We, the Undivine

Imago dei is a wonderful doctrine. The idea that we’re made in the image of our Creator imbues us with value and reminds us that we’re not like the other animals. We’re different. We’re closer to our Maker than we are to dolphins and chimpanzees.

So far, so good. However, I fear that this precious doctrine is frequently misused. Allow me to clarify.

Imago dei reminds us of what we share with our Creator, known in theology as ‘communicable attributes.’ For example, we share rationality, volition, emotions (perhaps), moral awareness. But this simply makes us think that he is a big version of, well . . . of us. He’s a super-human. Like us, just bigger, better. More and better of everything.

But he’s not. He’s not bigger and better than us.

He’s in a category all of his own. That’s the whole point of Job chapter 38.

Let’s go back to those attributes. Power, for example. We are powerful, just as he is, we tell ourselves. Just look at what we’ve been able to achieve. Sky-scrapers and submarines and rockets and by-pass surgery. We really are extra-ordinary creatures. Intelligent and creative – like him – and yes, powerful. Able to achieve goals set before us.

(Deep breath.) Okay, fair enough. We’re creative and powerful, but of course, we’re not God. His power is greater than ours.

Greater? Well, that’s the under-statement of the century.

When did you last create something out of nothing? It should be perfectly obvious that his power is of a completely different order.

His power sets him apart. Sets him apart. That should ring a bell. It’s the meaning of the word ‘holy.’

This ‘God is a bigger and better version of us’ makes the Bible especially hard to come to terms with. I’ll mention two aspects, in particular. First, the repeated mention of God’s name and the zeal which God has for his name. He is immensely concerned about his reputation, isn’t he? He demands absolute obedience and he desires that his people respect and revere him. Let’s just say it. He wants worship. Now, if you have the idea that God is just ‘bigger and better,’ this comes across as pride. Self-centredness. If we as humans behaved this way, we’d be called a big-head or arrogant or a narcissist.

But we’re not like God. Not really. He’s the only ‘justified narcissist’ in existence, and I mean narcissist in the best possible way! All existence is about his glory. That’s what the term ‘all in all’ means in the New Testament. One day, God will be ‘all in all.’ He is the only being worthy of worship.

We’ve never even come close. Not even before the Fall. We’re not God.

The second – and perhaps the most serious – difficulty comes when addressing the issue of human suffering. A God who is merely ‘bigger and better than us’ appears to have fallen short. Bigger he may be, but better? When babies die and women are violated? This is the charge placed at God’s door and the answer, he’s bigger and better just isn’t going to cut it. God is in a different category to us – a reply which I have argued contains a great deal of merit – well, even that is a struggle for many to understand. We need something a little more accessible. The most satisfying answer has to do with how we ground goodness. To explain, here’s a short section from my book, House of Souls.

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“So what’s the solution?” asked Evelyn.

“The Father is good by nature,” said Korazin, jumping in. “He is intrinsically and essentially good. Goodness is therefore an intrinsic character trait. His nature itself defines what is good, because he is good by nature. Not only that, he is an entirely different category of being to the human. Humans are derivative; all that they are comes from their Creator. This is why in the book of Job, the Father reminds his servant of his vast power and the unfathomable depth of his knowledge. The human being must come to his Creator on the Creator’s terms or not at all. That is only right.

“Dear Evelyn and dear Aidan, the one who made you is not distant and he is not callous. He is close to the broken-hearted and he is profoundly good. Just consider all he has done for you. He has made you and surrounded you with beauty in the natural world. He has given you freedom to enjoy relationship with fellow human beings and with your Maker, if you turn to him. He has permitted a fallen world, yes, but he is not himself the architect of your fallenness. Indeed, we lucidi celebrate his goodness and generosity every day, soaking up his wonder and beauty without ever tiring of our praises.” Korazin bowed his head.   © Richard Collins, House of Souls, 2014

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That goodness is an essential character trait of God is an idea of immense power. And how could it be otherwise? If there were standards to which he had to adhere, then they would exist independently of him. How could God be worthy of worship only on the basis that he lived up to certain standards? That would not do. And if his behaviour simply defined what was good, then he would be accused of arbitrariness. But since goodness is essential to his nature, then when he acts, he acts in accordance with who he is. And goodness becomes an expression of his intrinsic nature. He cannot express himself without goodness emerging. Naturally. Not arbitrarily.

When the Bible attempts to describe the wonders of the divine being, it always feels as though it’s struggling a bit. Because how can words describe what is essentially ineffable. It’s beyond human language. Our Creator is worthy of worship. You’re invited to believe. You’re called on to trust. When the world burns and evil stalks our neighbourhoods and our schools, you must make a choice. To believe. To trust. And, if necessary, to submit. Yes, submit.

Essentially, the Fall is about man’s refusal to submit. We thought we knew better. We refused to trust. We refused to believe. But perhaps most of all, we refused to submit.

If God is not like us, if he is not bigger and better but of an entirely different category . . . good and pure and holy . . . not simply on a different scale but expressing something beyond our ability to comprehend, and if one day, he will be ‘all in all,’ then I have a different under-statement of the century:

It’s a good idea to do what he asks.

Believe. Trust. Submit.

If he says that obedience and worship are good for us, then . . . well, you don’t need me to tell you what to do.

© Richard Collins 2014

Note: Last week, a friend agreed to share my page on his Facebook wall. I received an extra 20 hits. Nice. Many thanks. If you would like to help me, please please click on one of those links down there – ↓↓↓↓ – and share. Takes about 10 seconds max. I know that being asked to share is tedious, so I promise this is the last time I’ll do this . . . for quite a long time!

I’ve noticed I have some Brazilian readers. To you I say, ‘olá pessoas bonitas!’

Finally, for those who are looking for some amusement, some thoughts on beards. Yes . . . beards.

There’s nothing wrong with watching movies

NOTHING WRONG WITH WATCHING MOVIES

(Started over ten years ago – hence the term VCR – and completed today)

‘There’s nothing wrong with watching movies’ I said to myself as I switched off the VCR and TV after watching a rather gruesome thriller a while back. Not only did I feel dissatisfied with my argument but the movie had left a bad taste in my mouth.  I had a sense that I ought not to have been watching it, that it had damaged me inside in a way I couldn’t readily identify. I felt dirty. The after-effects of watching the movie I could not change, but my poor argument, ‘there’s nothing wrong with watching movies’ demanded more attention. How many times had I used this line of argument, confidently tossing it out there as though it were some kind of faithful talisman that would protect and justify me?

The argument is weak primarily because it denotes a defensive posture. It smacks of Garden of Eden, hand-in-the-cookie-jar reasoning. ‘You didn’t say we couldn’t …’, ‘we thought you might have meant …’ etc is relayed with the look of someone who knows they’ve been caught red-handed and is valiantly trying to justify bad behaviour. Arguing ‘there’s nothing wrong with ..’ simply reveals the inherent guilt that lies within such a person. Why? Because if there were ‘nothing wrong’, then the issue wouldn’t arise in the first place and we wouldn’t be backing into a corner. In addition, it is the argument of the person who is quite simply asking the wrong question about life. Let me explain.

In Matthew 25: 14-30 we read of the three servants who are left various talents by their master. Two of the servants use their talents well, investing their money and earning a return. One buries his. The parable teaches a number of lessons but one is to do with intentionality.  If we are asking ‘what can I do without getting into trouble?’ we are asking the wrong question. This is the position of the foolish servant who said, ‘I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground’. No, we should be asking a different question altogether. It’s found in the name of a famous book by the great Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer: ‘How shall we then live?’ That is the question. The master in the parable wasn’t looking for excuses; he wanted to know what his servants had intentionally done with the gifts they had been given.

Now, I have to confess right now, that I simply love the movies. And there’s nothing wrong with watching movies. You see? I can’t stop using that phrase and I’m the one writing the article! But the place of entertainment in a believer’s life requires careful thought. There are two aspects to this which require attention. First, we need to learn to watch movies (and TV for that matter) with a careful eye to its effect on our thinking. I’d recommend a book by Steve Couch and Nick Pollard called ‘Get more like Jesus while watching TV.’ (Try to ignore a horrible use of the word ‘get’ in that title). Entertainment is saturated with worldviews (ways of interpreting the world) and learning to watch wisely requires a little effort. In some cases, a lot of effort.

Second, if we’re honest, most of us probably watch too much while creeping behind the statement ‘there’s nothing wrong with . . .’ The point isn’t that watching is wrong, it’s that we’ve lost our focus. We’re not here for very long. We’ve been given work to do. And often, we’re not doing it. No no, don’t feel guilty. Take a look in the mirror and ask for strength. Strength to make good choices. Those choices involve balancing the need for relaxation and yes, entertainment with the call of God to do his work – love others, serve, care, teach, whatever God has called you to do. And of course, prayer. Self-discipline is not just for uptight people, though the uptight keep a better eye on their use of time than others. (They’re often more judgmental too, which balances things out ;)). The fact is, we’re accountable for our use of time before God.

So, this weekend – this is posted on a Friday evening in the U.K. – go ahead and watch a movie. Watch it wisely. But be careful to evaluate your life and the gifts you’ve been given and lay them before God for his service. Most especially, ask for his help in achieving balance – the need for relaxation and the call to give yourself up for your God and others. He will give you the strength to make wise choices.