When we read that we were made in God's image, we think, "Well, our spirits must look like his because he can't possibly have a normal old familiar form like ours". But in almost the same breath, we look at ourselves - spirit and all - as so vile and repulsive that there is nothing redeeming about us except that God just randomly decided to make us into something good under the right circumstances...and even then, he doesn't make us Good, exactly, just covers up all the repulsiveness under a nice clean sheet so he can pretend the disgusting thing underneath is just the covering he's looking at.
This is hard to imagine a truthful God doing.
How can God, the originator of Truth, look at something disgusting and say, "No it's not, it's pure! See, all my eyes behold is the purity of my Son. Nothing else to look at here."
Does God create garbage? If he makes someone whole, is that wholeness just a joke, an illusion?
Or does God the Great Creator make and remake us into something beautiful and wonderful?
I believe God when he says he literally washes us clean. Our sins are actually removed. Which reveals God's Creation underneath all the muck and leaves us with a critical decision to make: how should we now live?
What are we supposed to be if we have been returned to the state God meant us to be in?
When God says that the blood of Jesus "washes" us, "cleanses" us and "brings us back" (redeems), brings us back to life ("you were once dead in your sin but now share in the new life..."), he is saying he is taking us back to the beginning, back to what he originally created...and what he created was something very like himself.
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." - Genesis 1:26
We were meant to be like God.
But what does that even mean? It's hard to imagine ourselves being anything like God. It's considered semi-blasphemous to even consider. I stammer over even saying it aloud. How are we normal, average, ordinary people supposed to be anything like the totally alien being we imagine God to be?
I mean, think about it. When we think about God, we think about someone so infinitely Different than us we can't possibly know, understand or imitate anything about him so it's useless to even try. We try and fail to imagine what he looks like. Ask a lot of people what this verse means and they will say something like our Spirits are in God's image and so we have impulses or an intelligence like his...but then turn around and say that man is hopelessly wicked and there isn't a truly good impulse in him. Until recently, I didn't realize I looked at things this way too. But when I had to answer Ben WHY, I couldn't. This dichotomy is seriously confusing.
And to a certain extent, how could it possibly be otherwise? When was the last time I created a star or made a dead person come back to life? What kind of arrogance would it take to even dream of being...well, like God? Wasn't Satan thrown out of Heaven for this same kind of thinking - after all, his big rebellious moment was when he said, "I will be like the Most High", right?
And God said, "Let us make a Man in our image and likeness."
The Hebrew word "tselem" that we've usually translated "image" roughly means something like a shadow. The verse is literally saying something along the lines of, "Let's carve ourselves a shadow." The secondary term "likeness" ("demuth") is almost the same as tselem, but means "a comparison" rather than a "shadow".
So God said, "I'm going to make this creature who'll be My shadow and be comparable to Me."
This indicates something truly miraculous and incredible.
God isn't a mysteriously unknowable alien Thing with weird powers and an incomprehensible motivation for his actions.
God is a Person.
He looks a lot like us.
This is a terrifyingly beautiful idea. It lays a huge responsibility on us. It does not let us imagine ourselves to be obscure and unimportant so our actions or mistakes don't matter much.
If God is a Person we look like, then we are bound to uphold his image if we believe him to be good and worth honoring.
God IS a Person.
He is not an idea.
He is not a ghost.
He is not a collective consciousness.
He is a person who could actually walk in a beautiful garden with these two creatures he called Mankind. He is a Person who could speak to Moses like a man with a friend. He is a Person who likes some things and hates others.
He is a Person he intended us to know and deeply recognize, to the point he has held out the gift of his own Spirit so we could think and act as he would. So that if you see a man or woman possessed by that Spirit, it's as if you are seeing God himself.
Jesus was exasperated with his disciples when they kept asking to see the Father because they kept expecting something unimaginable when he himself, the perfect image of his Father, was sitting right with them and eating dinner with them. His disciples couldn't imagine God eating dinner or having a wry sense of humor. God couldn't look like them. So they kept asking to see something different without realizing the extraordinary nature of the man they followed and the nature they themselves had been given.
Mankind is made to be God's shadow, the shadow of the Person of God. And the amazing thing about a shadow is that it is an image cast by shining light past a solid form. It does not have the solidity and power of the image it is cast in, but it does tell you a few things about that image. A shadow tells you something is there in the light. It tells you what the shape of that something is. And it is bound to follow wherever the solid thing goes.
We tend to think of ourselves as the solid shape and God as the shadow. We hear that God is Spirit and think that makes him this weird ghostly unrecognizable Thing we have about as much in common with as a star. Which is why we have so much trouble with the idea that we are meant to think and act and BE as copies of our Creator. We are convinced - strangely enough, especially when we become Believers - that it's impossible to be perfected into a being who looks like God as Jesus did. We aren't worthy of that kind of elevation, we think.
And we are right to think it. We didn't DO anything to make God decide how to make us because we weren't made yet when he decided it! But that's not the point. God decided to create us and he decided how to create us and he decided what we should look like and he decided how to make it happen. It's not humility to reject this. It's humility to accept it.
"He has shown you, oh Man, what is Good and what YHVH desires of you: to do justly and love mercy and walk humbly with your God." - Micah 6:8 (paraphrased)
Isn't that the whole point of everything God has done? He gave his commands so we would know how to walk as his shadows. Then he sent Jesus to literally walk the direction we're supposed to so we would have a complete picture of what walking like God looks like; and then to top it off, our perfect teacher and example even gave up his life to restore to us the actual ability to walk after him.
We are in the image and likeness of God. That is what we were created to be. To have hands like his and a face like his and a heart and will that mimic his.
God is a Person we can know. He has made himself knowable to us.
And that is the great promise, the essence of the Good News Jesus came to tell us.
God is knowable and can be familiar to us.
We have the ability to walk after him, to imitate him, to live forever - not as some strange incorporeal creatures we don't understand, but as living beings in a form we know. God is the end - the shadow-caster - of Man as Jesus is the end - the shadow-caster - of the contract of the Law.
God has hands and he's reached one out to us like a father to a small child. And taking it so we may walk after him like a small child with a father is our great hope for escaping the catastrophe of death. For becoming as we were created to be. Images of God in every way.
And that's why it matters that God has hands.
The Mark of Sorrow
Branding is a very, very old concept. It visibly confirms the bearer in all the rights and protection of belonging to the owner of the brand. If you're a cow and you have a brand on your neck, it means you belong to the farmer who owns the brand. You live in his barn, eat his food and are treated as his cow. People since the dawn of time have grouped together under a flag and worn special colors on their bodies to indicate the kingdom they belong to and the king whose leadership they claim in return for the rights and benefits he could hand out (land, food, money, etc.).
There are a few brands God himself mentions as a sign (or seal) of his possession. Like a wedding ring, there are signs we wear when we follow after God. The one Ben and I have been pondering this week is the one God grants us when he finds us weeping and mourning at the wickedness we see around us. It's the opposite of the infamous "666" brand mentioned in Revelation. All who bear that brand are destroyed. The ones who bear God's brand are spared and blessed.
3Now the glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherub on which it rested to the threshold of the house. And he called to the man clothed in linen, who had the writing case at his waist. 4And the LORD said to him, “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.” 5And to the others he said in my hearing, “Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity. 6Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.” - Ezekiel 9:3
This is a difficult idea. It clashes with the picture we have of a Believer: we are supposed to be at peace. We are supposed to be a Light on a Hill, attracting all men to the glory of God by the Spirit that lives in us and gives us the peace that makes people want to have what we have.
Most people really don't want sighing and groaning and tears. If that's what it takes to receive the brand of God's ownership on our foreheads, it's not an attractive prospect.
Here's the thing, though: I'm pretty sure we don't fully understand peace. We get it confused with happiness. Sometimes Peace is also Sad.
7In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. - Hebrews 5:7
I've always had trouble with this passage. It doesn't sound like the Jesus I know. Jesus praying - to me - would be a dignified, quiet conversation. What's with the loud cries and the tears? This does not compute!
37“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38See, your house is left to you desolate. 39For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” - Matthew 23:37-39
This is Jesus speaking, the one who promised us HIS peace. That means the peace he has to pass on to his followers includes this facet, this great and terrible longing to be able to save those he loved and the grief that comes with being rejected. That is the heartbreak of a parent losing a child. If that isn't weeping and mourning, I don't know what is.
One of the prophesies about Jesus says this:
3He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
- Isaiah 53:3-4
Jesus' peace, the peace the peace he passes to us through his Spirit, is the peace of a Man of Sorrows. It is a sign of being filled with desire for God to weep at certain things. The peace of the Spirit he passes to us will cause us to be despised and not esteemed even as we are filled with sorrow for the very people who despise us.
Because Jesus loved those around him as if they were his children and even he, the Savior, the Messiah, could not save them from the destruction they were bringing on themselves.
No matter how loudly he shouted, how firmly he taught and how earnestly he wanted to gather them away from destruction, he could not. He was filled with the power and authority to rescue and protect them, but he needed his beloved children to want to be saved.
This, then, is how I understand the passage about God branding people with his mark of ownership when they look around, "judge" their neighbors to be committing great abominations, and groan and sigh over it. Because they are filled with love and in the midst of their own peace are also filled with grief and long to make what is wrong right. And they can't, because those they love do not want what they have. Those Jesus loved often did not want what he had, and there couldn't have been a light shining on a hill any brighter than he was.
As confusing as it is, one sign of growth in God's Spirit is also the growth of sorrow at the wrongness we see around us that we cannot fix but we know is completely antithetical to what God created and the good he wants for his creation. It so distresses God's followers that they cannot help but sigh and groan at what they are seeing.
We don't know what generation will be at Ground Zero when the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord comes, but if it comes in our lifetime, we do not want to be found ignoring wickedness or scoffing arrogantly at it while saying, "At least I'M not like those sinners over there!" We want to be so filled with love and Jesus' peace that we are full of sorrow when we see anything that doesn't fit what God meant to be.
And that is how true Peace must sometimes weep.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh." -Luke 6:21b
Who Gets To Decide?
Dear Fellow Believers,
The Supreme Court of the United States decided this week that we couldn't make a distinction between marriage and not-marriage. The justification is that if two people love each other and want to make a commitment to each other, they shouldn't be denied the "right" to make that commitment.
Many Christians are shaken and outraged by this. A surprising number are not, but many are.
This letter is to you.
When Believers decided we could cross out various parts of God's instructions and state which we were comfortable following and which we could righteously ignore, we set a long stage for us to be in the bind we're in now. We have trouble being able to distinguish right from wrong or have a leg to stand on when objecting to things like men "marrying" other men. The decision this week, based upon relentlessly emotional statements like "when two people love each other", is the logical outcome of our society's abandonment of God's principles and instructions. The shocking number of Christians supporting it while saying, "No one chooses to be born this way" is proof that we in the Body of Christ have forgotten our compass. We can't find North because we have rejected the measuring stick God gave his people. We are going the same way as the rest of the world when we were supposed to stand up and say "no!", to be a light on a hill, to not be like those whose eyes are blinded because they do not know the true Light.
I am filled with grief - not because Unbelievers do things God abhors, but because Believers are being persuaded they cannot object.
Hear me out on this.
When we decided that God's careful instructions could be parsed into categories like "Moral", "Sign" or "Ceremonial" laws and some could be dismissed, we opened ourselves to the argument of which instruction was which. It's now only a matter of opinion which we should keep and which we should ignore. One Christian keeps the Sabbath, another doesn't at all, another says it's been changed to Sunday. We have no clarity because we are using our own standards to judge God and his commandments instead of using God's words as our guide.
By taking it on ourselves to judge which of God's instructions are still valid, we have given ourselves the power to judge God. Once you give men the power to judge God, you've already made all evil things allowable. That is our sinful nature. And by discrediting God's commands, we have no recourse for objection. It's only a matter of time. When God says eating pigs is abominable to him and so is homosexuality, we are tearing down our own foundations when we say, "God's changed his mind about the pigs but not the homosexuality."
But who makes the determination that pigs are now clean but my homosexual neighbors are not?
God has not given good and evil instructions. If we find any of his instructions good, why would we then discard others?
The reason, one everyone I know including myself has used, is that some of God's commands are for us but some aren't, and if we try to keep the ones that aren't we have cursed ourselves. But it's very difficult to understand who has drawn the dividing line between the good and the cursed.
Many - including me, in my heart - have cited Paul's writings when saying it's actually evil to regard the body of God's instructions as still valid. The problem with this is that by accepting any of those instructions as good, we have invalidated this whole point and set ourselves up as the judges of God's Law. Paul himself never divides the commands into groups of what we should and shouldn't follow. He differentiates - as Jesus did - between the Laws of God and the Traditions of Men, but when he says "The Law", he never condemns part while clinging to part. If he's really speaking of God's instructions and condemning them as evil for Christians to follow, he's calling ALL of them evil. If this view of Paul is correct, then we can't say even the 10 Commandments are still valid without a lot of mind-bending roundabouts.
So do not do the easy thing, the thing I always took for granted we should do, and retreat behind Paul's difficult writings to say we can't possibly follow God's Instructions. Because if Paul said that, we're free to commit murder now. Without the whole validity of God's Instructions, there's nothing to say there's anything wrong with men "marrying" men or women "marrying" women or a father "marrying" his young daughter or a woman "marrying" her favorite horse.
Since it's ridiculous to suppose Paul really advocated murder or adultery, it's time to give up the untenable position that we in our power and wisdom can do what even the Apostles personally taught by Jesus could not: we cannot pick and choose which of God's commands are just and holy and which we may ignore.
That thought is what catapulted me out of feeling at ease with my attitude toward God and made me realize I have been content not following him with my whole heart. I realized with this one statement that I had allowed myself to choose how much of God's will I was content with.
It's not God's Instructions themselves that are the dividing line between the holy and profane in our Christian, God-fearing hearts. It's the attitude that we have the right to examine all God's words and decide which we will follow. Not which we CAN follow. Which we WILL.
If we keep giving ourselves that right, we'll increasingly find there is no evil and perversion we can truthfully object to because our only foundational reason will be, "I'm not comfortable with homosexuals marrying, but I am with eating pigs, so one is permissible but the other is a clear abomination."
That isn't a good reason. My comfort level is not something anyone else should have to change their behavior for. To demand my neighbors conduct their lives just in ways I personally approve is tyranny. It is only when a person believes in conducting their life according to the ways of our Creator and expect others to do the same that we have any moral, justifiable grounds for objecting to any disgusting behavior.
If we love what our Creator loves and despise what he despises, then we will no longer be hypocrites but will be able to firmly and consistently stand for what God defines as right. It's no longer an opinion. It's based on Truth, the Truth of God.
Until then, we can't in good conscience criticize homosexuals by saying, "that's a sin because God said so." They have every right to come back with, "God said eating shrimp is a sin too."
"Come back to me with your whole heart," God tells his people over and over. If we want to see evil beaten back, if we want to see perversion stop invading even our churches, we must repent of the arrogance we are showing toward God and accept his direction alone instead of trying to invent our own.
If we want to know our Messiah when his feet hit the ground on the Mount of Olives sometime in the perhaps-not-so-distant future, we have to be willing to give up our right of picking and choosing what we will do for the sake of our love for him.
It's still not too late.
30“And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. 31The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. 32And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls." - Joel 2:30-32
Wife of Benjamin and mother to two wonderful little girls who are getting bigger every day. Enjoys writing down thoughts and discussions we are having within the family and sharing them with whoever is interested in reading.
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