Today I was able to visit the National Museum of Scotland and spend some very happy time looking around a new, temporary exhibition.
The exhibition has brought together a collection of exquisite treasures from all over the ‘Celtic’ world. Accompanied by interesting short films and commentaries visitors are guided around the exhibition in such a way that the development of Celtic art is traced from its origins into modern times, giving not just a fascinating glimpse of the way that art and culture evolves, but also the opportunity to view artefacts found all over Europe and the near East, from Ireland to Iran, from Spain to Slovenia.
Among the many beautiful things on display, one small thing in particular caught my gaze.
It was a tiny coin die, along with a part finished coin blank stamped by the die. The story
goes that the ruling Emperor wanted his subjects to have a good idea what he looked like, so he employed a skilled engraver to carve his exact likeness into a hard metal die. This die could then be used to stamp out coins onto soft metal blanks…each blank would carry an identical image of the Emperor, so no-one could get confused about who he was.
The reason for my interest in this small object among many wonderful things was that just this morning I started to re-read the book of Hebrews in the New Testament, where I read the words:
 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
Hebrews 1:3 (NIV)
or in The Message:
 This Son perfectly mirrors God, and is stamped with God’s nature. He holds everything together by what he says—powerful words!
Hebrews 1:3 (MSG)
The Greek words translated “exact representation” in the NIV could be translated “exact impression” or “identical character”…even “stamped from the same die”. God wanted us to know what he was like so he sent Jesus who gives us the best picture of what God is like that it’s possible to have, a “chip off the old block” to invoke another metaphor.
So when something we read in scripture doesn’t seem quite ‘right’ (or maybe it’s the interpretation of scripture through the lens of some of the Protestant reformers or nineteenth century revivalists, which many of us have absorbed) , and causes us to ask, “Is God really like that?” we need to look at Jesus and see if he is like that.We may have got the idea that God spends his time being angry with us, wanting to punish us and unable to have anything to do with us because of our sin. But, then we look at Jesus, who scripture explicitly reveals as the one who came to seek and save the lost, the friend of sinners and the one sent into the world because God loved it a lot. Maybe what we understood or even were taught about God doesn’t measure up to Jesus who is…the exact likeness of God. Maybe our image of God is wrong. Perhaps we’ve even imagined that God is more than a little bit like us (angry, wanting to punish bad people, not wanting to mix with such people)…
Maybe we have some re-thinking to do? We could begin by reading scripture through the lens of Jesus, because he’s the only exact likeness of God we’ve got…