Images of God

What is your image of God? Yet, more significantly, how does your image of God assist you or impede you in realizing the purpose of your life? These are the questions that God is inviting us to address as our response to the conversation he is seeking to have with us through the proclamation and reception of the Gospel passage from Luke 13:31-35.

The Gospel narrative in Mark, Matthew, and Luke follows the same pattern even though the telling of the story is not identical.  For each Evangelist and the community for which they are writing has its own story to inhabit, just as we have our own story to inhabit as the Body of Christ at the intersection of Roosevelt and Central. The pattern unfolding has a beginning, middle, and an ending. And this Lent the Lectionary has us journeying with Luke as he tells the story of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem.

Luke sets the scene as Jesus is leaving the Galilee on the road that will take him to Jerusalem. He encounters a group from the Pharisee religious party, who in this instance warn him about their common enemy, Herod, Tetrarch of Galilee. Herod was called Tetrarch, because he ruled only a quarter of what had been his father, Herod the Great’s kingdom. Jesus calls Herod the Tetrarch a Fox and this alone conjures a delightful image of cunning and shiftiness.

Jesus’ response to the Pharisees is to assert in the clearest terms his sense of purpose in the face of their warning. He tells them: Listen, I am casting out the demons and performing cures today and tomorrow…. He hints at the implication of his purpose: …. And on the third day I finish my work. This is clearly an allusion to the Resurrection further strengthened by his reference to Jerusalem as the city where Prophets meet their death.

Jesus then offers a startling image of God as a mother hen gathering her brood under her wings. The image of the mother hen is not only a powerful and unexpected image of God. It leads me to ask: What is my image of God? Does my image of God assist or impede me in realizing my life purpose?

Our Images of God

I question my image of God. I am uncomfortably aware that my default image of God includes the attributes of a solitary, majestic, kingly, male figure, omnipotent, all- powerful, and omniscient,  all-seeing. In short my default image is of God, self-contained within his own potency and invulnerability. When I allow myself to examine this default image of God, I become distressingly aware of how poorly this image serves me. How can I be made in this image? It is impossible for me to project those very same attributes as my self-image into the world?

Each of us carries a dominant or default image of God that we rarely examine. Such images of God are given to us. We imbibe them along with our mother’s milk, as it were. Except that in this instance our mother’s milk is the socially conformist message of conventional, hierarchical, patriarchal, Christianity. Our image of God is communicated to us through a dominant interpretation of the Tradition we receive. This dominant interpretation serves patriarchal interests because the impossibility of attaining to the potency of such images of God casts us as docile children who must remain obedient under the protection of our heavenly Father.

It comes as a surprise to many that the Episcopal Church still has something called a Catechism. It can be found on page 845 of the Book of Common Prayer. I invite you this Lent to make a study of it. The opening question in our Catechism is: What are we by nature? The answer given is: We are part of God’s creation, made in the image of God.

We find or fail to find our sense of purpose in the images of God we harbor deep within us. There is a profound link between our sense of purpose and these often unexamined default images of God. If we are to examine the purpose of our lives we need images of God that encourage and enable us to realize the purpose of our lives both as individuals and as community. Are our images of God up to this task, I wonder?

Does our image of God lead us to assume the Universe is fixed, unfolding according to a distant God’s omnipotent plan?  When people tell me with such confidence that God has a plan for them I want to ask – so how is that working out for you? Or does our image of God enable us to realize that life is not fixed and unfolding according to plan, but fluid and dynamic? Do we have a sense of God inviting us to be more than obedient children and to play a meaningful part in the unfolding of creation?

The second question in the Catechism asks – What does it mean to be created in the image of God? It answers – It means we are free to make choices: to love, to create, to reason, and to live in harmony with creation and with God. 

Realizing our Life Purpose

Within each one of us are a number of competing voices. We usually don’t realize this because we are so used to listening only to the most dominant one. This is the default image. When I become aware of my default image of the omnipotent heavenly Father who has already worked out the plan, I consciously search within myself for the echo of another voice which directs me to my actual experience. It also directs me to look within the Tradition for the signs of another image of God. When I do I discover an image of God who is dreaming me into becoming myself. This image sounds lovely. However, it can be frightening to make a stand against the inner and outer voices that offer me an image of God as all-powerful and invulnerable. In some ways this image suits me and letting it go causes me a sense of loss. It’s comforting to know I have a God who is so much stronger than I am.

By contrast, for me the image of a dreaming God is a limited God. The dreaming God has chosen self-limitation to make room for my participation in the dreaming. God’s dreaming is a mutual and social activity. Unlike the image of the omnipotent God, majestic in masculine splendor and power, in the image of a dreaming God, who self limits to make room for my participation in the dreaming, I can see myself projected upon my world.

The image of a dreaming God is an image of a social God who delights in the loving interplay of relationship within the community of the Trinity.  The image of a dreaming God gives me the courage to step out and to risk moving beyond the confines of my own narrow and fearful imagination. Being true to the deeper sense of purpose for my live, beyond my desire for material protection and success, requires the courage to risk, or as Paul Tillich called it, the courage to be.

Responsiveness

Here is how I think the relationship between us and God works. Embracing the central purpose of our lives triggers a reciprocal responsiveness in God. We live in a Universe that is responsive to us; yet, we need an image of God that connects us with this reality.

We come to understand that our purpose is so much more than a realization of our own potential through self-fulfillment.  Our response to God this Lent is more than a program for self-improvement.  Risk, which is stepping beyond our own limited imaginations opens us to becoming the persons God is dreaming us into being. I need to issue a product warning here. The process of our becoming, may also involve pain and suffering as well as joy and fulfillment.

Jesus’ Purpose and His Image of God

In Luke 13: 31-35 we see Jesus refusing to be distracted by the warning of the Pharisees from pursuing his life purpose. His life purpose is to take the road to Jerusalem. Jerusalem here is a place on a map. It is also a symbol for all the centers of power and vested interest, which following Jesus’ example we are likewise called to challenge. Jesus further reveals how his image of God – as a mother hen gathering her brood – is instrumental in supporting the realization of his life purpose. Could he do what he must do if he imagines God any other way?

In this passage from Luke’s Gospel we see clearly the essential connection between Jesus’ God image and his determination to fulfill the purpose of his life. Let us pray that the same may be so for each of us both in our individual lives and as the Body of Christ at the intersection of Roosevelt and Central.

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