³PRECIOUS IN GOD'S SIGHT²
© John E Corson, 2008 (given July 27, 2008)
(for single-person reading only—please ask permission before making multiple copies)
I invite you to travel with me back into history for a few moments. It is 3000 years ago, a 1000 years before the birth of Jesus. Our destination is Israel and the city of David nestled on Mt. Zion. It is springtime. Jerusalem is surrounded by rocky hills and green valleys. Flocks of sheep are resting from their day of grazing while shepherds keep their watch. After displaying a rainbow of color, the wildflowers close their eyelids for the night. It is a beautiful evening with the scent of spring filling the air, and the sound of crickets chirping.
The moon is nearly full and its light is reflected off the Holy Temple. The stars sparkle in the clear night like diamonds in the sky. The milky way stretches across the heavens in resplendent glory. A poet sits on a hillside pondering the mystery of space, the beauty of creation, and the sheer wonder of being alive. The poet gives voice to his thoughts: ³O Lord, ...how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens...When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?² [Psalm 8:1-4]
We easily connect with the Psalmist's words and feelings. For most of us have stood before a sunset, listened to waves breaking upon the seashore, walked among the giant redwoods, hiked beside a cascading mountain stream, and looked out on snow capped peaks in humble adoration. The splendor of God's creation fills us with awe and often leaves us speechless. For when we behold nature's celebration of God's glory, we are confronted by our mortality. We feel like grains of sand, mere specks on the shores of time. We are unsure how we fit into the grand scheme of life.
We may find ourselves echoing the Psalmist: ³Who am I that you know about me? How can I be sure you really care? What proof is there that my life is anything more than a momentary blip in time?² We live in a world that often gives us reason to question human dignity and self-worth. The Psalmist and the people of Israel were crushed under the heel of Egyptian slavery. They endured the slaughter of invading troops from Babylon. They saw their society ripped apart as Israel's leadership was carried off to captivity. It was in Babylon that they sat down and wept. They felt forsaken and abandoned. It seemed impossible to believe that God cared for them. They felt insignificant and found faith difficult.
Even today, the news reminds us that human nature still falls short of the glory of God. Just this week we read about the arrest of the former Bosnian Serb President Karadzic. He is the alleged mastermind of genocide, including the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslim boys and men in (Srebrenica,) Bosnia. Then a couple weeks ago we were shocked by the senseless beating death of an elderly Bakersfield man by young teens. Almost weekly, we are haunted by the recurring media images of suicide bombers, including women and youth, violently killing others and themselves. Yes, sometimes it is easier to believe that God had nothing to do with creating the human race! For there are moments when human behavior is a horrible disgrace.
How can we reconcile the Psalmist's affirmation of being created in God's image with life as we know it? We are helped by the New Testament belief in a caring God. Jesus put it simply: ³As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.² [John 14:9] The essential teaching of Jesus is that we are created in the image of God's love, and every person is precious in God's sight. His ministry to persons with all kinds of needs and conditions bears witness to this truth. God's love and care is a gift. We call it grace. Grace is unmerited love, not something we earn or deserve. It is like a mother's love that patiently waits to embrace her child at birth after nine months of anticipation. This is self-giving love, the unique quality that make us human.
When the Psalmist asks, ³What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?² The Psalmist already knows the answer to his question. He declares:: ³... you have made them a little less than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.² [Psalm 8:4-5] Yes, each of us is created in the divine image. I like the way James Weldon Johnson expresses it in his version of the creation story where God says, ³I'm lonely, I'll make me a man!² Women and men are created to enjoy God's companionship. Life is not an accident, it is part of a divine plan. However, we sometimes forget that we are creatures and not the Creator. Whenever we act God-like, asserting our will over against God's will, we build barriers that separate us from God and our neighbors. Yes, we do mess up! The Bible calls this sin, or missing the mark. Yet, this does not change God's purpose for us.
I think it was Saint Augustine who once said, ³Love God, and do as you please!² [Source unknown.] In order words, as long as we love God totally, our words, deeds, and lives will reflect God's love. When the lawyer asked Jesus, ³Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?², he got a clear, direct answer. ³You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.² [Luke 10:25-28] Everyone of us is faced with a choice: will we walk the way of love, or the way of self-centeredness?. Will our lives reflect God's glory, or the baser instincts of humanity? This is a decision we make every day of our lives.
There is an important footnote to our discussion. Some of us have difficulty living into the divine image because our own self-image has been damaged or warped. Some of us were raised in an environment surrounded by criticism, judgment, and guilt. It may have been a parent who always pointed out our faults, or scolded us harshly saying, ³Can't you do anything right?² It may have been classmates who called us ³dumb,² ³fatso,² or ³nerd.² It may have been a teacher or boss who dismissed our best efforts curtly: ³You just don't try hard enough!² It may have been an ex-spouse who nagged us saying, ³Why do you keep doing such stupid things?² The Apostle Paul pointed to a more excellent way. Human relationships require a special ingredient to flourish. He said, ³Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.² [1 Cor. 13:4] Yes, if we are going to live into the divine image, we are called to love ourselves . This means we must clear away negative self-images and thoughts. As a start, we need to be patient and kind with ourselves. We cannot fully love others until we truly love ourselves.
Another part of living into the divine image is learning to cope with the difficult and hard bumps of life. Everyone here has a story about challenges in their life. Sylvia and I faced a challenge when our son, Steve, died of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 38. Others of you who have lost children, know the reality of what I call ³the abiding ache.² Some have coped with divorce or other broken relationships. Others have struggled with alcoholism, addiction, or depression. Still others have had their lives turned upside down by illness, being fired, or a financial reversal. You can fill in the blanks, and relate your own painful story.
We know that bad things happen to good people. We know that the righteous suffer. We know that disease, disaster, or ³being in the wrong place at the wrong time² can bring havoc to our lives. When such events take place, we find hope in Paul's affirmation:
³...I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers,
nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.² [Romans 8:37-39]
No one is insignificant in God's sight. I am a child of God. You are a child of God. In spite of the evil in the world, negative self-images, difficult life events, sins we commit, or the dark night of the soul, God is with us! You are precious in God's sight. God's grace surrounds you. This grace helps us to say ³no² to despair, false guilt, self-hate, negativity, and fear! We are children of God! ³You [are] a little lower than God and crowned...with glory and honor.² With this promise, we are invited to be followers of Jesus, loving God with our whole being, and our neighbors as ourselves. When we love like this, others will catch the vision, and proclaim with us: ³O Lord,...how majestic is your name in all the earth!²