A TRICK QUESTION
A BLOG by Pastor Ken Rickett
So God created man in his own image; in the image of God created him; male and female God created them.
And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.
Luke 11:42- 43, 46
But woe unto you, Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs and pass over judgment and the love of God; these you ought to have done, and yet not leave the other undone.
Woe unto you Pharisees! For you love the uppermost seats in the synagogue and greetings in the marketplace.”
And he said, “Woe unto you also, you lawyers! For you heap upon men burdens grievous to be borne, and you yourselves will touch their burdens with a single finger!
Are we human beings who are in search of becoming more spiritual beings? OR, are we spiritual beings on a quest to become fully human as God intended at creation? I must warn you, Reader, that these two questions are not meant to be tricky, but to clarify.
God created human beings “in God’s image”. What does it mean to be created in the image of God? Let’s eliminate what it does NOT mean. To be created in God’s image does NOT mean that we have three characteristics of God:
1) Everlasting Life as a human being,
2) and it does not mean that human beings have a physical likeness or physical image of God, and
3) we are not created with the capacity to live our lives with perfection (without sin).
Centuries after creation, we have the story of the coming of God’s salvation in the Person of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead, through whom human beings, by faith, can join with God and therefore receive these three attributes in eternity that we were NOT given at Creation. It is only after the death of the human being that followers of Jesus Christ may experience a resurrection like Jesus.
Because believers are resurrected, then we share in the Everlasting Life with God, receiving a spiritual body (not physical) in the likeness of God that lives forever, and then we human beings, transformed in resurrection, live throughout eternity without sin. I repeat: while we human beings were not created in a physical likeness of God, through resurrection, human beings are given a new body, eternal in the heavens, in a spiritual likeness of God that will exist forever. And finally, in the Last Supper that the Disciples shared with Jesus, Jesus took the cup and declared that the cup was for forgiveness of sins. Mind you, this was a unique Greek word for forgiveness, namely, that all sinfulness of human beings who, by faith in Jesus Christ and who, share in a resurrection like his, our sin will be removed as if our sin never existed. Therefore, human beings may, through grace, enter Everlasting Life, have an immortal body, and live without being troubled by sinfulness.
The question demands an answer, “what is the image of God that we are given as human beings created by God?” I shall begin with a story. Several years ago, as I was preparing a sermon on the Creation of Humankind, I went to a farmer, a member of the congregation, and asked for a favor, and he said “if possible, I will do it.”
I said, “For my sermon this coming Sunday I need a bucketful of the richest, blackest dirt that you can find on your farm.”
On Saturday, he called me and said “I have your dirt, what do I do with it?”
to which I replied, “I have a small folding table set up in the front of the sanctuary, just bring the bucket of dirt with you to church tomorrow and sit it on that table.”
During the sermon that Sunday, I read the scripture and started the sermon by reading a portion of James Weldon Johnson’s poem where God exclaimed “I’m lonely. I’ll make me a man! And He scooped up the clay.. . . “ Then I went to the bucket of black dirt, took out a double handful and showed the congregation how loose and light that dirt was. Then I reached into the bucket, got a big handful of dirt and squeezed it. Immediately, it formed a ball in the shape of my hand and did not fall apart when I opened my hand. How revealing: even the gaps between my fingers could be clearly seen as ridges in that molded dirt! I asked the congregation to note that fact when I walked around, showing them that molded dirt. I then continued my sermon by saying,
“This black dirt is no ordinary dirt. It is humus, the root word from which we get the name ‘human’ and humus was the dirt God used in the creation of Adam.”
So back to the two questions. Are we human beings in search of becoming more spiritual beings OR are we spiritual beings in search of becoming more fully human?
When God created Adam from humus, God knew that human beings were creatures and they would not have Everlasting Life on earth, they would not be in a physical image of God, and they would not be perfect. BUT human beings would have different gifts and abilities. God did create human beings with the expectation that they would live harmoniously with one another, draw from the gifts and abilities of one another, and honor the sanctity of life for all people. Furthermore, Jesus taught us the actions and mindset that describe a “fully human” person.
In Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees and lawyers (who sought to be seen as persons who had searched for and reached a spiritual pinnacle), Jesus told them that they had ignored the love of God for all people and they had refused to touch other people with a single finger! In essence, their drive to be “spiritual” had blinded them to the necessity of loving and helping other human beings. Jesus also taught us to turn the other cheek in confrontation, to be a friend to the stranger, to restore those overtaken in a fault, to respect the bodies of each other as a “temple of God”, to seek the wholeness (healing) of one another, to live in hope (rather than despair), and above all, to become “fully human” is to recognize that all other people are human beings in need of love and encouragement and support.
Jesus never taught that becoming fully human was “perfection,” but rather he argued for living as fully as possible with the best attributes or characteristics of human life for which God had created us. Indeed, we would not be in the image of God perfectly, but if there was any truth and virtue, we were to think AND act on them.
The problem for us today, theologically, is the history of the Church in which, by the Medieval Ages, placed great emphasis upon the imperfections of sinfulness in human beings who were considered without worth and merit except by salvation. Therefore, human beings were in constant search of spirituality, and only by “finding” this spirituality in God through salvation could human beings have value. Unfortunately, this predominant view never answered this question, “why would God create human beings ‘in the Image of God’ if there was nothing spiritual placed within us at Creation?” There is, within all of humanity, an image of God; the Scriptures declare it!
What is that Image of God which we all share?
We must recognize that even the worst among us have done that occasional good deed. Abraham Lincoln once said, “There is so much good in the worst of us and so much bad in the best of us that it behooves any of us to talk about the rest of us!” What if the Image of God within us is an ability to love one another as ourselves, a desire to engage in a quest to live harmoniously, and a willingness to live in community by seeking the well-being and common good of all? Is this the very description of the Image of God within us, the description of becoming “more fully human but not perfect?”
Yes. I find it difficult to describe the image of God within us in any other manner. We who are parents know that young children are taught to move from selfishness toward community. We teach them to share, to respect persons regardless of differences, to understand that items belonging to others may not be taken without permission, etc. Children yearn for inclusion, for acceptance, for affirmation of their uniqueness, etc. I want to suggest that it is parental guidance (and that of teachers, grandparents and family, neighbors, etc.) to bring forth the best that already lies within every human being. Is the “best that lies within” also the Image of God with which we are created? This can certainly be interpreted as the Image of God.
Historically the Church has described salvation as “saved from sin” and I have no quarrel with that concept. But I want to ask, “what are we saved FOR?” Obviously, we are saved for the mission that Jesus has sent us, namely, to love one another to the point that we feed the hungry, uplift the fallen, seek peace, and live harmoniously with one another in the Church and in the world. The very mission of the Church is to invite the Image of God within us to flourish. When the Image of God is allowed to flourish, we move toward becoming more fully human in the sense that God created us with the capacity as human beings to find joy and enrichment in living together, loving others as we love ourselves.
What if the role of Jesus Christ who intercedes for us and grants us eternal life is declaring before God that we have indeed honored the image of God within us, however imperfect that our lives may be? Indeed, our purpose as believers in Christ, is to bring the Kingdom of God to fulfillment on earth which, in other words, is to discover and expand the Image of God that lies within all of us. Jesus, who intercedes for us, also grants us the three things that would make the creature “like God”; namely, to live forever and become Righteous (without sin). So, yes, if God created us in His Image, then we are spiritual beings in search of becoming more fully human. There is absolutely no way that God intended for human beings to live unto self; God meant for humans to strive together for the common good of all; this is the Image of God within us. And by faith in Jesus Christ, we can live more fully human lives through which the Resurrected Jesus, then, will intercede for us and bestow upon us Everlasting Life, a new body that lives forever, and Righteousness (sinless).
As a minister I worked with people caught up in all kinds of chaos and pain and anguish, I (Ken) have wondered if the “achilles heel” of the Church as we know it today lies in its inability to understand “creature-ness”, that is, human beings, as creatures with the Image of God, are not made to be “God” with all powers and characteristics of God.
St. Francis of Assisi wrote around the year 1225 these words:
“All creatures of our God and King Lift up your voice and with us sing, Alleluia! Alleluia!” He dared to call us “creatures!” And we creatures sing “Alleluia” because we have the Image of God within us that seeks to worship and praise God.
So, are we human beings on a quest to develop spirituality in our lives or are we imperfect spiritual beings on a journey to become more fully human? I submit to you that this question reveals both sides of the same coin, namely, that a Christian life includes both the quest for a deeper spirituality AND a journey to become more fully human, yet never attaining perfection as human beings. We seek to develop a deeper spirituality because the Image of God within us is always reaching toward growth in the Christian life, AND we seek to become more fully human for the basic reason that we shrink in horror at the inhumanity that fills our airwaves, newscasts, social media, and sometimes our own eyes.
Early in my ministry I served a church for several years. In that town, each September, was a town festival, and a carnival came and provided all kinds of rides and events; arriving on Tuesday, setting up, and Wednesday through Saturday night, the carnival was crowded with people of all ages. The owners were an older couple, and he was a few years older than his wife. While in our town, he became suddenly ill, hospitalized, but he did not survive. Because the carnival had iron-clad contracts, they needed to move on, so it was imperative that they have a funeral before they left town and forwarded the body to the family cemetery in Florida. I met with the wife on Saturday morning and learned that they were Christians and seldom had a chance to worship as they were on the road most of the year. So, through the wee hours of Sunday morning, the carnival “broke down” and loaded up, ready to roll. At 9 AM, at the funeral home, I conducted a service before the worship service at my church at 10 AM. I stood up and looked across the sea of faces who made their living working with the carnival. Can you imagine that scene? Tattoos. Dyed hair. Unique clothing. Body piercings. Teary eyes. Attentive. Human beings seeking an Image around which they could center their lives. After the service their comments to me were sincere, kind, appreciative AND affirming that their beloved owner had taught them much about what it means to grow as a human being!
To be honest, they were. . . creatures with the Image of God within.
To be honest, they were. . . creatures with a desire to grow as human beings with the capacity to live in community together as they traveled.
Just like me…