Thursday, February 5, 2015

Sunlight on the Forest Floor: Children of God

A while ago I read an article from someone who was debating the Catholic belief in the Eucharist. He essentially asked, Why on earth would the King of the Universe lower himself to become something we eat and digest?

The questions that must follow such a query are: Why would the King of the Universe die on a tree for us? Or be born as one of us, a dependent infant, in a stable?

The cross was considered a very humiliating death, and yet God suffered it for us as only God could. And the manger itself speaks volumes about how much our God values humility, honesty and simplicity, not the transient wealth, station, or power the world esteems.

Why is God present with us? Why was he born among animals and crucified with criminals?

Love, my friends. Crazy, incomprehensible love.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone that believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. John 3:16-17

We know we were created in the image of God, and as I have recently learned more fully that does not mean we look like him or have a static image stamped within our chest. It means that God put a navigational system within us that guides us always closer to him, along the path of his Truth. If we listen. Faith is a gift; it is God's call and our response. Sadly, it is always possible to turn away from the GPS or to grow so accustomed to ignoring it that we do not even pay it mind. That is part and parcel of the gift of Free Will. We can run toward the One who made us or we can flee from him.

Before I became a Catholic, I observed a lot of fire and brimstone opinions about humankind, and I think I believed them. Essentially, the idea was that God could not wait to punish people, that he was very impatient indeed to bring the world to an end, so that he could banish a lot of people to hell for their vile ways. To sum up this viewpoint: human beings are fundamentally evil, and God cannot wait to destroy this race.

My understanding now is quite different. Why would God call creation good and then pine after its destruction? Why would he make us in his image and then desire our eternal punishment? Why would he send His Son to teach, to heal, to forgive, to die for us if he believed we were not worth the effort? Why indeed was God the Son criticized so utterly for hanging around sinners? The answer is that we have been corrupted by sin, but we are essentially good, for we are made in the image of the One in whom there is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5)

Yet we know darkness exists in the world. The story of Adam and Eve, not read literally but nevertheless as absolute spiritual truth, teaches us that humankind tried to run from their Maker long ago, and they attempted to grasp "to become like gods". This is called Original Sin, and if you have ever observed small children fighting over toys, biting, hitting, lying, criticizing those they love, uttering "Me first!", then you have seen its effects played out (not to mention adults and what we grow capable of). As for the evil one by whom deceit entered, Christ referred to him, "the ruler of the world" (John 14:30), thus:

Why do you not understand what I am saying? Because you cannot bear to hear my word. You belong to your father the devil and you willingly carry out your father's wishes. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies. John 8:43-44

That is Satan. Unfortunately, too many doubt his existence or influence. As the gospel singer Keith Green sang in a song about the devil: You know it's getting very simple now, cause no one believes in me anymore!

But what is our hope if we know evil exists and recognize that there is an evil one who prowls about, seeking those whom he can destroy? (1 Peter 5:8)

The cross, the cross upon which hung God made Flesh. That cross is bursting with meaning for those who gaze upon it. That cross is freeing. That cross defeated death and evil and Original Sin by the power of the one who hung upon it in sheer agony and asked His Father to forgive those who had put them there, for they knew not what they did. (Luke 23:34)

Once upon a time I heard a lot of criticism of the prevalence of the crucifix in Christianity. After all, do we not worship a risen Christ? Indeed we do, but the image of that crucifix, like that of the simple cross, speaks wonders to us. It reminds us of the immense love God has for us in dying for us, His creation. It reminds us that He humbled himself in so great a way as to endure our uneasy existence and then curses, beatings, mockeries, agony, lashings, and death by torture in order to free us from sin, to give us hope and life, and to restore that Made-in-the-Image GPS system to proper function. It reminds us that we are sinners like everyone else, and that we need to follow Christ daily.

But it reminds me most of love, that incomprehensible, overflowing love that I can feel every day.

If you know what was done for humanity on that cross, what was given to us that day in history and outside of history, you cannot help but love God mightily. Through Jesus' death and resurrection, and by faith, repentance and grace, we can become sons and daughters of God. Through the Holy Spirit we then cry out, "Abba, Father!"

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, "Abba, Father!" The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are Children of God...Romans 8:14-16 (NAB)