of Jesus in Resurrection Logic. He undertakes his close reading of the New Testament texts without privileging the exact nature of the resurrection, but rather begins by situating his study of the resurrection in the context of Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek, and Syrian conceptions of the afterlife. He then identifies Jewish monotheistic affirmations of bodily resurrection in the Second Temple period as the most immediate context for early Christian claims. Chilton surveys first-generation accounts of Jesus’ resurrection and finds a pluriform–and even at times seemingly contradictory–range of testimony from Jesus’ first followers. This diversity, as Chilton demonstrates, prompted early Christianity to interpret the resurrection traditions by means of prophecy and coordinated narrative.

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2 thoughts on “Is Creation Itself an Image of God? A Jewish Perspective”

    1. Gail Sofia Ransom

      Dear Sue,
      This is deep ecumenism, lifting up the common concerns, spirituality and wisdom in the world’s religions. How edifying to find that all seekers around the world share the same spiritual core. You might like to read Matt’s book on deep ecumenism, One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths. It explores these common threads more deeply and fosters hope that we might regard each other as companions in search of being both human and beloved.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

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