Saturday, September 22, 2012

In the Image of God

Why is there is so much pain and suffering in the world?  If God really loves us why is it that 16,000 children die every day from starvation?  Why do there have to be rapists and murders and politicians?  If God is all loving and all powerful why did he let it get this bad?
      Do you want to know the answer?  You might not like it.  Its pretty simple really; the world is screwed up because you suck at life.  Basically, you suck at being a person.
      I'm sorry for being so blunt.  I would have preferred a more refined way of expressing this concept, but i lack the literary eloquence necessary to achieve that particular feat.  At mass we say, "through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault"; mea culpa, mea culpa, mea máxima culpa.  Every child who goes hungry tonight, every family with no roof over their heads, every school that can't afford text books.  If you want to know where to lay the blame, look no further than the nearest mirror.  Every time you come upon an evil and fail to act, due to laziness or selfishness or being "only human", that's you failing at life. 

      A lot of ink has been spilled considering that line in Genesis.   That we were made in the image and likeness of God.  What does it mean?  Does it means what some ancient heretics claim, that God has a body and we look like Him?  (roll eyes here please)  Maybe it has to do with our intellect?  Our ability to choose?
      As my old youth pastor used to say, context is king.  So let's look at the context.  Specifically the cultural context.  We believe the book of Genesis was written by Moses, some time in the 40 years Israel spent wandering in the desert.  Immediately preceding this development they had spent 215 years living in Egypt; learning about Egyptian culture and custom.  The author himself grew up in the court of Pharaoh, he would have been trained extensively in Egyptian theology. (How about that?) 
      Did Egyptians have any beliefs that seem to mirror this passage?  They had statues, images of their gods, made in the likeness of their gods.  (Connection?)  Those statues didn't simply represent their gods, but rather they believed a god's power was manifested through their statues.  Does this sound familiar?  Its sacramental theology!  We have it in the Catholic Church.  A lot of Protestants follow a form of it.  (Not so much Zwinglians, but they're blatant heretics, we can just ignore them.)
      For people recently concluding a two century long stay in Egypt and especially for Moses, the meaning of this passage would seem obvious.  To be made in something's image and likeness is to bare its sacramental presence, to manifest its power in the world.  We are made in the image of God so that we might be the means of God working in the world, that God might work through us.
      Does the passage support this?   The verse says we are made in God's image "so that [we] may rule".  That seems to fit doesn't it?  That we are given power so that we can rule?  Seems to me power would help with ruling.
      How about other places in scripture?  Do we see this elsewhere in the Bible?  Maybe Moses?  Moses didn't bring the Israelites out of captivity, Moses didn't part the Red Sea.  God did those things through Moses.  This is how sacramental imaging works.  God could do things without human interference, but He chooses to work through a man.
      We see this in the natural world as well.  Consider a man and a woman, they join together in that ultimate act of union, and nine months later a new person emerges into the world!  How incredible is that!  Did they make that person, give it its humanity,
its soul, its very existence?  Creation, new life; that is the domain of God, and yet He works through this couple to manifest that most awesome power.
      If you'll permit me to be Catholic for a moment.  In the mass, when the priest elevates the host, the bread and wine, he speaks the words of consecration and the voice of Christ echos in the world once more.  This is my body, this is my blood.  No longer bread and wine, but rather true body and true blood.  This is not the power of a mere human priest.  This is the power of God being manifest through the priest.  (Please note: Not by the priest but rather through the priest. This is an important distinction.)

      It seems to me, if our power is derived from being made in the likeness of God, then we aught to wield that power in accord with the image.  That is, our authority is not just any authority, it is an authority we are called to use in bringing about God's will.  Christ says we should love one another as He loved us.  That's a tall order, but that is what we were made for.  We were made to manifest God's power in pursuit of love.
      The world is our domain!  God gave it to us.  He could act in it without our permission, but generally that is not how He works.  Getting mad at God because the world isn't perfect is like getting mad at your parents when your room is messy.  We are the ordinary means of God working in the world.  We are His hands in this place.  When it comes down to it, we caused the problems, God expects us to fix them. 

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