My friend Eric happily bounded into my office one day not too long ago with a new bumper sticker he had crafted that read, “God loves you. No exceptions!” Now, to quote A.A. Milne, being “a bear of little brain,” I liked both the simplicity and directness of Eric’s new treasure. It is clear. It is concise. It is not ambiguous.
I should also tell you that I am a big fan of the concept, if not always the doctrine, of Imago Dei (tzelem Elohim, if you prefer Hebrew, see Gen. 1:26-27), which is to say that we are created in the image of God. Now a good and respected friend of mine, who happens to be a Baptist pastor, has often cautioned me regarding my fondness of Imago Dei. He points out, and with no small amount of truth, that we human beings easily slip into a place where, instead of embracing that we are created in God’s image, we create God in our image. Around these parts, as they say back home, and for a very long time that has meant that God is (an old) straight white guy. Not good, and not God.
Of course, if we take the concept of Imago Dei for a ride, it does mean that God is an old, young, straight, gay, white, black, brown, male, female, from somewhere, from anywhere … all at once … you get where I’m going with this and I like the reality of it. Some of those images comfort me. Some of them challenge me. Seems to me like God can, and should, both comfort and challenge me.
To be sure, my concept of God goes way beyond the notion of human form. I’m sure yours does as well. The Christian embrace of the doctrine of the Trinity is our attempt to do, what ultimately cannot be done: to describe or imagine God. Ultimately, God is beyond our ability to fully describe or to fully imagine. If we can do that, we can put God into a box, a box of words or image, for sure, but a box nonetheless. Of the very few things about which I am certain, I am certain that if I can put God in a box, of words, images, or any other kind, that is not God. God, and my concept of God, is such that God cannot be contained in a box and still be God. It just doesn’t work.
But it seems, certainly in these times, we are want to forget and we try to put God in a singular exclusive human being box; and we claim religion as the authoritative box maker. Alas, we are created in God’s image and not the other way around. No matter how often we invert things, no matter how much we may want it to, that box does work any more than the box of words.
I’m writing about this now because in a multiplicity of places, parts of Africa, Arizona and several other states, a federal courtroom in Detroit, there are actions that indicate an epidemic of trying to limit God’s image, as revealed to us in the breadth and depth of humanity, to whatever the predominate cultures self-defined box says it must be. If someone does not fit our image of God, because they are gay (more broadly LGBTQ), or have a different skin tone, have a different place of ethnic origin, or have physical or developmental differences, want to provide for care (health, home or otherwise) or be a differently configured family, then the challenge is with the image we have created – not with those who are different from us, and not with the image God created. We must stop discriminating, we must stop governmental and institutional discriminating, and we must quit hiding behind God to argue for discrimination.
As my tradition of Christianity prepares to enter Lent, let me jump ahead to Maundy Thursday. Jesus gave us a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you. If you prefer, we can go with “love your neighbor as yourself,” and remember that everyone is your neighbor. So my friend Eric’s bumper sticker cuts to the chase. God loves you. No Exceptions!
Yours in Christ,
He drew a circle that shut me out — Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win: We drew a circle that took him in!
“Outwitted” by Edwin Markham (1852-1940)