How Michelangelo Changed how we think
I remember back in 1975 entering an almost empty Sistine Chapel, those were the days before low cost flights and tourism on mass. I lay on the floor and peered up at a ceiling covered in images of God, Adam, and assorted biblical supporting actors.
Back then the fresco was covered in darkened wax and in the huge space was majestic, enchanting and inspiring. Only when I heard a voice and saw the guard standing over me, urging me to my feet, was the spell broken.
I recall being amazed at Michelangelo’s superb mastery of the human form, the sculpted leg muscles, the rippling six pack abdomen and those pecs.
Years later after moving to Israel, I began thinking about the "image of God" what did it mean? I knew that I had been brought up in a western Christian milieu, which had influenced my attempts to imagine the creator of the universe.
I began asking my Iraqi Jewish friends how they imagined God's appearance. At first they found the question bizarre. They had never attempted to imagine God in a human form or in any form. How could a creative energy be confined to a body, and whose body?
The answer of a God of energy rather than confined to a human form made sense to me, and it led me wonder at what kind of damage had the great Florentine artist done to our understanding of God, and the human physique and our psyche.
Today we understand that classical forms of the body fill our history of art, especially from the Italian painters of the renaissance. The characters in their paintings are all perfectly constructed, and that includes depictions of the Lord, who is shown as a "buff" senior citizen.
Adam is also buff. Now how could that be, God being buff I could understand, he had created a universe, and obviously spent some time lifting some huge boulders and planets, but Adam? He was born into luxury, had not worked a day in his life and was barely a few weeks old. When did he find time to get to the gym and do some serious bench presses?
The artist delighted in creating the perfect body, both aesthetically and as a container for the soul. Trouble is he left us imagining a God that simply could not be.
The bible says that “man was created in the image of God”. Now look around you, how many people do you see created in the "Buff' image of God?
Food for thought.