Saturday, May 18, 2013

In my own image (Part 2/2)

My dear brothers and sisters, although we are all created in the image and likeness of God, since the Fall, we have been trying to make God in our own image, and we continue trying so today. We attribute to God our own characteristics and warp his image to fit ours based on our wants and fears. For example, we focus on him being the almighty one, when we measure others by how powerful they are, the just one, when we seek revenge from those who hurt us, or the merciful one, when we want to justify the wrong we do or the good we don't.

We have developed a selective scripture memory, keeping only the verses that suite us and making God in our own image, while rejecting others. We say to each other, "didn't you know that Jesus did not condemn the woman caught in adultery? You see he said to her 'Neither do I condemn you'" [John 8:11];  we don't seem to remember him telling her in that same verse "Go and from now on do not sin anymore." We always remember his words, "ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you" [John 15:7], although we can never remember the first part of this verse, "If you remain in me and my words remain in you".  We recreate Jesus in our own image making him a friend who has no demands on us whatsoever. We hold on his love for us and quote him saying "As the Father loves me, so I love you. Remain in my love."[John 15:9]. We stop short from quoting the next verse "If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I kept my father's commandments and remain in his love" [John 15:10].

We  must be careful. We often try to fit the God of the universe into our own personal world, warping him into our image. In doing so we are loving ourselves first, not God, and therefore we are rejecting the first of God's greatest commandments: "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind" [Matthew 22:37]. We do not stop here. We often break the second greatest commandment "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" [Matthew 22:40] because we often make effort to make others in our own image. We start first with those who are closest to us, brothers, sisters, and friends, then as we get older we impose our image on our children and attempt it on every person that we encounter. We get hurt when others do not see the world as we do or do not act and respond as we want them to, and we react by throwing them out of our own garden for daring to differ.

A Father once summed up his homily by these words: "There is a God, and you are not it." My dear brothers and sisters, take a step back, let go, and remember his words: "Be still and know that I am God" [Psalm 46:10].  Yet, it is true that we are not called to be passive, we are after all in his own image, and he is not passive. We are called instead to participate in God's creation, but in our participation we must remain in him and acknowledge him as the source of everything, the beginning and end of everything.

How do we do that? How do we become such beings? Our true happiness and joy, our true growth toward God, is in becoming day after day more like his perfect image, his perfect gift, his divine Son and our human brother Jesus. We must cling to Christ, in his sacred Word, in his Church, and in disposing ourselves to his Holy Spirit, letting the grace of God the Father transforms us into beings more and more like Christ, perfect in everything. Rather than creating others in our own image, we must help others become like Christ. It is only in Christ that we become divine and eternal human beings, because he wished to share with us his glory.

My brothers and sisters I leave you with these words from St. John: " In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only son into the world so that we might have life through him. ... Beloved if God so loved us, we also must love one another ...  If we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us" [1 John 4:9-12].

In my own image (Part 1/2)

                     "The Lord God formed man out of the ground and blew into his nostrils 
                      the breath of life, and so man became a living being." [Genesis 2:7] 

In his reflection on this passage Pope Benedict XVI states that we are humbled and consoled by it. We are humbled in knowing that we are earthly made from earth, and that we are not God and did not make ourselves, nor do we rule the universe. We are consoled that we are made from God's good earth and not from evil or fallen spirits like some want to make us believe. Most importantly, he adds that no matter how culture and history differentiate us, placing us in various categorical levels, we are fundamentally the same kind of human being, "one humanity in the many human beings."[1]

                     "Then God said: 'let us make man in our image, after our likeness...' 
                   God created man in his own image; in the divine image he created him; 
                   male and female he created them." [Genesis 1:26-27] 

Pope Benedict XVI states that "in the human being heaven and earth touch one another." The divine enters humanity with God's breath into the nostrils of the earthly being. "Each human being, however wretched or exalted he or she may be, however sick or suffering, however good-for-nothing or important, whether born or unborn, whether incurable ill or radiant with health __ each one bears God's breath in himself or herself, each one is God's image. This is the deepest reason for the inviolability of human dignity..." [1]

Reflecting on being made in the image of God, Pope Benedict XVI adds that an image points to something beyond itself and in the case of humanity it points to God. Like God human beings are relational, made to think and love, oriented toward giving themselves to the other. [1] 

Although early theologians gave different meanings to the words, "image" and "likeness", theologians today do not differentiate between the two. Sometimes the two words are used side by side to define each other (See Genesis 1:26-27), and sometimes one or the other is used such as:  

                          "When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God; 
                         he created them male and female. When they were created, 
                           he blessed them and named them 'man'." [Genesis 5:1-2]

                        "If anyone sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; 
                          For in the image of God has man been made." [Genesis 9:6]

We must always remember that the dignity of a human being was not taken away after the Fall of Adam and Eve. Way later and after the great flood, God addresses Noah in Genesis 9:6, still referring to man as a being in his own image. Therefore even at his worst, man remains in the image and likeness of God, deserving to be treated with dignity.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, 'In the Beginning...' A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986.