I found this quote in the Mishnah last year while I was doing my class The Jewish Context of the Bible while preparing for my lesson on Akiva. After my class that week I wrote a post about two of his sayings, and then filed this third one away for another day. After my recent post, In the Image of God, it reminded me of Akiva’s saying here so I decided at last to write it out.
Often times we wonder: does God care about me? We might think to ourselves, “I know God is real, and that God is alive, and I’m even certain that God sent His only son Jesus to die on the cross for my sins. Sure He created the world…but what about me, this little speck in the universe?” The Psalmist confronts the listener with this deep, difficult, and age-old question.
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?
Does God care about us? I would say the answer is: yes! When God created man, he did for this creature what he did for no other. It was there at the dawn of the world that God breathed into us not just life, but his very likeness. We received the image of God, the highest honor bestowed on any creature in all creation.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…”
Any creature that shares God’s image, God cares personally for. Thus the image of God is not only a high honor but a gesture of intense love, as Rabbi Akiva says:
Beloved is each human being, for each person was created in the image of God. But it is by an even greater increase in love that it was revealed to humanity that each human being is created in the image of God.
–Mishnah, Avot 3:15
For Akiva, God sharing his image with man and then revealing it to us was all about love. The same God who created the world invested in you His very image. That act was deeply intimate and personal so I think it is now silly to ask whether or not He cares about you. This love that God has for us is so overwhelming that it becomes the basis not only for our relationship with God but also with others, which is why Akiva ranked the second greatest command the same as Jesus – “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18). We have a responsibility to love God and to love others because we have been entrusted with God’s image.
This responsibility also means not misusing God’s image which was entrusted to us. During one of the weekly Tuesday morning Bible study with Bob Chisholm he summed up this responsibility in this way:
I think the reason that God told us not to make idols is because creating one would be like trying to put the divine image into something else, and God says, “No, I already did that when I created you.”
–Bob Chisholm, Minister of Spiritual Formation at Prestoncrest
I think he’s exactly right: God forbids idols because nothing should share in His likeness except that which He has created. As Akiva said, God made us in His image and revealed that to us out of intense love. With this gift of love comes the great responsibility to use it appropriately by worshiping God and treating people with love. When we follow after idols (not just little statues, but anything like TV, computers, money, health, etc) we not only defy God but defile our own God-given image inside. It truly is adultery because of the intimate relationship we have with our God. If we were mere specks to God, it wouldn’t matter, but we are so much more than that. We bear His image.
Peace to you,