Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Good News: Ye Are Gods! The Bad News: Ye Are Gods!

As you all know by now, I am fascinated by the idea that God creates man "in Our image, according to Our likeness" -- not just for the Trinitarian implications, but for what else it implies about man and God.

It seems that most Christians instinctively limit its meaning, for fear -- and the fear is not misplaced -- of hubristically equating man and God. So various theologians have placed sharp constraints around the concept, such that any similarities are completely dwarfed by the differences, almost to the point of rendering our deiformity meaningless.

It's as if the idea is too hot to handle, so it is essentially explained away or at least downplayed.

In a way, it reminds me of the daring rhetoric in the D of C: that all men are created equal, period. For a while this was unproblematic, until people began taking it literally and demanding that it be respected. It prompted, on the one side, the abolitionist movement, and on the other -- and for for the first time -- theories of racial inequality in order to justify slavery as a positive good.

Interestingly, the Orthodox east never got hung up on the whole image-and-likeness business. Rather than seeing it as problematic, they saw it as the whole point of the Christian innerprize, AKA theosis.

Now, before you just assume your divine status, bear in mind an important characteristic of God: that nothing and no one is more humble. D'oh! There goes your grandiosity, narcissism, will to power, and self-glorification. Those traits decidedly do not apply to the Christian God.

It reminds me of something I read the other day by this fellow Jesus, about turning the other cheek, offering one's tunic, and generally loving one's enemies. In trying to make sense of it, it occurred to me that Jesus is setting an impossible standard, and properly so. In other words, it's as if he's saying: sure, you're in the image of God. Now try acting like it!

Again: d'oh! Not so easy.

Not to make invidious comparisons, but it's easy to act like, say, certain prophets who extol violence, polygamy, and oppression. No need to get into details, but you know what I mean. (For example, compare the two very different meanings of "martyrdom.") It is not so easy to act like the God who gives himself utterly, right up to and including the Cross -- again, an almost impossible standard. But this very "impossibly" is the Divine Standard.

D'oh! Maybe I don't want to be godlike after all.

Back to Orthodoxy for a moment. I recently read a book called Everywhere Present that touches on this subject. For example,

The doctrine of the Incarnation teaches us that God has become man and dwelt among us. In the God-man Christ Jesus, heaven and earth, are united, and the distance between God and man, of whatever sort, is overcome.

That's the Good News. But it is intrinsically intertwined with some Bad News -- bad for the selfish ego, to be exact, for whom it is nothing less than a death sentence.

So yes, you are like gods (John 10:34). But it all comes down to the meaning of "you" -- or, more precisely, "I". His listeners didn't like the sound of that, so they tried to grab him "but He escaped out of their hands." For awhile, anyway.

Elsewhere Freeman writes that "Jesus did not come to make bad men good; He came to make dead men live." What, by dying?

D'oh!

We've mentioned before the idea that Jesus is simultaneously our icon of God and God's icon of man. Now, what is an icon? It is not the material thing; rather, the material is meant to be transparent, i.e., to reveal something it is pointing toward (this being the difference between idolatry and iconography).

The plain truth of the matter is that God is an icon-maker. He first made man "in His own image." And in becoming man, the man He became is described as the "image of the invisible God."

All of the above was provoked by a short passage in The Play of Masks, that "it goes without saying that God is indeed 'obliged' to be faithful to His Nature and for that reason cannot but manifest Himself" via creation; in other words, God cannot not create without failing to be God.

Again, this may sound like a "limitation," but it is really quite the opposite. To think otherwise is to place eternal sterility and eternal fecundity on the same plane -- as if any rational being would choose the former over the latter. I see God's inexhaustible creativity as his eternal divine delight.

A Big Difference here is that God obviously cannot "fall" from his nature. Rather, that possibility is uniquely reserved for man. Animals cannot fall anywhere, nor can mere matter. And the only reason man can fall is because there is somewhere to fall from, which is none other than the image and likeness referenced in paragraph one.

"Only man," writes Schuon, "participating in the divine liberty and created in order to freely choose God, can make a bad use of his freedom under the influence of that cosmic mode that is evil." Our very form predisposes us to return to our "divine Prototype," but it seems that we are situated in the context of cosmic energies that flow in both directions. Thus,

"The 'dark' and 'descending' tendency not only moves away from the Sovereign Good, but also rises up against It; whence the equation between the devil and pride."

Which brings us back to the contrary equation of divinity and humility. You might say that God's emptiness -- his kenosis -- is our fullness, but we can only maintain the fullness by giving it away, so to speak. So, grace is kind of a hot potato. If it comes your way, don't get caught trying to hold on to it, but give it away immediately!

Not sure if this post was a case of celestial co-creativity or just terrestrial rambling. "Emptying oneself" has two very different connotations.

4 comments:

julie said...

We've mentioned before the idea that Jesus is simultaneously our icon of God and God's icon of man.

As Bishop Barron puts it, "Jesus, in his own person, is the marriage of heaven and earth."

julie said...

You might say that God's emptiness -- his kenosis -- is our fullness, but we can only maintain the fullness by giving it away, so to speak. So, grace is kind of a hot potato. If it comes your way, don't get caught trying to hold on to it, but give it away immediately!

Again, Bishop Barron:

"If you cling to what God gives you, you lose it. How do you keep it? You keep it by taking it and giving it away. You catch the Divine life on the fly. You don't get it by clinging to it. You keep it, oddly, by giving it away."

Gagdad Bob said...

Obviously in the same Attractor. Leslie has been watching a lot of him on youtube, so maybe I'm getting it through cosmosis.

julie said...

:D

The series we are watching is called Conversion: Following the Call of Christ. Good stuff.