“If we lose love and respect for each other, this is how we finally die.” – Maya Angelou
“Though our feelings come and go, God’s love for us does not.” – C.S. Lewis
In my last post I talked a lot about wrapping our minds around the idea of God. How it’s truly a futile act, and that we need to allow for ambiguity and space for God (or the Divine) to be what it will be. We need not only to say that God is a mystery beyond all human understanding but believe it – embrace it. One of the ideas that I’ve been writing a lot about recently is the true nature of God. Not in the sense that I, in any way, think that we can ever hope to being to understand the mysteries of the Divine, but rather, in what ways we as human beings might be a reflection of it. I keep going back to where the bible talks about how we as human beings are made in the image of God. This idea is referenced all over the bible, but the verse I’m speaking about in particular is Genesis 5: 1-2, “…When God created humankind, he made them in the likeness of God,” Of course, when I was a child and thought like a child, I interpreted this to mean that God was some sort of old white man who lived in the clouds. Obviously, we know now that God doesn’t life in the clouds and probably isn’t a white guy. Although, imagining choirs of angels doing evasive maneuvers to avoid airplanes is pretty comical. Even folks who abide by a more literal reading of the bible can usual admit that these are metaphors based on the author’s understanding of hierarchy, social order, and power. So what does the bible mean when it says we were made in the likeness of God?
As a Christian, I think the first place to look is in John 4:8, “Whosoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” The idea that God is love itself is expressed most fully though Jesus and his teachings all throughout the New Testament. Through his actions and teachings we see that God is the fullest expression of love – the source of love itself. So perhaps to be made in the image of God simply means that we are to embody the very act of love in all that we say and do. As Father Richard Rohr once said, “until you consciously give away happiness you can’t hold onto joy.” What he means is that love is something that requires perpetual action. Love is meant to be given away as much and as often as humanly possible. The key word being “humanly possible.” As human beings we are built with inherent limitations. Unfortunately, it’s part of the deal – part of our makeup. We cannot truly understand the concept of unconditional love. We cannot fathom the infinite. Therefore, we are forced to use metaphors to even speak of such things. When it comes to the act of love, we are called to make it our reason for being. Jesus himself confirms this when responding to the Pharisees in Matthew 22:35 when he responds by saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Love your neighbor (as you love yourself).
Oh, and by the way, Jesus didn’t just mean for you to love Bob the retired guy who lives next door who spends his days perfecting his lawn. It also includes the Muslim immigrant, the atheist who works at your local bookstore, the librarian at your library who happens to be Jewish, the homosexual barista at the coffee shop, and on and on and on.
I think you get the idea.
EVERYONE. No exceptions! For we are all God’s children.
Jesus is telling us to manifest in everyday life the very act of the Word of God.
In western society, the word love has taken on a whole new meaning, through its cavalier use in movies, television, magazines, etc. Love, in the modern age, is much more of a “feeling” than anything deeper. Love, is described as “butterflies in the stomach,” physical attraction, or a general feeling of affection toward someone. This is not the love of the bible, however. The love of movies can be summed up in a feeling – the remnants or byproduct of the object of love itself. Love in the biblical sense is so much more. It is far deeper and more mysterious. Father Rohr refers to love as one of the non-rational or what he calls “trans-rational” things that the human brain encounters but is unequipped to process. It is so far beyond the rational that we cannot measure it, photograph it, or describe it in anything other than metaphors.
“She made me feel as if I was floating on air.”
“He made me feel as if time stood still.”
The best we can do is to filter love through our human senses, but the feeling not the object of love itself. To say that love is merely a feeling is akin to saying that music is merely a sound or a noise. Try telling that to someone who just experienced the Hallelujah Chorus for the first time, or someone who just saw Sigur Ros in concert.
Music is more than sounds ad noises.
Love is more than butterflies in your stomach.
Jacques Derrida once argued that, as a society, we can never truly attain justice. Sure, we can all come to an agreement on legal matters of law, but we can never fully realize true justice. What might be justice to one person is not necessarily justice to another. A perfect example of this is the debate surrounding capital punishment. To one person it’s a reasonable response to an individual who has committed a horrific crime; and yet another would argue that we have no right to put another to death. Derrida’s argument is that the best we can do is to constantly pursue the idea of justice. And so it is with love. Only God has the ability to love unconditionally. To love within the confines of our human limitations often mean sacrifice, setting aside our egos, and putting someone else ahead of our own wants and desires. It might even mean knowingly entering into pain and suffering. To love fully isn’t easy. So, when the bible says that we were made in the image of God it’s talking about our very being, our essence. If God is the definition of pure, limitless, unconditional love, then Jesus’ command to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves becomes a challenge to his people. It is a call for us to love others to the best of our ability as a reflection of how God first loves us. Just as a parent models behavior to a child, so too God show us how to love through his never-ending acts of grace, forgiveness, and mercy. No matter how difficult we make it, no matter how many mistakes we make or wicked things we do, God’s love for us is unchanging. And so our mission in this life must be to do the same for others. No matter how difficult our ability to do so might be. We must always pursue the horizon, knowing that we will never reach it but knowing we must always move towards it.
Keep pursing the horizon.