Monday, June 13, 2011

Daily Living in the Image of God

Growing up, I was told that we were created in God’s image. But no one really explained the concept to me. I assumed that God was static, unchanging, and altogether perfect. To the best of my knowledge, it had always been this way. Was my behavior to resemble this as well? Any number of theological loose ends was never tied up, either from ignorance or theological neglect. Sometimes it is easier to say nothing than to risk the potential offense provided by the truth. Fast asleep is a comfortable place for many, particularly in houses of worship and everyday communities which are deathly afraid of change.

It is easy to make the assumption that people do not ever change for the better. Until we can no longer believe that our enemy is incapable of reform, we will, in part, extend the same attitude towards ourselves. We will doubt our own capabilities and might even consider abandoning our efforts as a lost cause. The byproduct of any protracted siege is negativity, suspicion, and mistrust between both parties of an ongoing dispute. Religious or not, we worship our own deity. We have dug in our opposite sides. And like that same God, we expect no miracles, no breakthroughs, and no surprises.

But, contrary to what we might believe, God does change. A strong distinction exists between the Old Testament covenant and the New Testament covenant brought forth by Jesus. Before, animal sacrifice and religious law based on works were demanded. Noncompliance was an offense sometimes punishable by death itself. A New Covenant present in the form of Jesus, love, and grace replaced that which had come before it. Now, no amount of exhaustive effort can grant us greater favor with God. There is no hierarchy of salvation. It is granted towards any and all who might seek it, and, should you believe it, attaining the Kingdom of God is the grand reward.

The Old Testament Yahweh, as many have noted, is often a fickle God, prone towards destruction, often having to be talked out of eliminating whole tribes, nations, and individual sinners for their transgressions. We can easily resemble Yahweh in our dealings with others. Created in his image, we can judge harshly, threaten punishment, project anger, and respond impulsively. What we do to others speaks more loudly than what we think of ourselves as we do it.

People can change for the better. I am an example of that, though I am nowhere near the only one. I was at times irresponsible in how I treated my body. I smoked cigarettes for slightly over a decade, even though I caught every cold that came through. We can also be injurious to others. Paul of Tarsus’ dramatic conversion saw a self-righteous persecutor of Christians transformed into the faith’s most influential and eloquent champion. And on a related note, Alcoholics Anonymous and other programs that utilize its basic twelve step model retain a reliance on a Higher Power. If it were not a success it would not have persisted for as long as it has. Yet how long does it take anyone who is chemically addicted to truly seek help and reach out to others. Communal goodwill, by any name, heals the wounds and battle scars we all carry with us.

Others have seen the Light with time, maturity, and contemplation. It is not our role to judge another’s arc towards greater development. We do not understand even a fraction of the life of someone else, even those we know well, so our opinions are routinely based on insufficient evidence. Yahweh may have been brutal in his dealings, but he always at least knew in totality, not in part. As it it written, "Don't sin by letting anger control you. Don't let the sun go down while you are still angry." When that happy moment of clarity should arrive for whomever it shall be, it is cause for celebration. Its departure often signals the end of anger as well. Since societies are comprised of individuals, so too is our communal progress measured in ways we may never really comprehend.

Jesus tells this short parable to illustrate a similar conclusion. As a brief aside, this was one of my favorites as a child.

"Or suppose a woman has ten coins and loses one of them. She lights a lamp, sweeps the house, and searches carefully until she finds it, doesn't she? When she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me, because I have found the coin that I lost!' In the same way, I tell you that there is joy in the presence of God's angels over one sinner who repents."

Here is a helpful commentary that may be of aid to you.

I see this woman as typical of many who are forced to work here in Palestine and all over the world. Life is hard for men who are poor, but even more so for women. The tale that women are taken care of by their husbands is a patriarchal myth. For example, to survive a person needs 200 denarii a year. A working father with a wife and six children would need additional income. This means that women are forced to work and give the money to their husbands.

The economic contribution of the woman is necessary for the survival of the family. And if they are widows with children it is even more necessary for them to work day and night. Even worse, women receive much lower salaries than men. A woman earns half of what a man earns in a day so she needs to work twice as long and twice as hard to earn the same amount. Many children work from the time they are six years old, which is another great injustice.

We should not be satisfied with our own efforts towards greater equality, but we should recognize that its distribution, much like wealth, is exceptionally uneven. Despite our global initiatives and measuring sticks, time, like God, reminds a mystery. We can fight the greater unknowable, or we can make room for it along with our calculations.

Here's an example. This past weekend was Pride weekend here in DC. If, for example, we begin with Stonewall and look forward, the difference between then and now is extremely prominent. If we start with Betty Friedan and observe our world today, we can scarcely believe certain ideas and customs went unchallenged for as long as they did. But there is one crucial element that must inform all our thinking: hope. Without hope, nothing is possible. Much may have spewed from Pandora's Box with time, but let us not forget that hope is the salve and the tool we must keep close nearby.

I know I’ve noted the lyrics of this song a time or two before, but I return to it here once more. As someone who has grown discouraged with life from time to time and who has felt completely alone, the words always bring tears to my eyes.

When you walk through the storm
Hold your head up high
And don't be afraid of the dark
At the end of the storm
There's a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of the lark

Walk on, through the wind
Walk on, through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown
Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone
You'll never walk alone

Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone
You'll never walk alone

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