Some theologians think that agency  is the mark of the image of God in humanity: that is, being free is being imago dei.  We bear the image of God in our freedom to command our own destiny in a way that plants and animals do not.  But this sounds more like self-actualization to me than bearing the image of God and anyway, this construal of freedom is still about the self, not freedom for the other.  Even if bearing the image of God were about freedom, as long as that freedom is defined with self as the center reference point, it is not about bearing the image of God.

Beyond that, though, there are many people who are physically, psychologically or developmentally able to carry anything out, including their own destiny – do they fail to bear the image of God?  Are they then less human?  It’s the same problem as with equating rationality to the image of God.  Scripture is silent about what it means to be made in the image of God; speculation beyond all people are created in God’s image (death is not the great equalizer, imago dei is) is, as I see it, damaging.   All the poor and powerless, for example, are still in the image of God….especially the poor and powerless, for it is them who Jesus emptied Himself to become like.  All the lost and lonely, all the thieves, those who hurt with nothing left, those who feel unworthy.

The problem with the common notion of freedom is that it draws lines where God would have none.  We ask, in the name of freedom, “How much can I get away with and still be in God’s good graces?”  We ask about ourselves and our desires first, “How can I get what I want without harming another?”  We mark out “our” territory over and against one another for whatever reason (skin color, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) in the name of personal choice, “rights,” liberty, etc.  Many theologies out there are built on the foundation of freedom – liberation from human oppression (racism, sexism, all those “isms” that dictate the quality of life of one group based on the fear and greed of another), freedom to live a truly human life, even liberty from the bondages of sin and sickness.  Don’t misunderstand: I do not condone abuse of power, oppression or slavery.  These things are all sin for which we will have to answer to God.  And indeed, Jesus did come to set the captives free…but is the point freedom?  Yes, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free (Galatians 5:1).  But freedom for what?

I definitely agree that it is time for repentance, for revising the power structures (in the church, in the culture, the world), for loosing the chains of all the captives.  And the lines do not just run between oppressed and oppressor; they run within each of our very selves.  Even so, my problem is that there are lines at all – and I’m not sure that, given the nature of power, redrawing the lines is the solution.  I think the most theologically accurate “solution” is to erase the lines.  If this sounds like anarchy, you’re missing the point.  I think more important than a theology of revolution is a theology of unity.  To risk a false distinction, the work Jesus did could be considered by some (though work is also ambiguous as Bonhoeffer would say) revolutionary; who Jesus was is  unity itself.

hypostatic fusionThe hypostatic unity of human and divine in the Incarnation, person, life-as-ministry, death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus is God’s revelation – that is, God’s Word.  And this Word is a word, among other things, on the unsurpassable importance to God of unity.  God is indeed a “God of the gaps” in that God wants the gaps gone.  In Jesus’ very-God-very-Human-ness and in complete freedom, Jesus erased the deepest line there is: between human and God.  All these other lines – between men and women, between dark and light, between gay and straight, between poor and rich, between American and Iraqi, between Fundamentalist and Atheist – might it be that God wants them gone, too?

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February 17, 2014


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