Anthropomorphosis, Part 2

Anthropomorphosis, Part 2

For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard…  Matthew 20:1

When we anthropomorphize God – attribute human characteristics to God – we not only create God in our own image, but we also mislead ourselves and others about the unfathomable nature of God. Jesus provides many examples of the nature of God that make no sense to our typical human ways of understanding. We tend either to ignore or rationalize the inconsistencies, or we twist the teachings into something other than what was given. One of my favorite examples is found in Matthew 20:1-11, the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. Jesus uses the parable to illustrate a distinctly non-human characteristic of the kingdom of heaven. A landowner hires laborers to work in his vineyard. Some workers begin early in the morning and work all day. Other workers are brought in at various times throughout the day and work until the end of the workday, including some who work only the last hour. At the end of the day, the landowner pays all the workers the same amount, one day’s wage, regardless of whether they worked all day, half the day, a few hours, or a single hour. God, apparently, does not abide by the human value of equal pay for equal work.

When we read and understand this parable through our human values, we wonder, “How is that fair, that the landowner would pay the person who worked very little the same as the person who worked all day doing the exact same work? Isn’t that discrimination? Worker abuse? Does it create a hostile work environment?” My point in using this parable is that God’s application of fairness is vastly different than ours, and whenever we attempt to anthropomorphize God’s actions under the rules of human understanding we are going to be confused and believe God to be unjust. The lesson from the parable, at least one understanding, is that there is only one reward for going to work in God’s vineyard. That reward is the kingdom of heaven, which means being in the vineyard. There are no gradations – higher or lower values – of the reward. It does not matter whether we enter the field at the beginning or end of our earthly days, the reward is the same. Certainly, the time in our life that we enter the field will impact our earthly experience, but the “payment” is the same. We will never arrive at that sort of understanding of the teaching, however, by anthropomorphizing God’s sense of fairness.

The parable strikes at the heart of our sense of justice. Near the end of the telling, the landowner says, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”[1] Indeed, must God abide by our human sense of justice? God’s generosity may make us envious when we anthropomorphize God because it is of a different nature and so much more lavish than that of most humans. Once we have a taste of God’s presence – the vineyard of God – while we may wish to share it with others, our human nature wants them to suffer in similar ways we suffered in order to “earn” it. It seems only fair since we (believe we) had to work for it. That sort of very human thinking leads to all sorts of often hurtful misunderstandings about the nature of God.

A large part of our misunderstanding of God’s nature has to do with perspective. As humans we tend to divide our lives into separate and distinct pieces, such as days, months, or years. The pieces may be related to the beginning and end of a project or process. Certainly the life-piece weighing most heavily on our minds goes from our birth to our physical death. What we miss by dividing our lives into pieces is the continuity and interconnectedness of the various pieces. Splitting into pieces is the anthropomorphosis of life, and that reality only exists in the imaginary space between our ears. Not only are our individual lives an interwoven collective of what we perceive as pieces, but our lives run continuous with and connected to all other lives, human and non-human, past, present, and future.

When we look at the parable of the laborers in the vineyard from a more integrated perspective, we begin to understand that whether we enter the vineyard at age 8 or 80 matters very little in the larger scheme of life. Our life is so much more than our days on earth, let alone a single day. The reward is entering the vineyard – being present with the Divine – and that reward is all there is. That reward is all that matters.

This is the 51st in the series of Life Notes titled Churchianity vs Christianity. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at ghildenbrand@sunflower.com, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning and browse the archives of my Life Notes, Podcasts, music, books, and other musings.


[1] Matthew 20:15

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