Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Image of God in Ted...

I remember, about a decade ago, interviewing for a ministry position and getting into a doctrinal discussion about the image of God in man, particularly debating the question of what extent the image of God resides in fallen humans. "None" was the right answer, according to the team across the table from me, steeped as they were in a strong reformed theology and doctrine of depravity. "Humanity lost any capacity at all to display the character of God when Adam aligned with Satan."
There it is. Simple. "Cut and dried" as they say. They quote some passages from Romans 3 that talk about none who do good, and how our righteousness is as filthy rags. Yes. I understand. I went to seminary.

The problem with this, it seems to me, is that it fails to take into account the profound respect that God has for all humanity in Genesis 9 where God says that human life is valuable precisely because we are made "in His image" - all of us. Fallen? Yes, tragically so, as each of our lives testifies in various ways. Yet, it's so often the case that, right there in the midst of our fallenness, we rise up for moments and align ourselves with God. Isn't Mozart's Requiem something that displays God's image, in spite of the drinking, gambling, and womenizing that characterized the composer? To declare that no unregenerate person displays the image of God in the face of evidence to the contrary seems tantamount to offering a mathematical explanation regarding why it's not raining while standing in the middle of a downpour; evidence to the contrary is everywhere, if we'll just pay attention.

All of this is the backdrop for my contention that, among politicians, Edward Kennedy displayed the glory of God's image more gloriously, and the tragedy of man's falleness more tragically, than most politicians who've graced the pages of history with their exploits.

The tragedy is easy to see. Chappaquiddick stands at the top of a sizable list of improprieties, leaving us with, at the very least, severe question marks regarding judgement and moral character. Christians will excoriate him for his treatment of Justice Bjork and his liberal views on abortion. All this is horribly true.

But there's another side to the man. In 1964 he was instrumental in passing the critical Civil Rights Act which has helped turn the ship of American history away from blatent racism towards egalitarianism. Kennedy's Immigration Act of 1965 sought to give non Europeans some sense of reality for the words that are inscribed at Ellis Island: Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free. If you're a woman and you played high school sports, it's because you had an advocate in Ted Kennedy. If you're disabled, and you have access to major buildings and sidewalks in your city, it's because of the efforts of Kennedy. If you're a senior citizen living on fixed income and thus receiving "Meals on Wheels", it's because Kennedy went to bat for you.

A constant advocate for the downtrodden, marginalized, and weak, I can't help but think of James definition of true religion when I think of Kennedy, which has to do with caring for widows and orphans in their distress.

You can argue the politics if you like, declaring the government shouldn't care about racism, or gender equality, or health care, that the extent of their 'intrusion' should be to pave our roads and provide an army, leaving us to fend for ourselves with the rest of life. You can point to his failures. But what you can't do is declare that he didn't "give a damn" about the least of these. As the church has, in recent years awakened to her calling to care for those who can't care for themselves, we've been reminded that caring for those on the margins is our calling precisely because such acts of mercy make the character of Christ visible.

Ted cared for the "least of these" and in so doing, displayed something of the image of God. This is not only a blessing, but a challenge. The challenge lies in our propensity to put black or white hats on everyone, presuming the unfallen to display only the character of Satan,and painting the saved in white because, as we like to say, we're "clothed in Christ".

It's all a bit too convenient. Reality forces us to wrestle with the truths that Samaritans, the couple down the street who live together and smoke pot, and political liberals, all manifest compassion, sometimes more visibly than the "saved". Maybe it's time for a little humility on our part, and a little gratitude, and a little openness to the possibility that there are those in this world who've not yet been born again who, nonetheless, display Christ's character at times. May we learn from them by their acts, and honor them.


At 27/8/09 16:27, Anonymous Chris Van Matre said...

Ted Kennedy did have many accomplishments in his decades of office as a Senator. He did great things for all US citizens and some not so great. Just like the other great men/women through the ages who have done marvelous things.

But to place such a high mark of God’s image in such one sided way and discount the other side as though the good will always overshadow the bad covering the bad up completely, makes me question if there is a problem with understand God’s image at all. There is no question that everyone does have God’s image in some form placed within us. We are creative, loving, compassionate, kind, etc. Although, you can argue the degree of God’s image that shows in a person, but that would be another discussion.

Perhaps a closer review of God’s nature would be helpful. His nature of a perfect, Holy, Being, that is not dependant upon anything, is fully captured in the Triune Nature of God Himself. It is from this nature that we came to be, in His image. We were also given a choice and we chose poorly. That did not change God’s image that He created but it did alter the state of all mankind forever. God knew the condition of man and provided a way out but not from a position of failure of what He created. But from a position of Glory to Himself of how we either accept or reject his gift which cannot be obtained by works or as you stated “Edward Kennedy displayed the glory of God's image more gloriously, and the tragedy of man's falleness more tragically, than most politicians who've graced the pages of history with their exploits.”

If God is not bigger than this and transcendent beyond our world and mind, what is the point? I also think that if I were to model someone, my I suggest Jesus Christ rather than Senator Kennedy.

At 27/8/09 17:31, Blogger Richard Dahlstrom said...

Thanks for your comment Chris...they're thoughtful and honest. I think your critique of my superlative assessment of Kennedy is also fair, and I receive that.

The fundamental point I was trying to make, however, was in the last paragraph. I feel, quite strongly, that we Christians are often guilty of the very Phariseeism that we often mock in our Bible studies, and as a result we're blind to the things would wants to teach us through those who don't believe as we do, or who have failed catstrophically. We do this to our own harm, and the harm of our testimony

At 28/8/09 07:38, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing." 1 Corinthians 13:3

Did Ted Kennedy do all these good deeds out of love for God?

At 28/8/09 09:19, Anonymous Anonymous 4 said...

I agree with Richard Dahlstrom when he writes;
Maybe it's time for a little humility on our part, and a little gratitude, and a little openness…..

A few thoughts of my own:

Perhaps Senator Kennedy’s commitment to social justice was borne out of his life experience.

Dahlstrom writes;

A constant advocate for the downtrodden, marginalized, and weak, I can't help but think of James definition of true religion when I think of Kennedy, which has to do with caring for widows and orphans in their distress.

I believe it is a well known fact that his mother was a prayerful, faithful Roman Catholic Christian. (Whether one believes that a RC can even be a “real Christian” is a topic for another time).

I am not sure any of us know the true heart of Senator Kennedy. The repentance of his sins of the flesh is between him and God. I think God’s love will always overshadow the bad covering the bad up completely Senator Kennedy’s accomplishments did not overshadow anything. God’s love did. This is called redemption.

Did Ted Kennedy do all these good deeds out of love for God?

I don’t understand the question.

Consider the following section of Matthew 25. No mention of “love’ here yet the actions are infused with love noted in bold.

[32] Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,
[33] and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left.
[34] Then the King will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;
[35] for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
[36] I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'
[37] Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink?
[38] And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee?
[39] And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?'
[40] And the King will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.'
[41] Then he will say to those at his left hand, `Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;
[42] for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
[43] I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.'
[44] Then they also will answer, `Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?'
[45] Then he will answer them, `Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.'
[46] And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

Can we infer then in this story that the goats talk about their "religion" and the sheep live their "religion"?

Could Senator Kennedy have been a sheep?

At 28/8/09 09:31, Anonymous Steve Lansingh said...

Hi Richard. I really appreciate reading your blog and your challenge to readers to stretch their thinking and consider different vantage points from which to view various topics. I've noticed in the comments that you receive a lot of pushback and not much in the way of support and encouragement for your efforts, so I felt compelled to give you a big hearty thanks for your efforts and encourage you to keep writing as you're writing. It is much needed.

There is no way to read your article and come to the conclusion that we need to imitate Ted Kennedy rather than Jesus Christ; you were kind in your response to those assertions, but the post in no way communicates that, and you have no reason to think that you are being unclear.

This commenter is closer to the intent of the article when he says, "you can argue the degree of God’s image that shows in a person, but that would be another discussion." That is, in fact, the very discussion we are having. God's image is imprinted on us all but it does show in varying degrees in the actions that we take.

Ted Kennedy took a lot of actions that reveal the heart of God, and there is no real reason to think that he didn't do it out of a love for God, being a Roman Catholic. In a world of lip service, words, and proclamations of love of the marginalized, taking action is the step most often not fulfilled. Kennedy took that step, and it is important to acknowledge that.

At 28/8/09 18:39, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just don't get this blog. I would never compare Ted Kennedy to God's image....Mother Theresa, but not Ted Kennedy.

I have always thought that Kennedy ended up doing such good things due to what happened at Chappaquiddick. I do believe if this event had not happened he would not have accomplished as much as he did. So some good came from a terrible tragedy.

A lot has been said the past couple of days on the end of Camelot now that Kennedy has died.
Something else I don't understand...I have a friend who likes to say I lived through the Camelot days of President Kennedy and I'm here to tell you they weren't so great!

At 28/8/09 18:55, Anonymous Chris V said...

I want to thank you Richard for the comment and pointing me to the last paragraph. I do agree with your assumption and your fundamental point. I felt that the “Image of God” needed a little more clarity. I do agree with you that we tend to be or can easily be view in a Phariseeism manor. The fact that God teaches us through those who do not always believe as we do, demonstrates to me God’s sovereignty in this world.
I have attended services at your church with my daughter when I am in town. I have always found your sermons to be Biblical and I can see where God uses you in many ways. I have prayed for a church where my daughter can attend and receive Truth, I am glad she found your church.

At 30/8/09 17:40, Blogger Robin said...

Sorry, this comment has nothing to do with Mr. Kennedy. I just wanted to thank you for 02. I signed up to be part of its blog tour. I didn't expect it to change my life. Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing it. Many blessings to you.


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