A painting that is particularly inspiring is “The Creation of Adam” by Michelangelo. In 1512, Michelangelo painted a fresco based on stories from Genesis on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. This work was a masterpiece without precedent, and it went on to change the course of Western art. Its sheer scale gave it a stature unlike that of anything that had been painted before or arguably since. As you step into the chapel you don’t walk up to the painting, as you do with other works; instead, it’s as though you step into the frame of the picture itself.
The most famous of the panels on the ceiling is the one known as “The Creation of Adam”. It depicts God’s hand reaching out to Adam’s hand with only a breath’s space between them. This image of the near-touching fingers of God and Adam has become iconic of humanity and has been reproduced in countless imitations and parodies over the years. Art scholars have commented and re-commented on this scene. It’s a scene that captivates people when they stand before it, not simply because of how beautifully it is painted but also because of what it shows. In the picture, God is portrayed as reaching out to Adam with the full length of His arm. You can see in His face the effort with which He is holding out His arm to connect with Adam. You get the impression that God is, literally, at full stretch, giving it all He has – with His left arm wrapped around a heavenly being to give Him balance, because if He leant just an inch more forward He would fall. Then you look at Adam and you realize that, like many of us, he is much less committed to the presence or embrace of his Creator. He’s sprawled on the ground with his arm out, but his hand is hanging slightly limp. It’s as if Adam needs only to lift a finger and God would be within touching distance. It seems that God is asking us: Are you willing to lift your finger, because I am right here? Could it be that God is so close that we just need to lift our finger?
How are we going to respond to God’s touch in our lives – are we going to allow our relationship with things like sex, alcohol or the media to come between us and God?
The writer of Proverbs makes the argument that God is even closer than a touch. Proverbs 18:24 reads, “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” There is a friend who is closer than flesh and blood. The Hebrew word used here for close is “davaq”, which is used only three times in the Bible. “Davaq” is one of those words that translate beautifully into many fragments and senses. It can be translated as “cling”, as in cling on to something; other versions say “abiding” or “remaining”, and still others have translated it as “loyalty stemming from a place of affection”. But this word means more than close emotional support. It is better understood as a physical proximity sustained by a bond. So we translate it in the Bible as “being joined together” or “sticking closer”, but the intended image is that of two things pressed up against each other, or intertwined. In other words, God’s closeness isn’t a case of His presence propping us up, or leaning up against us, but one of Him and us being intertwined, connected, and knotted together. God is thus much closer even than a presence around us; He and we are interwoven.
The line between Him and us is so blurred that it’s hard to prise the two apart. This has many implications when we start thinking about our adoption, being a holy people, and how we live in the world. It’s Christ tangled up with me that makes me holy. As Paul puts it in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”