Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Image Of God?

It has been said that we are made in the image of God. And this image of God stuff in the Bible has been used to justify assertions about our perfectibility, the possibility of our holiness, the moral imperative that we be like Christ.

But I wonder when people think this way whether they’ve actually read the New Testament. Whether they’ve actually bought into any of the Passion. The meaning of the cross. And so forth.

If we were perfectible here on earth, this earth, in our lifetimes, there wouldn’t be any need of the Passion. The cross. That whole story. The New Covenant story.

So it absolutely gives me the willies when people who say they are Christians talk about how our job as Christians is to be like Christ.

But back to the topic at hand: the image of God. God has numerous characteristics. Some of these characteristics he shares with us, or perhaps a better word—a much better word—is capacities. And others, he doesn’t.

So for example, God is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, and morally perfect. He may be said, and rightly so I think, to be Righteousness Itself, Justice Itself, Beauty Itself, Love Itself, Generosity Itself, Joy Itself, and Forgiveness Itself.

None of us here on this planet today can claim to be omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, or morally perfect. (Nor should we want to. To want to have these qualities means we want to be like God. The Bible quite simply calls us to greater humility than this.)

But we can from time to time, all of us, exhibit some love, joy, generosity, and forgiveness, for example. Not Infinite Love—Love Itself. Not Infinite Joy—Joy Itself. Not Infinite Generosity—Generosity Itself. Not Infinite Forgiveness—Forgiveness Itself. We can exhibit these capacities to some very limited degree because we are made this way.

Do we physically look like God? Oh, I hope not. But I don’t know. Nobody does, as far as I can tell. So the word “image” here is a metaphor. It points us to the more real part of who we are, the spiritual part of who we are. The claim is that spiritually we are made with capacities that originate with God, capacities that we think of as Godly. Spiritual potentialities.

And it’s up to us—to some significant extent—how fully we exhibit these possibilities. These spiritual capacities.

We have choices every day. And these choices are where we exercise these capacities to some degree or not at all. And the expression of these capacities one might call moral conduct.

So what I am not saying is that we are not moral beings. What I am saying is that we are not morally perfect beings, and we do not have a prayer of achieving moral perfection here on this earth in our lifetimes.

And what I am further saying is that if our objective as Christians is our own moral improvement, we are mistaken. We are off the mark. We are engaging in an activity that is at best unfruitful and at worst damnable.

In other words, we are risking Jesus telling us that he does not know us.

Jesus has asked us to direct our action outward, not inward. Everything he asks us to do directs us toward God and toward one another. He really has asked us to develop a certain kind of relationship with God and one another. He has asked us to take care of one another, not ourselves.

And he has asked us to do as the Father is doing. And to do that, we have to be paying attention to the Father and what he is actually doing, not to what lack or imperfection there is in us.

Let’s get over it. We are flawed. We are imperfect. Let’s stop whining. Let’s stop obsessing. Let’s stop the moral one-upsmanship game. Let’s get on with the real business of being followers of Jesus. Let’s get on to what he asked us to do.

1 comment:

paul m martin said...

Isn't an insistence on being a follower of Jesus one-upmanship? Most of the six billion people on our planet aren't Christians, believe in their own traditions, and don't aspire to be Christian any more than most Christians feel they should want to be Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Jew, or Muslim.