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Mike Hayes Answers:
This is a common misconception that just as Jesus takes on our human form that God also takes on a dove’s body and therefore we perhaps might want to think about worshiping a lovely white bird.
We see this question come up most often when the Baptism of the Lord is the gospel passage on Sunday, as it was this past weekend. However, it is not the case that God becomes a bird.
If we read the scriptures carefully we see the following scenarios: The Holy Spirit is said to be <span style=”font-weight:bold;”>LIKE</span> many things in scripture including flame, winds, and a dove. We need to look carefully to see what the scripture really says:
From the Baptism reading: <blockquote>After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form <span style=”font-weight:bold;”>like</span> a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”</blockquote>
It doesn’t say that the spirit ‘took the form of a dove” it says that the spirit descended upon him <span style=”font-weight:bold;”>LIKE</span> a dove. So we don’t know what the spirit’s form looked like only that it was flying apparently.
The dove, in fact, is a symbol in ancient times (read jewish culture) of the predominance of spirit over matter.
Thus they were also the poor man’s offering to God. People brought doves to the temple when they couldn’t afford anything else as a sacrifice–again symbolizing a spiritual offering as being dominant over material wealth. It was therefore also a symbol of freedom for the poor–our offering is as good as someone who gives 1000 shekels. So the symbolism the author is using here is rich indeed… God offers Himself to us–Jesus though hidden in this material form is really God incarnate. The spirit of his essence dominates over the material human form. It also symbolizes that the simple carpenter’s son is more than meets the eye–the dove points us to that.
In general, the dove has become the symbol of the holy spirit (which often in modern culture takes on a female connotation) and quite often it is used as a symbol of peace, dating back to the Old Testament when God sent the dove with the olive branch in its mouth as a sign of peace and covenant.