“I believe in one God…” as it says in the Nicene Creed, I believe that man (and woman) have been created in the “image of God” (Genesis 1.7), and I believe that Jesus central mission was to demonstrate that perfect reconciliation of humanity and God, as John Selby Spong once said: “The way you become divine is to become wholly human.”
The trouble is that through our religious practices (of different faiths) we have sought to re-create God in our image, rather than seeing ourselves – our humanity – as a reflection of God. Here lies our biggest collective wrongdoing (our sinfulness if you want), in our attempts to appropriate God for ourselves, we lose the overall sense of God in humanity. We start to seek our own version of God; often we do it within our own particular religious traditions be that Christian, Jewish, Muslim or whatever. Or else, we create for ourselves “false Gods” such as nation, markets, wealth and the like, in the process we begin to fracture and to devalue that single sense of humanity that holds us all in common throughout time.
This week has seen outrage and uproar over the actions of the newly inaugurated US President Trump, his provocative posturing, and confrontational tone finding early focus around his entry ban on visitors from various “Muslim” nations. It just one example of a reaction to a world that is increasingly fracturing, retreating from consensus and taking refuge behind walls of traditional “certainties”. Our world can seem much safer when the only people we have to encounter are those like us, and if consensus has meant I have been ignored, or if it has led to me feeling unsafe, then why not retreat, why not hunker down and build a wall to protect me and those I care about? Sadly, the effect of such a stance in the longer term is just to further increase division, to feed the insecurities, to fragment us more and more. Of course when such division and fragmentation takes place, there’s always the option of enforcing an appearance of consensus through force – the Pax Romana has been the default setting for Empire for centuries, and it is likely the 21st Century will see its own versions re-appear.
Our lack of humanity, our inability to see ourselves (and those we love) in others lies at the heart of much of the collective wrongs of this world, it separates us from each other, allowing us to objectify, and oppress the other (whoever that might be). Jesus teaches not simply to “love your neighbour as yourself”* but also to “love your enemies”** – two radical calls to understand our own humanity in terms of how we relate to others. Of course we might fail, of course our own human imperfection might result in us falling short, but the call is there nevertheless – the call to live and love, to share humanity. Jesus words teach and reminds us that my salvation and liberation is linked into the salvation and liberation of others – or to use an African word this is a call to Ubuntu.
Ultimately, nothing we do can take away from the fact that alongside the joy and laughter, life is also fraught with danger, littered with tragedy, and unfairness. Just listen to the Psalmists and how, alongside their praises for God, they wail at the pain that life can open us up to – but somehow they point us to reaching out beyond that pain, to risk love, to trust in the God who points the way back for our own humanity.