(In 1991 there was a little book published called DOS For Dummies aimed at helping regular folk understand their computers. In the years since, the For Dummies series has become a major publishing franchise covering diverse topics from computers to acne. I suppose, I was thinking of that publishing phenom when I started this post.)
Jesus for nobodies (for dummies) suggests I have a very complicated idea that I plan to break down in simple words. But not only for simplicity sake alone, but also (and especially) for the sake of humility.
Those who regularly read here (or those familiar with N.T. Wright) should quickly realize that I deal in “image-bearing” theology rather heavily. God designed humanity to bear his own image (Gen. 1:26-27). This is your point, if you need one.
Sometimes people say, “I was put here for a reason…” as if that reason were simply some generic and mythical way of saying something deep about their own existence. But more frequently, people use that kind of expression when they talk of near-death experiences. “I was spared for a reason”, they will say. But of course the specific reason is never actually clarified.
Let me do that for you now.
The reason you were put here, and the reason your life is spared, is so that you can bear the image of God. That is the whole reason God made man (male and female (to avoid sexist language)) in the first place (again, look at Gen. 1:26-27).
There. That was simple. Easy for dummies. Now for the nobodies…
Well, okay, there are complications. But those complications can be summed up to a large extent with the word “sin”. Sin in the life of the image-bearer tarnishes the image of God that otherwise is born in this creature. It’s as if the image-bearer were a mirror held up to the face of God so that both God and his creation could see God’s image and abide accordingly, except the mirror is cracked and the image is distorted.
Seriously, think this through carefully and you quickly find implications for all aspects of human life. Far too many implications for a single blog post. But once you grasp the notion in these simple terms, you can begin exploring the complexities rather handily.
But back to the nobodies.
Here’s the thing: God did not make it impossible for any human creature to bear his image. We all have the capacity. You don’t have to be strong, good-looking, or rich. You don’t even have to be healthy. In fact there is a very real sense in which those things become obstacles to bearing God’s image. And in fact, typically humanity has those things in mind and finds the image of God blocked by them, but does not understand what is happening therein.
Recall that St. Paul tells us that Jesus “is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15 (among other similar statements)). He is not the only writer in the New Testament to suggest this either. But there is that very famous passage in Philippians (2:5-11) where St. Paul demonstrates that through humility and utterly suffering humiliation, Jesus finds exaltation with God. When you mix this bit in with the image-bearing theology, you suddenly find that in denying yourself, embracing suffering and humility (in service to God) his image comes clear in you.
Am I saying rich people cannot bear the image of God?
No. I am not saying that. However, I am saying the wealth presents problems on the one hand and is entirely unnecessary on the other. You do not need to go make a lot of money in order to bear the image of God and fulfill your reason for being.
On the contrary, it turns out that God, who is love (I John 4:8), suffers greatly from the broken relationship he has with his creation and the creatures he put in charge over it. Thus, suffering aids greatly in bearing God’s image – in fact I can’t imagine God without it. And, it turns out, anybody (and this certainly includes NOBODIES) can suffer, and suffer greatly. When such suffering is devoted to God’s glory, God is clearly seen in it (Mark 15:39). And that is your reason for being!
Jesus does this supremely at Golgotha. On the Roman cross, suffering execution as a rebel/criminal, Jesus shows us the suffering God and his coronation with his own subjects. Jesus did not need a dime to do this. He only needed faith. And that is all we need, whether we be somebody or nobody. And that is a message of Jesus for Nobodies.