Wednesday, August 22, 2007
WHO AM I ?
God said, 'Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness...
So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over... every living thing that moves upon the earth.' When God created humankind, he made them in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them...
When I look at your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that
you have established;
what are human beings that you
are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.
Surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.
Jesus said, 'I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.'
God... is rich in mercy, [and a] great love with which he loved us.
As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him. ...We must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings...
Do not lie to one another, seeing you have... clothed yourself with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its Creator. With [the tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.
Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.
Genesis 1:26-28; Genesis 5:1; Psalm 8:3,4; 1 Corinthians 15:49; Jeremiah 29:11-13; John 6:35; Ephesians 2:4; Colossians 2:6; Ephesians 4:13 & 15; Philippians 3:9-10; Colossians 3:9,10; James 3:9; 1 Peter 5:7.
'Going once... going twice... gone! Sold to the gentleman with the green tie!' cried the auctioneer. One by one the man's possessions were offered - the stereo, the car, the TV. Finally only the man remained. 'And what am I offered for this man?' the auctioneer continued. 'A fine specimen...!'
Trembling with horror, he woke from his dream. But the thought troubled him. What would they have paid for him? Two thousand dollars, five thousand? More? Less?
How much am I worth?
Our inorganic elements would bring about $10: our bodies have enough fat to make a few bars of soap, enough iron for a couple of nails, enough sugar to fill a small shaker, enough phosphorous to make a box of matches, and enough lime to whitewash a shed...
The biblical question is not merely 'What are human beings?' but 'What are human beings... that you care for them?' It's about how we relate to God; how God values us. Each of us is on this planet not by chance or accident, but by design. You and I are God's idea, and very special to him. We resulted from a special creative act of God. Genesis says 'God saw everything he had made, and behold, it was very good.' Man/woman comes into being 'trailing clouds of glory'.
Humans were/are the apex of creation, made 'in the image of God'. This means we are 'like God', not in physical form (God is Spirit) but as the visible representatives on earth of the Divine Being. Nor are we simply more like God than the other animals, because we weep and laugh, or because we are the only primates to walk upright (but we begin and end life horizontally rather than perpendicularly), or whose brain is larger and cleverer (so that we can use equipment outside our own bodies, or manufacture striped toothpaste. But then, as James Thurber once wrote, dogs are raising families of their own before the first anniversary of their birth; but the young of humans are practically no good at all until almost a quarter of a century'). We are more than naked (or trousered) apes. Humans are creatures who sense the difference between what things are and what they ought to be.
D H Lawrence sees humans in terms of 'blood, soil and sex'. Camus summarizes his dilemma: 'Everything which exalts life adds at the same time to its absurdity.' In Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot human life is reduced to waiting - for someone who never comes.
Some ancient philosophers regarded humans as encased souls or animated bodies; the Bible rather emphasizes the unity of our personhood. Naturalism says we are a little higher than the tadpoles; the Bible says we are a little lower than the angels. Scientism says we are an accidental arrangement of molecules; the Bible says we are crowned with glory and honour. Behaviourism says we are complex biological machines, whose behaviour is explained in terms of inherited or environmental factors; Jesus invites us to use our God-given capacity to worship the Lord in Spirit and in truth. Marxism says all human reality can be reduced to natural processes and events; the Bible affirms our God-endowed dignity and worth.
We are like God intellectually: having the power to reason, imagine and think about God; socially: capable of loving God, others and self; of celebrating and grieving; vocationally: as tenants of God's good earth we are commissioned to tend it with care; aesthetically: delighting in the natural beauty God has created; morally: our conscience helps us discern the will of God and freely choose goodness; and spiritually: we pray and worship and can 'know' God, and we experience premonitions of immortality (long before stone was used for houses it was used for tombs). So we are invited to exhibit the nature and qualities of our Creator. The only satisfactory way we can understand who we are is in terms of our being cared for by God, and responsible to serve and obey him in return.
But these same humans have not wanted to replicate the Divine nature. They would prefer to be served than serve; to rule than to submit; to be autonomous and selfish rather than live responsibly in community; to get along without God, rather than live in dependence upon him. Fallen human nature is such that distant wars, earthquakes or cyclones trouble us a little, but a lot less than our own toothache or the scratch on our new car. As Rousseau said, we are born free, but everywhere we are in chains. If there is one theme recurring throughout this book, it is this: you are like God, and like the Devil. Humans do despicable things to each other. They're sinners. (Did you know that cannibalism was practised in Scotland, Ireland and England as recently as four hundred years ago?).
The alternative to worshipping and serving God is idolatry: making gods out of our selves or some other created thing. That's why the second commandment prohibits our making images of God. William Golding's Lord of the Flies graphically describes the depths to which human depravity will sink when some English school boys, marooned on a tropical island resort to a primitive sacrificial cult in which pigs are offered to appease the mysterious Lord of the Flies.
God makes all things good, humans meddle with them and they become evil. But although the image of God in us is marred, it's still there! As Irenaeus put it in an unforgettable sentence: 'The glory of God is [humans] fully alive.'
Sigmund Freud once said that human self-esteem suffered three great blows from science. First Copernicus showed that the earth is not the centre of the universe. Then Darwin suggested that humans are not organically superior to animals. And psychoanalysis asserted that we are not 'masters in our own house'.
But how can we change and grow? Libertarians say we have complete freedom to decide this way or that. Hard determinists believe we have no free will and are therefore not ultimately responsible for our destinies. Soft determinists say we may be governed by heredity, social factors, our psychology, our sin, or even God's working in our lives, but we have some responsibility for our decisions. We can freely choose to eat of a certain tree, and die, or obediently desist, and live. Adam and Eve are 'everyperson'.
The Greeks in their wisdom said 'Know thyself!' The Hebrews would have preferred 'Know thy God!' God, more than humans, is 'the proper study of mankind'. And where is God? Look around. C S Lewis says somewhere if we realized who we truly were, we'd be tempted to fall down and worship one another.
We are made up of body, soul and spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23). What does this mean? Greek philosophers like Socrates and Plato regarded the body as a useless encumbrance from which the spirit must be freed before it can achieve its destiny. But we are not simply a soul/spirit united to a body, any more than we are a body united to a soul. We are a complex unity: and Christianity regards the body and soul and spirit very highly. When God wanted to show us what he was really like, he inhabited a human body: 'Veiled in flesh the Godhead see/ Hail! the Incarnate Deity'. With our bodies we have an affinity with nature, and relate to the material universe; with our souls we have self-identity and relate to others; with our spirits we relate to God. We are like a two-storied house. The lower storey is the physical part of us - the body. The upper storey has a window looking out towards the earth, and a skylight through which we view the stars. But it's all one house!
So, use some biblical self-talk and say to yourself: 'I am important. God loves even me. I am an unrepeatable miracle of God's creation. I have significance, not because I am better or smarter than anyone else, but because I was made in his image. All through life I will be bombarded with negative feedback - from family, friends, enemies, advertisers, teachers, bosses, employees, or even my own brain. But I will agree with God about myself: he doesn't make junk. When I fail, I will learn from it and will not call myself a failure. When I succeed, I will give thanks to the One who endowed me with those gifts and abilities. When I am depressed, I will say "This, too will pass." And when elated, I shall praise him, my wonderful Lord and my God. I am important to God, and therefore to myself. I was died for. I belong to him. I am his special child. He loves me and forgives me, and I will serve him on earth and celebrate with him in heaven - forever. Wow!'
[Meursault, the hero of Camus' The Outsider, came early in life to the conclusion that life was meaningless. As he neared the time of his execution he tried to console himself...]: 'But,' I reminded myself, 'it's common knowledge that life isn't worth living anyhow.' And, on a wide view, I could see that it makes little difference whether one dies at the age of thirty or three score and ten.
Albert Camus, The Outsider, Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1965, p. 112.
Back at the end of World War 1, the French Army found itself with a very sticky situation on its hands. There were upwards of a hundred soldiers who were suffering from amnesia because of shell shock, and due to a very faulty record system, not even the army knew the identity of these individuals. In every other way these men were healthy, and if they could only be returned to their families and their native surroundings, this in itself might quicken the return of their memories. But how to discover their identity and get them back into their family groupings? Someone came up with the idea of having an Identification Rally in Paris. It would be publicized throughout the whole country, and families who had relatives missing in action would be encouraged to attend. The plan was adopted, and the moment finally came when literally thousands of people gathered in one of the great plazas of the city. A platform had been erected in the centre where all could see, and one by one these men would step up to a microphone and look out anxiously over the crowd and say, 'Please, please, is there any one here who can tell me who I am?' A reporter who covered the event said it contained as much high drama as the events of war themselves.
There is something almost mythic about this scene, for in one way or another this is exactly what each of us has been doing from the moment we emerged from our mother's womb. We are creatures in search of an identity, all of us. We are forever attempting to discover who we are and why we are here and what kinds of capacities make up our uniqueness. There is no question closer to the centre of our human mystery than the question: 'Who am I?' and we are forever looking for people who can help us at this most foundational level.
John Claypool, 'Who Am I?' unpublished sermon, Northminster Baptist Church, Jackson, Mississippi, September 9, 1979.
G K Chesterton.
Shortest-ever letter to the Times of London.
Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice... [Humans] propound mathematical theorems in beleaguered cities, conduct metaphysical arguments in condemned cells, make jokes on scaffolds, discuss the last new poem while advancing to the walls of Quebec, and comb their hair at Thermopylae. This is not panache: it is our nature.
C.S. Lewis, in a sermon preached at the beginning of World War I, The Weight of Glory, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1965, pp. 44f.
[Humans are] so the universe will have something to talk through, so God will have something to talk with, and so the rest of us will have something to talk about.
The biblical view of the history of humankind and of each individual man and woman is contained in the first three chapters of Genesis. We are created to serve God by loving him and each other in freedom and joy, but we invariably choose bondage and woe instead as prices not too high to pay for independence. To say that God drove Adam and Eve out of Eden is apparently a euphemism for saying that Adam and Eve like the rest of us made a break for it as soon as God happened to look the other way. If God really wanted to get rid of us, the chances are he wouldn't have kept hounding us every step of the way ever since.
Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, London: Collins, 1973, pp. 55,56.
This phrase, 'the image of God', is as important as anything in Scripture... I stand in the flow of history. I know my origin. My lineage is longer than that of the Queen of England. It does not start with the Battle of Hastings. It does not start with the beginnings of good families, wherever or whenever they lived. As I look at myself in the flow of space-time reality, I see my origin in... God's creating us in his own image.
Francis Schaeffer, Genesis in Space and Time, Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity, 1972, pp. 48, 53-54.
When God said, 'Let us make [human persons] in our image' he once and for all provided a basis for human dignity, worth and value. He sealed forever the fact that all persons who walked this earth would have the right to see themselves as creatures of worth, value and importance... No matter how deeply sin mars our image, one fact remains: we are in his image... The Bible describes sin as an intruder into human nature. It is a foreigner - uninvited by the Creator - and it will eventually be totally eliminated from our personalities. [Therefore] sin cannot serve as the basis for our identity... No matter how far we fall short, the image of God in us will triumph... We must base our principles of self-esteem on this most basic aspect of our nature. Only in the fact that we are God's creations do we have a solid basis for self-acceptance and self-love. Once we have this foundation solidly in place, we can take a look at the extent of our sinfulness and our shortcomings. We do this in order to see our need for growth and grace, however, and not as a measure of our worth or value.
Bruce Narramore, You're Someone Special, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1978, p.39.
[Meister Eckhart's spirituality is one] of blessing and of passing on a blessing to others by way of justice and compassion... Every creature is a word of God... Salvation for Eckhart is creativity plus justice, or creativity at justice-making... The purpose of living is not to flee the earth or run from its pleasures but to return the blessings one has received by blessing other creatures and other human generations as well... We are sons and daughters of God and therefore have divine blood within us... God is the Creator and we, the images of God, follow in God's footsteps.
Matthew Fox, Breakthrough: Meister Eckhart's Creation Spirituality in New Translation, Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1980, excerpts from pp. 4-46.
Aligned with that long tradition that affirms God as creator of the world, we affirm that in God's provision for the beings that issue from God's creativity, grace is built into the processes of birth, of maternal or parental care and into the orders our species has evolved for the sustenance and maintenance of life. We might call the kind of grace that comes as part of creation ordinary grace.
But in insisting upon the radical freedom of God, we must also take account of what might be called extraordinary grace - the unpredictable and unexpected manifestations of God's care and of God's claims upon our loves and our passions...
We human beings seem to have a generic vocation - a universal calling - to be related to the Ground of Being in a relationship of trust and loyalty. That vocation calls us into covenantal relationship with the transcendent and with the neighbour... Human beings are genetically potentiated - are gifted at birth - with readiness to develop in faith... We can become co-responsible with God for the quality and extensiveness of faith on earth.
James Fowler, Stages of Faith, The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning, Blackburn, Victoria: Dove Communications, 1981, pp. 302-303
Some think of a Christian as one who necessarily believes certain things. That Jesus was the son of God, say. Or that Mary was a virgin. Or that the Pope is infallible. Or that all other religions are wrong.
Some think of a Christian as one who necessarily does certain things. Such as going to church. Getting baptised. Giving up liquor and tobacco. Reading the Bible. Doing a good deed a day.
Some think of a Christian as just a Nice Guy.
Jesus said, `I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me' (John 14:6). He didn't say that any particular ethic, doctrine, or religion was the way, the truth, and the life. He said that he was. He didn't say that it was by believing or doing anything in particular that you could `come to the Father'. He said that it was only by him - by living, participating in, being caught up by, the way of life that he embodied, that was his way.
Thus it is possible to be on Christ's way and with his mark upon you without ever having heard of Christ, and for that reason to be on your way to God though maybe you don't even believe in God.
A Christian is one who is on the way, though not necessarily very far along it, and who has at least some dim and half- baked idea of whom to thank.
Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking, London, Collins, 1973, p.14.
One idea that has influenced me greatly is that the Jesus I love in the abstract can become concrete for me in every person I meet. If I look at the person a second time, I can see through him or her to Jesus. And Jesus says to me, 'Hey, love me in this person!' Loving Jesus through people has affected my life dramatically. Each person becomes sacred when I sense that on the other side of that person is Jesus waiting to be loved.
I want to emphasize that the person is not Jesus, the person is not God; but I can get at God through the person, and, strangely enough, God can get at me through that person too. In reality, you cannot love God without loving people. And God loves you through people...
If someone treats me like dirt and I'm about to get angry, I look at that person again and - if I'm prayerful - I can sense the presence of God on the other side of that person. When I sense God coming at me through that person, no matter how rotten the person is, my attitude toward him or her is altered.
Anthony Campolo, 'Loving Jesus through People' in Neff, pp. 101 - 102.
Too late have I loved you,
O beauty always old and ever new.
Behold you were within and I looked for you elsewhere
and in my weakness I ran after the beauty in the things you had made.
You were with me and I was not with you.
The things you created kept me from you.
You have called and have pierced my deafness.
You have shone out and have lifted my blindness.
You have sent out your sweetness and I have longed after you
and looked for you, I have tasted you and hungered after you.
And now my whole hope is in nothing else but in your great
mercy O Lord, my God.
Augustine, Praying with the Saints Dublin, Veritas Publications, 1989, p.19-20.
Lord, what incredible human creatures you have created. We are fearfully and wonderfully made.
Once we trudged from place to place, now we can fly faster than sound. Once we scratched the earth with crude wooden tools, now robots serve us. Once we chiseled inscriptions laboriously on parchment or stone; now we multiply words and ideas in milli-seconds. Once we looked at the moon and marveled; now we can walk on it. Someone somewhere first blew through a ram's horn; now we create mighty symphonies.
But remind us, Lord, that we have some fearful limitations. We humans possess real goodness but not sufficient goodness, real wisdom but not sufficient wisdom, real power but not sufficient power. So we need your goodness, wisdom and power. Help us, Lord, to use our intelligence to take account of the dangers that come from trusting solely in human intelligence.
You have made us for yourself, and we do not rest until we rest in you. O God, deny us peace, so that you may some day give us glory. Conquer our hearts through your sovereign power and in your mercy and love might we become the men and women you intended us to be. And if events seem to conspire against our desires, and we haven't the strength to impose our terms on life, give us the grace to accept the terms life offers us, because of our conviction that all of life is under your divine control.
As we study the majesty and glory of Jesus Christ, we see our destiny: what we could become if we too are truly in tune with your good will for us. May we become less and less enslaved by the desires of the moment, and freed by your ennobling love and forgiving grace to love you with all our heart.
We pray for your glory. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.
A Benediction: Now to God who is able to strengthen you... to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen. Romans 16:25, 26.