In the beginning … the handful of sentences that follow these words in the Bible have led to debate, persecution of scientists, mocking of Conservative Christians, mocking of liberal Christians, suppression of education and enough Christian Union ‘hot potato’ evenings to make an Irishman blush. Dogma and controversy have flowed from the words of an ancient origins poem.
For a long time I’ve seen these things as a distraction from the reason the writer of the poem first lifted their … I want to say pen but I’m sure it was something else, so, writing implement. If we read Kipling’s If and wrote books and arguments teaching that it was about trapping fools and knaves we’d be missing the point. Of course the crescendo of If tells us its meaning, the writer’s view of masculinity. Yet we do just this with the Genesis poem.
The point has always been clearly written. That once God has created all other things He created humanity but He created humanity differently; in his image, like ‘us’ (let’s skirt past that can of worms.) The point of the poem is that humanity, from the beginning has carried an imprint of divinity as its maker’s mark.
This of course makes all the difference. The Christianity of the West as I grew up glossed this verse into obscurity or at best it recast it as a moment that we have lost due to the dark and filthy nature of our true selves. We are wholly disgusting and Jesus is wholly good. There is nothing good in us. Somehow we have overcome the maker and removed his image from our lives. We had recreated ourselves apart from His image.
Despite no longer subscribing to that message, it resonates well though doesn’t it? It resonates with us because we recognise the depravity it amplifies. We know ourselves well, and we know what taints us, and by embracing this message of our filth, our stain becomes our identifier, replacing His image ingrained within us. The message of the Bible closes in on us as the personal cause of the sin of the world that needs Jesus to defeat.
Do we have a propensity towards sin? Of course we do. Are we made in God’s image? Yes. My concern has always been that we are more focussed on a button that is broken than on the beautiful garment we are wearing. The flaw has drawn our gaze leaving the beauty unnoticed.
That however, isn’t my biggest problem with this kind of thinking. My biggest concern is that it is all so personal. Let us make ‘them’ has become ‘God made me.’ The divine imprint is on us all collectively, yet this message I’ve heard is all about me and my ‘own personal Jesus,’ and it has lead me away from other people.
My sense of self must find its place in my sense of community. I am truly who I am made to be when I am viewed amongst friends and strangers. We are fully ourself when seen on he context of ourselves (plural). When we place ourselves in the world we find the fullness of His divine mark and that which taints us comes into a different place.
When our image of self is as one of 7 billion others then the pain of the world becomes our pain and the divine within us calls us to act for solution. What happens to one of us challenges the image of God in us all. We learn to embrace and own the tainting and the sacredness of others.
When a demagogue mocks the marriage of a grieving couple our divinity aches and rages for his misuse of his voice and for the crack in those parent’s hearts. Every refugee family huddled in a camp becomes a family like our own deserving of safety and care. Every teenage wrist cut in desperation for escape becomes our own in need of embrace and nurture. Every food bank parcel received in gratitude but also in shame becomes a meal at our table.
When we truly understand this poem we cannot live the way we tend to. Us and them must collapse because there is only us. We are all debased by the evil in the world and we are all those doing the debasing.
We are all in this together, making and cleaning up mess. Today some of us will drop the rubbish and others will hold the broom. Tomorrow our roles could reverse, so it’s important today to live as if it’s our last chance to clean up. We must fall asleep every night knowing we did what we could to make the world better for us all.
The drone pilot and the wedding guest are of the same stuff. The politician and the disenfranchised are of the same stuff. The aggressor and the victim are of the same stuff. You and I are of the same stuff; the divine and the human, the good tainted by the bad.
Let’s leave the good we have in the world and call it out of others, even those who seem like they are the worst of us. Let’s sleep tonight knowing we did what we could to leave the world a better place for tomorrow. May the divine in us outshine that which taints our humanity.