The Impossible Dance – Chapter 3 – The Impossible Creatures
As God’s image-bears, we can reflect the image of the loving, interpenetrating, interacting, and dancing God as we participate in His work of taking care of His Creation and of one another. This dance which started before Creation, has been joined by God’s image-bearers since the beginning of humanity. It is now our turn. We just need to learn the moves and join the dance. Ultimately, God did not need to create us or the universe, He did it out of a desire to share his love and delight. God’s creation was more an act of play than of work and He desires that we actively play with him, if you will, to dance with him in His Kingdom. The Kingdom Dance is not meant to be a solo effort, we are to dance with God and with his people.
Understanding the character of God, can help us understand what he has intended for creatures that are made in his image. Image-bearing creatures are not gods or duplicates of God, but they are imbued with the character of the God that made them. In this chapter we will explore some of the ways God intends for us to reflect his image. In later chapters, we will expound on those characteristics in more detail.
It was into this good universe that God prepared beforehand that God created creatures to bear his image. Good creatures, image-bearers, who were given the task of taking care of the good creation that God blessed them with – and God declared it to be very good. The image-bearing creatures were created in the complex image of God – the one God who was a community within Himself, the God who was immensely creative, the God who was generous and loving beyond imagination, the God who is sovereign over the universe, the God who is above all things.
There was a danger in God creating image-bearers. To make creatures that were lovers – just as He was a lover – meant giving these image-bearers the freedom to choose whom or what to love. We are unable to choose to not love but only who or what to love. Because God’s image-bearers were the capstone of creation, the option to another love than God, risked an awful catastrophe, a catastrophe that could affect the entirety of creation itself. The good creation, all of it, would become not so good.
And so it was, after creation was prepared for God’s image-bearers, those creatures who were created in the image of the loving God were given instructions to be stewards of the world God had made. Everything was good, and the first human couple had free access to the provisions in garden prepared for them. Only one restriction was placed before them, a restriction not meant to deprive them of anything good but meant to provide the opportunity to test their love, by testing their obedience to the one who created them.
We all now know that those creatures failed their test, and we daily experience the consequences of that failure. We also daily experience our own incapacity to restore holiness on our own efforts, our inability to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and our inability to fully love God or to fully love our neighbors as ourselves.
The mystery of who we are has to worked out between all the goodness we are endowed with as creatures who bear the image of God and all the evil we are encumbered with as creatures who innately rebel against that same God. Traces of heaven and hell run through each of us and our manifested in our everyday lives. The tongues we praise God with also curse our neighbor. The selflessness we display to others is corrupted by the selfish desires that emerge from the same heart.
The mystery of perichoresis which tries to describe the one person God consisting of the relation of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit may very well be the best approach to the mystery of God’s image-bearers. There are conflicting views on whether a person consists of a body and soul or body and spirit or body and soul and spirit. Are we two parts or three parts then which parts? A similar issue arises in the attempts to figure out the relation between the brain and consciousness. Although some researchers reductionistically think that consciousness is all biology and that we will be able to eventually build a computer with a conscious, it is likely that the mystery of perichoresis will prevail.
As image-bearers, being created as community of male and female points one way to the community of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but also points in another way to their unity as represented by becoming “one flesh.” There is an element of equality with a difference between male and female as represented by the woman being created from, what has been commonly translated, a “rib” from Adam’s side. The equality becomes more apparent however, when we understand the word that has been translated as “rib” is more usually translated as “side” – as if Eve were constructed from a full half Adam’s side.
The mystery deepens further when we consider the sexual union of husband and wife. Our male and femaleness show us our human incompleteness without each other. In the joining of the male and female bodies we manifest a completeness. Humans are unlike all other creatures in that we are made in God’s image with body, soul and spirit, and our spirit is joined to God’s Spirit. Therefore, the sexual union of husband and wife, unlike other creatures, is described as becoming “one flesh.” The combination of spiritual union and physical union creates a living metaphor of the union of Christ with the Church. The love, intensity and passion of two different but complementary bodies united both in spirit and in “one flesh” is an extension of the perichoresis of the Trinity as the bodies of the image-bearers united in spirit with Christ become the body of Christ on earth, joined in love, intensity and passion, enjoying the overflowing goodness and shalom that God has intended for us.
We are created body, soul and spirit with the intention that when heaven and earth are rejoined, we will be restored body, soul and spirit (although it will be in resurrected bodies) in the new heaven and earth. It is also through our bodies that we are restored to Christ. And when fellow Christ-bearers assemble together, they are together the Body of Christ, with each person bringing different gifts to support and strengthen the others in the Body.
God has placed each one of us in a particular time and place and with particular people. Within that time and place and people he has plans for us. Each of us has a particular mind and body with which we need to discern God’s calling for us in our time and place. Such plans are revealed in many places in scripture.
And though we are called to particular times, places and people, there are ways in which God’s transcendent character spills over onto us. The mark of his transcendence is even placed in each of our hearts. The expressions of transcendence are impossible to avoid in our day and age: Although we were not born with the ability to fly, we can fly to the moon, although we were not born to live under water, we are able to spend months at a time under water even at incredible depths, although we were not born to run like a cheetah, we don’t even think about climbing into a vehicle and going more than 60 miles an hour for hours at a time, we can also create works of art that show places we have never been, we can use the resources of the earth to generate more power than we can imagine … and the list goes on.
With our gift of transcendence, God has shown that he has set us aside as his representatives, “to be holy as he is holy.” We are not to merely live as earthly creatures but as creatures who represent the living God. The challenge before us is to discern, as God’s image-bearers, to what end God can use our particular bodies, emotions and minds in the particular family and community into which we are placed, to fulfill the purpose he has intended for each of us.
Although we have not existed from all eternity, God created us with more than a mortal body. We are also endowed with a soul and a spirit that can be joined to God’s Spirit. In the present moment, our mortal bodies are created from the stuff of the earth, and we are born into particular times and places so that we may serve and enjoy God in those particular times and places.
Our creatureliness which sets us in a particular place and time with a particular body is an opportunity to appreciate our finiteness and God’s infiniteness, to cultivate a sense of dependence on God’s provision and our dependence on each other and within the context of those relationships to truly learn how to love.
Our creatureliness also forces us to deal with God’s ordering Creation through process. Everything, whether physical, social, emotional, intellectual or spiritual, is controlled by processes. Sometimes we desire to bypass those processes: we want to be instantly knowledgeable and wise and experts at what we do … and not dependent on anyone else. But it was precisely that kind of desire that led to our rebellion at the beginning of humanity.
As God’s image-bearing creatures, we not only have relationships with each other but also with our Creator. With other of God’s image-bearing creatures, our love can be expressed in our opportunities to support, uplift and encourage one other. God has no need of such support from us, but He offers us such support. When we recognize our dependence on Him, He gives us the ability to pray, to acknowledge our needs and to recognize His provision for us when He supplies our needs.
As we pray in our mortal bodies, we remember that although our mortal bodies will return to the dust from which we are made, our bodies will be resurrected when heaven and earth are reunited so that we, with soul and spirit and new body, will be able to enjoy God forever into the future.
In the meantime, while we await for our resurrection and to gaze on the beauty of the Lord (Psalm 27:4), we have reminders of our connection with our transcendent God in the beauty of His Creation and in our capacity to make things of beauty. Whether the beautiful things are of our creation or the Lord’s, they are a reflection of God’s own beauty.
God is the master of all creation, yet he has given to us the responsibility to take care of the earth. It is out of that mastery that we have managed to use the resources of the earth to create all the technological advances that we have. Unfortunately, in many cases we have abused our abilities; abusing not just the resources of the earth but often abusing each other.
In our sinfulness, we typically appeal to our call to sovereignty while forgetting our call to service. This very issue Jesus took care to remind us of on many occasions. If we mistreat the earth that we are placed in or if we mistreat others, then we dishonor not only the one in whose image we are made but even the other image-bearers of God. In fact, it is out of our call to sovereignty and service that we are called to love, to willingly give of ourselves to the service of God just as God gave of himself to us.
It is under the constraint of God’s love that he tells us to “subdue” and “have dominion” over his creation. As God’s stewards, our sovereignty means we have the responsibility to maintain the good in God’s creation, to bring order to it and to help his creatures flourish and fill the earth.
There are two dimensions to our responsibility to subdue and have dominion.
When Genesis 1 was written, it was hard work to cultivate the rocky soil and people had little control of the elements; people were more powerless than powerful. In that context we see the forceful aspect of radah (ruling the earth) that is evident in other instances in the Bible when that word is used. That is one dimension of our responsibility.
But another dimension of our responsibility to have “dominion” is tempered by gentleness, such as when God spoke through Ezekiel’s to the “shepherds of Israel” and reprimanded them for using cruelty and violence and caring more about themselves than the people they were responsible for, serving themselves instead of the people.
In our service, we are dependent one another. We were not made to be self-sufficient; we not only need to have a relationship with God but also with each other. God allowed the first man to see that he needed another human before God presented the man with a woman to be his ‘ezer kegnedo. In Hebrew, ‘ezer is usually translated as “helper” or “deliverer” and is most often used to describe God delivering his people; kegnedo is usually translated as “in front of” or “opposite” or “parallel to”.
Later on, in scripture we see that we are called to be a nation of priests and a body where all the different parts have a purpose as they work together. We are called not just to a restored relationship with the one who made us but are called together as a people to serve each other and to serve the world around us.
There is much in this world that is not just or righteous. As God’s servants, we are called to seek both. But just like the servant in the parable of the unmerciful servant we can forget the mercies shown to us when we are dealing with each other. There is much that makes us yearn for justice in a world filled with cruelty, but we need to remember that as God acted on his own demands of justice, he yet found a way to bestow great mercy on us.
The prophets of Israel, and even Jesus, condemned those people who acted in self-righteousness and did not seek justice and mercy for those around them. In our own search for justice, we should remember the entreaty in Micah 6:8, “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”
There is much that is wrong in the world. People endure pain and suffering sometimes from natural happenings and sometimes from the actions of others. Evil seems persistent and never-ending. When we are called to serve God in this world, we can become overwhelmed by all the work that is to be done. Playfulness can seem out of place. Particularly, any playfulness that emerges from self-centeredness or obsessiveness.
Actually, that is the point we need to assert. Playfulness can be out of place in a world of sin and evil. But playfulness can also be a reminder that the reality in front of us is not the total reality. Our playfulness arises out of the relationship we have with God, the one who has overcome the evil in the world, who will end the suffering and who will restore us and world to be what he intended from the beginning. Playfulness arises out of the hope and joy we have in knowing that reality in front of us is not the whole reality.
Our imagination can be helpful in this play. As children, we can pretend there is another world and do something like taking a cardboard box and imagining it to be a spaceship and accepting the rules of living in that spaceship. Family traditions (or even community or national traditions) are a form of play, they do not serve a utilitarian purpose, but stem from the creative ways we wish to remember our unique heritage.
This same imaginative playfulness can be useful reminding us of the reality that lies behind our current reality. Our traditions of worship are a form of play, albeit a more serious play. Our worship traditions represent ways for us to remember our spiritual heritage or to provide imaginative ways to perform biblical sacraments about which we have sparse details on how to perform them. These traditions and liturgies help us point to that other reality, a new Kingdom that began breaking into this world with the incarnation of Jesus.
We hope to participate in the inbreaking of the new Kingdom by living according to its rules. When we pray or worship, we are participating in the rules of that new Kingdom. When we come to others and share with them the hope that we have, we are asking them to use their imagination to look beyond the current reality and envision the new Kingdom that is already here and is yet to come. When we accept contentment in all situations, when we trust in God, when we comfort others with the hope we have, we are living according to the rules of the new Kingdom.
It is also true, that In this present life there are endless encounters with grief. Although we acknowledge the pain and suffering of that grief, whether that grief is ours or others, we can encompass that grief with hope. Even amid grief we can choose to cling to God and to the hope He brings us. If we can live into the rules of the new Kingdom, we can have assurance that the current grief will pass and will be replaced by future joy and laughter and that every tear that we have cried and will cry and even now cry will be wiped away.
Our hope of the new Kingdom allows us to endure the current pain and suffering knowing that the hard experiences can be redeemed and to be used for good. God can take the pain and suffering we endure to transform us to be more like Christ, who himself suffered for us, transforming the very evil intended for him into the final victory that shall ultimately also make us victorious. This hopeful living then is also a form of play, accepting the rules of a reality we cannot see and choosing to live according to the rules of a Kingdom that we can only realize in part.
That playfulness also emerges in our creativity, which erupts early on in our lives as our desire as children to play and also in the desire we have as parents to play with our children. There is no doubt about how uniquely creative we are in the way we express ourselves, not only in all the various art forms we use but in the ways we can solve all sorts of problems – even to the creative ways we try to cover up our sins. No other creature can come close to expressing creativity the way we can.
Our ability to create and even detect order is also unmatched. Our ability to detect order is evident in the way we can detect patterns in sight or sound. The sense of order is evident in our ability to recognize faces, our ability to recognize the voices of our mothers or fathers as infants and even before we are born. Our sense of order is seen as we grow in our ability to recognize the patterns of letters and sounds and to recognize and respond to language – even languages.
Our sense of order becomes more evident in our ability to create order out of many abstract concepts such as math, science, philosophy and many other areas. It is our sense of order that allows us to create businesses, governments and civic organizations to make society productive. When we bring order to farmland, we increase the productivity of the farm.
The visible order within Creation inspired Christians in the past to study Creation. Order within Scripture helps the Bible to be meaningfully used as meditative literature. In the same way, order during worship also helps us to avoid confusion and to focus on God.