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Posts Tagged ‘image of god’

The Hidden Face of God

 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord had descended upon it in fire. Moses would speak and God would answer him in thunder. Exodus 19:18,19b

There is a stark contrast between the God presented in the first three chapters of Genesis and the God described in the rest of the Old Testament. In the Garden of Eden, God was present with Adam, Eve, and the rest of creation. They walked and talked together as people in relationship do. Once Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden, God seemingly became distant and mysterious. Leading the Israelites out of Egypt, God manifested as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. As God prepared to give Moses the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, the people below heard only thunder and saw only fire and smoke. Psalm 13:1 asks, “How long will you hide your face from me?” The question arises, “Did God leave direct relationship with creation, or did creation leave direct relationship with God?” How one answers that question has a lot to do with how one views his or her connection with God. If we see God as a distant, aloof being, we are likely to believe God put the distance between us, presumably because of the original sin committed in the Garden. If we see God as a constant, involved presence in our lives, however, we are more likely to believe we separate ourselves from God. Personally, I believe the latter.

As I have mentioned elsewhere in this series, we (humankind) have developed a collective and tenacious inferiority complex. Perhaps we are taught from an early age that we are not worthy of God’s presence, that God cannot possibly love us as we are. We believe we must first go to church more often, read our Bibles more frequently, or pray more regularly. While these may be worthy goals, I do not believe God monitors our religious activities like a cosmic scorekeeper. God is interested in the content of our heart; God knows our hearts and resides there, whether or not we acknowledge it. To the extent there is distance between us and God, the distance is maintained by us, and it is completely illusory. Because of our free will, we can choose to withdraw our conscious attention from whatever we wish, even when the object of our inattention is right beside us. We are most comfortable keeping some distance from God, thus making God seem distant and aloof. It is convenient, but wrong, to say God withdrew from us. It lets us off the hook for being so self-centered when we claim God is not involved in or aware of the details of our daily lives. Of course, our feelings of unworthiness make us fear that if we reach out to God, God will not reach back. Why would God care about a lowly sinner like me?

The hidden face of God is hidden by our own fear of consciously allowing God a prominent presence in our lives. Interestingly, the Bible says that God wanted all the Israelites to come up the mountain with Moses, but they were afraid – they felt unworthy. They remained below and saw only fire and heard only thunder. We should understand this, because we are guilty of the same thing. We keep our distance from conscious encounters with God by making our religion an intellectual exercise instead of an experiential communion. As such, we turn to God and see only fire and smoke. We hide behind words, creeds, tithes, and even prayers. It is as if we believe there is a threshold of religious activity that, once met, will make us worthy of God’s love – but it is a threshold we can never attain. While there is nothing wrong with our religious practices, they cannot close the gap between us and God. God will remain a mystery to us until we surrender our poor self-image and embrace the image in whom we were created.

The hidden face of God longs to be unmasked.

Note: this is the eleventh in a series of Life Notes on the Faces of God

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Life Notes

Image and Likeness

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” God saw everything he had made, and indeed, it was very good. Genesis 1:26a, 31a

In a recent issue of the comic strip, Family Circus, middle brother Jeffy draws a picture of his older brother Billy. Billy says, “Hey, I don’t look like that!” Jeffy replies, “Maybe you don’t know what you really look like.” I believe this cute illustration captures a key issue behind many of our problems: We do not know what we really look like. More accurately, we have forgotten in whose image we were created.

An image is an identical counterpart produced by a reflection. A likeness, on the other hand, is a representation or a semblance of something – not identical, but similar. In the cartoon, Jeffy is creating a likeness, but Billy expects an image.

Each of us shares a common image – that of God – but we manifest differently as God’s likeness. Collectively, we display an infinite variety of God’s hues, shapes, and characteristics. When we look in the mirror, however, we see only an imperfect likeness. Many of us are unhappy with that likeness because we believe we are too short or too fat, our hair is too thin or too grey, our clothes don’t fit quite right, or our shoes don’t match our purse. Something important is always missing, misshapen, or mismatched. And something is always wrong because what we see in the mirror is a reflection of God’s likeness – a representation of one aspect of God – and not the entire image we so desire to reflect. Our divine image becomes hidden beneath our likeness to the point where it is easy to forget the image from which we originated. We are conditioned to only see the likeness and not the image, thus becoming obsessed with our appearance instead of our essence.

Our divine image is always there, however. We see the image of God in another when we look deeply into their eyes, or when we catch them uninhibitedly being their most beautiful and pure self (think child-like). The moments are rare, but they are there for the seeking. Likewise, we display God’s image when we let go of our concerns about how others see us, or what others expect from us – when we know we are good enough as we are, where we are – good enough to be loved and valued by God. When we dance like no one is watching, or sing like no one is listening, we do so from a place of ultimate freedom. In that place of unconditional love, we are free to realign our likeness into something more consistent with our image – something that will touch others at a soul-level. As we better reflect God’s image, we are better able to positively impact our world.

Come home to church this Sunday. Discover what you really look like.

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Life Notes—July 4, 2013 

 

“And he said to them, ‘Take care!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’”  Luke 12:15

 

The third of the seven deadly sins is greed.  Like the preceding deadly sins, lust and gluttony, greed is a sin of excess.  Desiring something becomes a sin when that desire overwhelms common sense and decency.  To want to possess that which is necessary and useful in our lives is natural.  But when we begin to hoard possessions in quantities we are unlikely to ever need or use is when it crosses the line to sin.  At that point our possessions possess us, and we become their slaves. And our possessions, which could have value to others in need, become essentially valueless.

 

It may be helpful, at this point in this sin-filled series of essays, to review the nature of sin and why it is to be avoided.  A simple definition of sin is that which separates us from God.  The seven deadly sins are considered deadly because they are believed to be the origin of all other sins.  And it is sin which separates us from the new life promised in Christ. Many of us have an inherent aversion to discussing sin because it makes us feel guilty and dirty.  We feel like a puppy who is told “Bad dog!” when he wets on the carpet.  Obviously, the puppy is not a bad dog for wetting on the carpet.  The puppy is a good dog that did something inconsistent with the best interests of the puppy’s family.  The puppy did not wet the carpet because it was bad.  The puppy wet the carpet (1) because he needed to go to the bathroom, and (2) he had not learned how to meet his needs in a family-friendly way.  In like manner, the fact that we sin does not make us bad people.  We were created in the image of God—we are very good people who sometimes act in ways that are not family-friendly.  Our sin, a natural part of our human condition, separates us from God and our community.  Our desire to eliminate sin from our lives, to the extent possible, should not be driven by our desire to be a good person, but by our desire to become a better member of our family and community.  It is in our own best interest, as well as being consistent with the best interests of those around us.  Life is simply better for everyone when there is less sin.  When we tell a person they are a sinner, even in truth, they are much more likely to hear they are a bad person (Bad dog!), than hear they are a good person who can become better.  When we wet the carpet, we don’t need our noses rubbed in our mistake; we need to be lovingly and patiently shown a better way.  Showing a better way is the responsibility of Christians—not because we’re perfect, but because we have been shown the better way of love through Christ.  And, as with most things in life, the most effective witness is a living example to emulate.

 

So the danger with greed, to us and others, is not in wanting something.  The danger is in wanting something to such an extent and in such a quantity, and to want to possess it so completely that the object of our desire is no longer useful to meet our own needs or the needs of others.  We must learn that the true graces of God cannot be hoarded, but must be shared in order to bless us and others.

 

Come home to church this Sunday.  The value of life is not in the abundance of possessions.

 

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

 

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