This blog features homelessness in more than 90% of the posts. That is by design, alright, but undergirding even that is the idea of bearing the image of God.
It seems to me that sooner or later, I should take a moment to expand the imagination of my readers on the matter of God’s image. After giving lots of thought to this, and after years of developing prophetic ministry based on it, I have 3 brief, foundational things to say which might frame the image – which in turn will help order the world.
#1. Go to the place of shame, pain, and despair and bear the image of God there.
I take it as rather obvious to most thoughtful readers that this mission statement captures the vocation of Jesus himself at Golgotha. The prophet comes to show the world what it looks like when God comes to be crowned King of the Jews. And since Jesus instructs us to take up our cross and follow (Mark 8:34; Matt. 16:24; Luke 9:23), it is our vocation as well.
Of course it seems richly theological while at the same time being insanely impractical… Right? How might we unpack this with any sense of simplicity?
Well, to borrow a phrase from N.T. Wright, I figure I will give too many hostages to fortune, but here goes: Imagine you are sitting in an abandoned, dilapidated old house that is about ready to cave in on itself. You sit at a small table for two with a cup of coffee for both your guest and yourself, and you wait full of anticipation for your guest to arrive. But your humble digs are drab and ugly, not to mention even a little dangerous.
But now suppose the guest, who you expect will arrive any minute, is God, YHWH – The Almighty.
When he arrives, what do you think will happen to the flaking paint on the wall? What do you think will happen to the crooked, leaning wall itself? What about the dust, dirt, and filth? At the presence of God, what do you think these things will do?
Before you answer that, consider what Isaiah the prophet in his 40th chapter says:
A voice is calling,
“Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness;
Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.
4 “Let every valley be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill be made low;
And let the rough ground become a plain,
And the rugged terrain a broad valley;
5 Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
And all flesh will see it together;
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Yeah, God dropping by for coffee will have earthquake-like impact on your house! But instead of crashing to the ground in disorder, the house will smarten up. Behold the Master of the house returns! (seems biblical, huh?)
This effect of God on the creation is imparted by his very image. Just the image of God does this to the muck and junk of his world. And that is why Jesus went to Golgotha, the place of shame, pain, and despair in his community, and he bore the image depicting God becoming King of Israel there!
AND THAT WAS THE CENTRAL MOMENT OF ALL OF WORLD HISTORY! IT WAS THE MOMENT PAR EXCELENCE THAT JESUS REVEALED HIS TRUE NATURE TO THE WORLD (see Mark 15:39).
So, apparently it is important. Apparently it is key. Apparently it is central to everything. Therefore, we need to go there in the power of God, meet him there, and let him express himself through us in his healing restorative way!
#2. The image bearer’s sin first tipped the dominoes causing the rest of creation to fall.
Yeah, think about it. God made the world in 6 days. On the sixth day, he created his crowning achievement – the male and female image bearer (Gen. 1:26-27) and gave them dominion over all of creation. These humble, naked, vulnerable people didn’t hardly know a blooming thing, except the names of the animals, sexual agape (TRUE LOVE) for one another… oh… and the menu. But they had no fear of anything, and were at perfect peace and harmony with the world God had made.
And you know why?
Because when creation looked at these two humble, vulnerable people being naked together and unafraid, creation saw God and smartened up! That’s why!
But then the human creation got an idea that they could rule this world without bearing God’s image, thwarted his authority, ate the forbidden fruit, and death and fear entered the world in short order. This old world ain’t been the same since! This is the point where everything has gone haywire.
And the fix for this is, and always was, to restore the image of God to the image-bearing humanity! And that is what Jesus came to do, and did. And he died in humiliated, naked, vulnerability on that Roman cross bearing the image of God in the world – smartening up the place of shame, pain, and despair! Jesus is the answer, as we like to say; but you have a much clearer understanding of the question he answers now too!
If we have the faith, we can tell mountains to jump into the sea! (Mark 11:23; Matt. 21:21). If we bear the image of God, I dare say we will walk on water, stop the sun in the sky, and like Isaiah said, the mountains will bow low, the valleys will stand at attention, and the rough places will smooth out at the appearance of God IN US! Just look what St. Paul says: “The creation anxiously awaits the revealing of the sons of God…” (Rom. 8:19 – actually go examine that whole chapter closely).
Is this theology starting to have a practical side?
Well, yes, but then again no… I mean, When??? When will this prove practical? None of this has come to full bloom yet, and Jesus died on that cross 2000 some-odd years ago! It would all be a lot more practical if we could get on with the mountain casting here and now, but in 2000 years there is NO RECORD of a single disciple casting a single mountain into the sea. But… yeah, except for that, it seems practical! Sure!
Okay… Let me put in this caveat: If you are serving Jesus with your life, then this stuff matters. If you are not serving him, then there is no way I will argue you into my point. But if you are reading here, chances are you live for Jesus, and if you think serving him matters, then you must by definition think this stuff matters.
SO… CUT OUT ALL THAT DODGING THE ISSUE CRAP WITH YOUR WALKING BY SIGHT INSTEAD OF BY FAITH SONG-N-DANCE!
(I’m just sayin’…)
#3. Like any good plan for world order, IMAGE-BEARING aims at a particular future goal meanwhile trusting that it is achievable.
We might call that goal “the apocalypse” and be biblically justified, but I want us to see the meal at the center of it – the Messianic Banquet. This Messianic Banquet comes up again and again in the Bible, and definitely amid the creation story, Holy week, and the apocalypse. I mean, sure, what Jesus does at Golgotha is climactic to the story, but there are still some loose ends to tie up.
Consider these resonances: Eve is presented to Adam in marriage only after Adam performs the task God gives him. Also, Adam is married to Eve after he falls into a deep sleep. Together, they mess up creation for us (their children) when they fool around with the menu. Restoring the image to the image bearer still has some bits that need worked out and the Messianic Banquet will play a vital part of it.
If you recall, Jesus attended weddings, made water into wine at a wedding, and spoke of weddings in parabolic fashion. He expects the Father to present the Son with a Bride. That Bride, it turns out, is the church. We are the Bride to Jesus’s Groom! We are meant to join him in humble, naked, vulnerability on the world stage (let’s call it trust or FAITH), and engage in LOVE MAKING of APOCALYPTIC proportions!
We are either the foolish virgins or the wise virgins of Matthew 25, preparing for our night with our Knight in Shining Armor. And we eat the Bread of Life from the Tree of Life which is a Roman cross that we trust is transformed and transfigured with the body and blood of Jesus being it’s fruit fit for consumption and giving eternal life.
(I know, I am mashing up a lot of exegesis and theology in short order, but these thoughts need to begin bouncing sparks off each other in your God-given imaginations so that you can begin the very powerful task of imagining how practical all this is in a world that God made! And, well, you need a really big and rich imagination if you expect this God to live in it!!!)
When we join the humble (think of the other end of Matthew 25) and walk with them, help them, and eat with them the apocalyptic, Messianic Banquet (as we might do with say… THE HOMELESS!), we eat the party food of the Father’s Feast given to his Son at his wedding. Therein we trust that God is expressing himself through us before the watchful, groaning creation. And if we are the wise virgins ready for his COMING (yeah – I said that!), then we will enter his bed chamber for other delights too delicate to mention here!
So… What were you living for?
Think you might want to consider Jesus? Let us bear the image of God with him in full-frontal apocalypse! And see what that groaning creation looks like when it sees the revelation of the sons of God! It might feel like the heaven you didn’t even dare to dream of!