Lately, especially coming into this holy week, I often feel like I’m supposed to have the spiritual stuff of life all figured out. I think I mostly feel that expectation from other people; after all, I am a clergy-card-carrying pastor. That doesn’t mean every person expects this of me. I do plenty of projecting onto unsuspecting, even anonymous, people, assuming I know what they’re thinking. Turns out, what I do have figured out is that I’m still a work in process. But I digress.
I don’t have all the “spiritual” stuff figured out.
- Like, the problem of evil. Why?
- God’s take on the notion of “original sin.”
- Why God heals some people and not others. Or does he?
- Why God protects some people from certain death in the face of danger and allows others to die. Or does he?
- What it means to be made in God’s image.
God’s image. There’s a “spiritual stuff” question. You and I…created in God’s image. Really? Just what might that mean? There are many explanations about what it means to be image-bearers of almighty God. Among those explanations are the following…
- We’re made for dominion over the created earth.
- We’re crazy creative.
- We’re wired for relationship and community.
- We’re free agents with the ability to make rational decisions.
- We’re moral beings with potential to do what’s right.
- We’re designed to pursue happiness.
After reading lots of deep theological dissertations on the question - Origen of Alexandria, Irenaeus of Lyons, Martin Luther, Thomas Aquinas, Leonard Verduin, John Piper, Karl Barth, Justin Martyr, Dallas Willard, Peter Enns, Steve Chalke and more - I read few that actually summarized our image-bearing as LOVE.
God is LOVE. The apostle John says it exactly that way in his letters: God is LOVE.
We are made in the image of God. In the image of Love. Why is this not enough? Why must it be more complicated than this? We are made in the image of LOVE.
If our lives reflect the glory of the Father, of our Creator, they surely reflect LOVE. Self-giving, other-focused, grace-infused, rule-breaking, church-piety-defying LOVE. Scandalous Love.
- The kind of love that Jesus demonstrates when he sits and talks openly with an adulterous lady at a public village well.
- The kind of love that Jesus celebrates when he eats dinner with people known as “sinners” - and he’s not there to condemn or start a crusade.
- The kind of love that Jesus gives a dying thief next to him on a cross - without a “sinners” prayer or a formulaic confession - eternal life. Was it Jesus' initiative or a response to the man’s simple and maybe desperate “remember me” request?
We are created in that non-condemning, full-of-love God-image. Frankly, an image I often see in people who don’t know to associate with the Jesus we follow. I see this image in people who don’t attend our church, who don’t attend any church. People who are kind, caring, thoughtful and don’t have a fish on the back of their car. What does that mean? Certainly every human being is created in God's image and has the potential to reflect that image - whether they know it.
I grew up thinking everyone “out there” was a mess. But maybe I’m a mess. Maybe I am the one who doesn’t always live up to the image-bearing identity that is mine. Maybe it’s on me to be less self-focused; more other-centric. Less pious; more humble. Less self-righteous; more sorry for my idolatry. Maybe I am the mess I claim to see in others.
My idolatry of “good enough,” “I know more,” “I’ve got this God-thing figured out” is an indictment of my lack of LOVE. No one’s interested in a knock-off, wanna-be. People want the real thing. They want the truth.
And maybe in my clumsy messiness, knowing the truth, having all the spiritual stuff figured out isn’t always about an absolute, polished answer… a defense of faith. Maybe the real thing - the truth - is honesty, confession… an admission - “I don’t know…I’m still learning… I’m still on the journey…I’m still discovering who I am… and Whose I am.” Maybe the truth is - “as much as I know today, I am chasing, I am pursuing, I am taking steps toward a Jesus who calls me - because I am already created to Love, created to be Loved, created to be Love… and I’m still learning to live into who am created to be.”
After all, Jesus alone embodies all that the ancients knew to be the Way, the Truth and the Life. My search through the scriptures is a search to understand and know Jesus better. And I'm always learning there's more to learn. I am a created being, a human being trying to understand and experience almighty God - in whose image I am to live.
All this - being created in God’s image… in LOVE’s image - this is what it is to be wonderfully HUMAN. Divinely human. In God’s image. God said our original condition as HUMAN is “very good.” Do we distort our humanity by trying to be right? By trying to be righteous? By attempting to be our own god? Certainly we do. Do we distort our humanity by creating and worshiping other gods? Gods that tell us we are sexy enough, affluent enough, deserving enough? Absolutely.
But, is our ORIGINAL nature not divine? Is it not HUMAN? Is our very being not created in God’s amazing, love-centric image? Yes, yes, yes!
I am, you are amazingly HUMAN. That is not a hedonistic fact. It is not a “hang your head and cry” condition. You are made in the very image of Creator God, your Father! So chin up, head high!
And this week we remember, we celebrate that Jesus came, lived, taught, listened, conversed, suffered, laughed, healed, prayed, walked, agonized as a HUMAN to show us Who our FATHER is and WHAT He is like. That He is LOVE.
- Love that wins over evil.
- Love that forgives all sin.
- Love that destroys hate.
- Love that embarrasses arrogance.
- Love that shows humility as power.
- Love that lays down rather than rises up.
- Love that defeats war.
- Love that defies reason.
- Love that includes and never excludes.
- Love that embraces.
- Love that breaks gender, economic, sexual, religious, educational, philosophical and theological walls.
- Love that buries death.
- Love that annihilates the grave.
- Love that always wins.
And LOVE - JESUS - is risen to redeem and restore you and me - and all creation - to HIS original image!
This week we celebrate - the life and death and resurrection - the passion of Jesus, the passion of LOVE. We celebrate what it is to be caught up in the story of EASTER, the story of LOVE triumphant!
The question is... will I embrace all I was created to be? Will I live live as a HUMAN, created to reflect the LOVE of God given to transform and redeem the world?