Friday, April 17, 2015

Reframing God in Our Image—

There's this interesting contrast between humanity, created in the image of God, and how humanity then turns around and recreates God in our image.

When you consider the pantheon of gods in the Greek, Roman, and Norse mythologies, you see that the nature of these gods tends to be "humanity writ large," like a human, only with more power and fewer consequences. For example, Zeus was forever seducing women, usually human women (shades of Genesis 6:1-2,4?), and his wife-and-sister Hera was jealous and vengeful toward these women. Zeus could get away with his behavior but his lovers usually suffered, and sometimes his children. In reading these mythologies, the gods often take on qualities almost soap opera-esque in their scheming and pettiness.

Within the Biblical mythos, sometimes we fall into a form of reversed causality: we read in Genesis that God created humanity in His own image:
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Gensis 1:26-27)*

and we assume that means that God Himself is, in essence, a bigger, better human. We don't generally attribute the petty or wicked qualities to God, as the Greek/Roman and Norse myths did with their gods, but sometimes even that happens. I cringe when I hear Christians refer to "the God of the Old Testament" as if YHWH had somehow changed between Malachi and Matthew. Christians are called to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God Who identifies Himself in a singular plurality ("let us create man..."), hinted at within the Shema ("Hear, O Israel, The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!" (Deuteronomy 6:4)) and who took on human flesh in the Person of Jesus, Yeshua, the Messiah, who walked on the face of the earth and prayed to His heavenly Father. We're not good at grasping the idea of the Trinity (3 Persons, one God) and, personally, I don't think we really can:
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9)
If we can't grasp His thoughts and His ways, we can't grasp the full reality of Who He Is, either. So we inadvertently make God smaller than He is when we project ourselves up onto Him.

This plays out in a lot of different ways: the view of God as an indulgent grandfather who will give you all the goodies you want, if you can just ingratiate yourself and ask him the right way, and the corresponding confusion that God ought to be treating us in that manner; or perhaps the view of God as vengeful, "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," not recognizing that God was placing a limitation on vengeance:
Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, Listen to my voice, You wives of Lamech, Give heed to my speech, For I have killed a man for wounding me; And a boy for striking me; If Cain is avenged sevenfold, Then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.” (Genesis 4:23-24)
The question of why YHWH said that Cain would be avenged sevenfold is an interesting question, but not one I'm pondering this day ('So the LORD said to him, “Therefore whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold.” And the LORD fnappointed a sign for Cain, so that no one finding him would slay him.' - Genesis 4:15); I rest in the knowledge that God has His reasons (and they may well be beyond me!).

We also err when we assume that God's version of an emotion is the same as our version. For instance, when God says that He is a jealous God, we think of the way we see jealousy exhibited on earth. When a man or woman is jealous, it is usually rooted in possessiveness and inappropriate sense of ownership ("you belong to me!") or the desire to have ownership over someone, like the high school girl who is consumed with an unrequited love and becomes spiteful toward the girl(s) she sees as being the potential object of her object's affections (!! - is that sufficiently convoluted?) or the abusive husband who tells his wife, "if I can't have you, no one can."
‘They have made Me jealous with what is not God; They have provoked Me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation...' (Deuteronomy 32:21)
The jealousy of YHWH is quite a different thing than that of a possessive spouse: it is the jealousy of the Creator for His creature and His desire to see His creature in right relationship with its Creator. Having made us for Himself, He has a righteous and legitimate call upon us, a hope and an expectation. God has a vision of each of us which He longs to see fulfilled. Your husband or wife may have certain legitimate expectations of you, that you don't play the harlot or engage with prostitutes - these are based upon the marital contract ("forsaking all others, keep yourself only unto her") and a reasonable expectation of faithfulness and loyalty. Even a boyfriend or girlfriend may have a minimal-but-reasonable expectation of faithfulness in a relationship - so how much more might God reasonably expect from His covenant people and His own creation?

Another projection of humanity onto God is when we apply human standards to God. Just as with God's jealousy—that we have no other gods before Him, or with Him or in place of Him, because He made us for Himself and He's actually interested in our well-being—sometimes people think the glory and praise we give Him is a form of self-aggrandizement or egotism on God's part.

God is not up in heaven saying, "C'mon, everybody, look at me! Aren't I pretty wonderful and even AWESOME?! Yeah, well, tell me so! Do it more, make it louder... I can't hear you!"

Consider scripture—there are many instances of people praising God because they find Him praiseworthy; it happens hundreds of times in the Bible. There are even times when God Himself instructs people to praise Him. But what about Isaiah 6, when Isaiah sees the Lord, high and lifted up, and he sees seraphim in the Lord's presence who fly and continually cry out, "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” Are they doing this because God told them to do it?

I don't think so. I suspect it's more like this: the closer one gets to God, the more one is overwhelmed by His glory, so that those beings which are immediately in His presence are so saturated they can only speak of His glory: "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory!”

Isaiah's response in chapter 6 is, "woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” Isn't that an interesting response? He doesn't think, "wow, how cool, I see God!" but rather he is struck by how far short of reasonable righteousness he falls, and all his nation with him. There are other scriptural examples of this profound sense of falling short; for instance, at the giving of the Ten Commandments:
"All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. Then they said to Moses, 'Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die.'” (Exodus 20:18-19)
And 1 Kings 18:10-11, the dedication of Solomon's temple: "It happened that when the priests came from the holy place, the cloud filled the house of the LORD, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD."

Or consider the day of Pentecost, the feast of Weeks, when the Holy Spirit comes to inhabit the believers:
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.

Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.” And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others were mocking and saying, “They are full of sweet wine.” (Acts 2:1-13)
The response of the first Christians to the presence of the Holy Spirit was so powerful that the crowd around them was truly amazed and a few assumed they were drunk. That's not even happening in heaven; that's here on this earth, among people who listened to Jesus, walked with Him, knew Him. I suspect we get close enough to the glory of God and all thoughts other than an awareness of His staggering glory are driven out of our little heads.

At least we know what to do, in such circumstances: give Him praise! Holy, Holy, Holy—

Were this any being other than God Himself, the King of the Universe, it would be vain and egotistical (and wicked) to receive such glory, much less encourage it. But this is YHWH and He is *glorious* and it is right to express it; we are coming into alignment with the underlying reality of Creation when we cry Holy, Holy, Holy. Not a bigger, better human but something quite different, Someone else entirely—

*From these two verses we see that God created humanity to have dominion over the earth and its creatures and that God didn't create "man" as in "male" in His image but rather "man" as in "humanity, both male and female" in His image. Arguably it requires both male and female to reflect the image of God; we do not reflect God alone.

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