For the longest time, when I thought about being made in the image of God, my line of thought ran from how God (or Jesus) was described to how I might reflect those images. The other day, I got to thinking about it the other direction. What do the things that seem to be true of people — at least many of us — have to say about the God in whose image we are created?
In particular I was thinking about of the desires and fears that are so common as to be almost ubiquitous. One is the desire to know and be known at the most intimate levels. This desire then points to the ancillary fears of being rejected or abandoned by those to whom we open our deepest selves.
So… what do these facts about me (and likely you) have to tell us about the God in whose image we are made?
Knowing that we are at best shattered mirrors attempting to reflect God’s image, we aren’t looking for analogous desires or fears. On the other hand, knowing that in Christ we are new creations, we can see in those shards glimpses of the women and men God made us to be in the beginning. Pronounced good…very good. In God’s image.
In our desire to know and be known, we are reflecting the deeply relational aspects of God. We stumble over words and concepts when we attempt to quantify and categorize the triune nature of God. But, however we try to explain three yet one, the bonds between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are apparent in the way that the work of each combines with and supports the others in rich harmony. The Greek word for “abide” is scattered throughout John’s gospel, but the most memorable in those passages describing the relationship between God and Jesus and between Christ and his followers. Abiding is a deep presence, indwelling, taking up residence… not simply becoming acquainted.
The relationship God desires with us is not like sharing links on Facebook or witty exchanges on Twitter. It’s not about getting to know each other over coffee then retreating to our own homes. We are to abide in Christ, who is one with God. We are to move into the house in which he lives, just as he came to Earth and tabernacled among us. Meanwhile, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our hearts, enabling us to make ourselves more at home with God and God’s will for us. God wants to be known as deeply and intimately as God knows us.
So what about that fear- the fear that we will be abandoned if we let someone in? What does that reveal about God’s nature? It is the human response to the reality of broken relationships in this broken and sinful world. We know that we must guard our hearts, thanks to the wounds we receive from way too early on. And yet, as we abide in God, really allow ourselves to be present in God’s will for us, we learn to trust that God is there in all circumstances, even when others do let us down and take advantage of us.
I don’t believe that God sets us up to fail. I don’t believe that God punishes us by bringing along bad things. I don’t believe that God intends for us to fear one another. In fact, the messengers God sends to people spend an inordinate amount of time saying something like “don’t be afraid” whether in the older or newer of the testaments. But I haven’t forgotten that whole broken world thing. Nor the warning to be innocent as sheep but wise as serpents.
What I see of God in our desires and fears is that God’s love – perfect love – drives out fear. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, we find the courage and freedom to step out in faith, to trust and hope for more. Where we offer up the truth of our stories, slowly, carefully and wisely with others, we have the opportunity to share that love with others at great personal risk. God knows the sting of rejection. We’ve chronicled generations of people God loved deeply who chose to walk away, to worship others, to disobey, to deny. And God still loves. Still offers every one of us the chance to abide with and in an everlasting, fierce and fearless love.