A Thought for What is Noble

12

Posted on October 24, 2013 by

Detail of a Tiffany Window Willard Chapel

I wrote this a few months back:

Goethe observed that we can’t see light; we can only perceive the way it illuminates objects. That’s how I sometimes think about experiencing God.  Created in His image, He is revealed in the way we treat one another.  Each interaction a firing neuron, God emerges from a nimbus cloud of humanity.

Lately, I’ve seriously been considering a certain thought.  It’s not an original thought, but it’s a thought I can’t shake.  It haunts me.

It’s also a thought that I can’t seem to articulate very well.  So forgive me as it comes out in dribs and drabs.

If we take God at his word – that we’re all created in His image – then to know and delight in others is to know and delight in God Himself.

In Romans 12, Paul writes (in part)

For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.

(Personally, I’ve always thought of myself as the appendix or possibly the spleen.)

We may all be created in the likeness of God, but it seems like we have unique contributions to make to “the kingdom”.  We are all, in our own unique way, agents of reconciliation.  We are simultaneously being restored and restoring – just as the fully human, fully divine Christ was restored from death on the cross and redeems humanity.

In our hyper-polarized world, it’s pretty easy to take the concept of “hate what is evil” as permission to disparage and dismiss those with ideologies contrary to our own. That’s simply wrongheaded.  Those who would persecute me are also made in God’s image. They have a unique contribution to make to the kingdom.

I’m not saying that it’s OK to tolerate injustice.  I don’t think that’s what “turn the other cheek” means.  If we’re agents of reconciliation, we must work to end the abuses of humankind.  Especially in the Church, prophetic voices are essential.

However, our rebukes have to come within the context of relationship.  Christ admonishes us to love our enemies. It’s not right or good to look at others and only see our disagreement.  Where do we see Jesus in the faces of our enemies?  Do we dare imagine and enter into their pain; do we dare share their joy?

And I don’t think loving neighbors and enemies is the end of the story.  I don’t think that’s “kingdom come”.

Perhaps delighting in others – even our enemies – leads to mutual transformation. I think by loving and being loved (or maybe even despised) by others we are changed.  We are made more holy.  By loving as Christ loved, we are sanctified through relationship. 

This, I think, may be the path to shalom.

…To be continued…

Response to A Thought for What is Noble

  1. Matt

    Intellectually, I’m all there with you. However unfinished your thoughts may seem to you, they’re making all kinds of sense to me. I’m very much aware that the people who hurt me are also kind, good, and brilliant in their own ways, and that they’ve been hurt terribly too. Since several of them are my own family, that’s certainly not hard to see.

    But on an emotional level, I am just not there. I get exhausted always being the person who has to reconcile with no one’s help.

    This is something that helps me: I delight in them from afar. When they’re standing in front of me and making me weep, with no regard for my own feelings? Nope. I make space for them to come to me constructively, if they want to. If they don’t, then I just keep delighting from afar.

    God understands my heart as well as anyone else’s. I trust Him to understand why I struggle the way that I do when no one else does, and give me compassion where there’s nothing but a void. Sometimes He does it personally, and sometimes through my partner.

    (On a lighter note, I think you’d make an excellent spleen–it may sound funny, but it’s a vital organ! You don’t want to be caught without one!)

    • Ford Post author

      Matt

      Your story and your generosity in sharing it inspires me.

      So first, I clearly did not make clear how difficult I think this paradigm is. It’s easier, I think, to sympathize with the marginalized or disadvantaged. It’s harder to commit to this ethic with those who can cause us hurt – the privileged and the ones who otherwise have power over us (emotional or otherwise).

      Again, I don’t know your personal pain; but staying locked in dysfunction is not, in my opinion, a gift from God. That’s why I salute you for taking responsibility for your life. I so appreciate your willingness to look at your family as fallible people and not just writing them off as those who cause you hurt. If loving them at a distance is what enables that, then more power to you.

      Next, somewhere in this mess of thought lies so much more…including forgiveness – a glibly used concept that’s really sacred. Forgiveness, in my understanding, has more to do with the healing of the aggrieved than those who are causing hurt. I’m not sure how to express this thought in a way that doesn’t sound like facile platitudes. It’s not ok that others hurt us; but understanding how and why others have hurt us is important to our healing and to reconciliation.

      …and words seem completely inadequate.

      There’s so much that’s left unarticulated; I feel so clumsy in expressing what I think might be essential truth.

      Thanks for engaging. I hope you’ll help me figure all this out.

      • Matt

        You’re very welcome!

        You may not know my personal pain, but you’re always very gentle with it. Thank you.

        Forgiveness is a very tricky concept in my situation. I’ve decided to put it aside for now and not put pressure on myself to feel a certain way. The pain my family has caused me spans generations, with events being put in motion decades before I was even conceived. When dealing with something like that, reconciliation is not impossible, but it is still out of my hands unless others make strides too. I can only do so much.

        So I’ve decided to just live my life as best as I can :).

        Don’t worry about inadequate words. I am still completely with you. What was it the Bible says about wordless groans?

        • Jill

          In Romans 8:26: in the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

          Not that I get into proof-texting anymore, but since you asked. ;)

        • Ford Post author

          Matt
          Your perspective is awesome. Doing life the best we can…what more can any of us do? I look forward to exploring this more with you in the future.

  2. Jill

    Ford, I’m pondering, chewing on this really. There’s much that resonates for me here, and what may not as much could be chalked up to semantics.

    To philosophize along with your idea, we (humans) tend to anthropomorphize God, and then want that God to be very specific in human quality: nice, protective, compassionate, etc. Yet there are conversations about God/Elohim or the Lord God/Yahweh (seemed to be used reversibly) in the OT also having not “nice” human traits. I mean, just because the uber-kind Christ came around, does that somehow replace the angry, jealous Yahweh-in-the-sky version? Is both reflected in the One?

    So, my point being, is it possible that my ‘enemies’ are reflecting God to me too? If so, how? Is God mean, but justified? Is God jealous, but reasonable? Meaning: is it possible for God to be for humans both loving and demanding? Am I supposed to learn from it all (big picture) that maybe ONLY for my massive struggles that I became a better person? That the nice-Christ message wouldn’t have gone far enough?

    I realize I’m sloppily mixing doctrine about as if in a tumble dryer here, but hopefully my intent shows through: no one reasonable is asking me to be grateful for being harmed, abused, neglected, etc., but is it possible that I see God because of the contrast? this is ponderous….

    • Ford Post author

      Ok…that’s some serious food for thought. I need to contemplate this. I’ve often said we have to have grit to go with the gravy (that’s musical theater philosophy). Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. It seems to me the trajectory of the gospel leads us to peace and wholeness. I’m not sure those who seek to harm me reflect that…but definitely something to consider. For sure, their intent doesn’t always match their impact. Hmmmm. Something to ponder.

      • Jill

        So, maybe I didn’t connect up with your original point, which is fully ok since you are way smart and this girl’s running a few cylinders short today.

        How do you “see Jesus in the faces of our enemies?” How do you experience “delighting in others – even our enemies”? Maybe your Part Two is where you were going with this, and I’m just rushing you… (cuz I do that, Ms. No-Patience). I’m genuinely intrigued…

      • Jill

        Oh, and I wanted to agree with you, that I don’t see ‘thine enemy’ as someone who reflects the trajectory of the gospel either. So, my confused rambling came in from your thoughts on how to delight in them , even while their pain/woundedness separates them from the gospel’s intent.

        I just don’t know how to reconcile this. Feel free to talk amongst yourselves now.

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