Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Cultural Mandate and the Image of God

Post 8

Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over … all the earth....

Sorry about the heavy terminology in today’s heading. Don’t worry: The terms are not as difficult to understand as they may sound. In the previous post, I discussed the human race as the image bearer of God. Today’s may seem like a change of subject, but it isn’t. It is going to give some contents to that image.

How would you answer the question: What is the first commandment or assignment given us in the Bible? Perhaps you would say, “Love God and your neighbour” (Matthew 22:38-40). Or maybe you would reply, “The Great Commission” (Matthew 28:19). Well, yes, both of them would be correct. More specifically, the question is: What is the very first commandment given in the Bible before any other? The answer is found in today’s text. Even though this commandment is found in the very first chapter in the Bible, it is amazing that most Christians are hardly aware of it--and disturbing!

If you have a kind of spiritually negative view of the world, it may come as a surprise to you that the first assignment we read about in the Bible is a very worldly one. No, it is not to preach or witness in the way most Christians mean those words. Neither is it to pray or build a church. It is to rule. Rule over what? In short, “over all the earth.”

Though this first command may come as a surprise to you, it should not be so, for Gen. 1 shows us a creating God who rules His Kingdom. If we are made in His image, ruling the earth is therefore not foreign to us. He has created what He wanted to and now hands it over to the human race to rule, to manage in His name, to work with, to take care of. This very first commandment is known as the Cultural Mandate. Please remember that term.

At the time this story was written, the Pagans around Israel were afraid of many things in the creation. They tended to think of sun, moon and stars as some sort of gods. They feared many trees as inhabited by spirits and did not dare touch them. Rocks and mountains, animals and sea monsters, even the sea itself, were objects of fear. These things ruled them as far as they were concerned. Israel was not to be a Pagan nation, but the people were often strongly tempted to adopt the religions of the peoples around them.

Now the Israelites were told that they were to rule all these things that ruled the Pagans. Don’t be afraid of them, the story tells them. Don’t let them rule over you. There is nothing divine about any of it. God made it all and assigned you to rule over it all!

What a revolutionary command this was! It completely turned upside down the whole worldview of the Pagans of their day, that worldview that was so tempting to Israel.

So, as a member of the human race, you are member of a royal family. Every human being as imager bearer has blue blood in her veins. This is true even for the poor and illiterate. Together, as we rule this creation, take care of it, develop it positively. Together we express and display the image of God, the image of the Creator whose work we continue. That is part of the meaning of both the image of God and of the Cultural Mandate.

These two concepts and realities—actually this is one single reality, not plural—will underlie much of the material in future posts both on this blog as well as < Christmus—ChristiansAndMuslims >. So, do keep them in mind, not only as terms but as to their meaning.

Friday, May 29, 2009

You, the Image of God!

Post 6

Genesis 1:27 So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

The image of God is prominent in the chapter from which you have been reading so often these days. It is something you are created with. Let’s take a closer look at it.

First, note how it is emphasized. In verse (vs) 26 we overhear God planning to “make man in our image, in our likeness.” “Image” and “likeness” mean the same thing here. Then, in vs. 27 God carried out His plan and again the same terms are used. Obviously, this image stuff is something very important.

Secondly, note that there is no clear definition of this image here. This is true also for the rest of the Bible. The Bible is not a dictionary or a book of definitions. It is the Book of Life! Of Reality, not of arid definitions. This does not mean that we cannot glean its meaning from the Bible, something to which I will return soon in another blog.

Thirdly, note the great honour involved in having the image of God imprinted upon you. I suspect that most people reading these blogs are average people without much power or wealth. Just imagine: you, an average, ordinary citizen, maybe not even a citizen, you carry within yourself the image of the Most High of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, of your Creator. That is no small thing about you!

You may be average or even less than average, but listen. Get this straight! It is not the fact that you are average and either relatively or wholly powerless that defines you, that is the most important thing about you. It is the image of God in you that defines you and determines your status. You have every reason to lift up your head and stand tall and straight. You are somebody! You are important. Don’t belittle yourself as a useless, powerless or poor person and therefore helpless. The image of God in you!

Bearing this image is not the privilege of a select group of people. We make class distinctions; God does not. We honour some and despise others. Some are considered great, while others are despised as small. Throughout human history, the rich and powerful use the poor and powerless for their own purposes.

The problem is that many poor people not only agree that they are poor, but also that they are powerless—and therefore they are powerless. We think ourselves into that status and therefore we acquiesce, we give in and let the powerful get away with it. Nigerian villagers often give in and even go further by belittling themselves as illiterates and mere talakawa (Hausa language term for the poor, powerless and largely disenfranchised.It took an Abraham Kuyper to liberate the same class of people called "kleine luyden" in The Netherlands. These talakawa and kleine luyden everywhere tend to honour and bow before the very people who despise and oppress them.

Wake up! Your are created in the image of the Most High. You deserve respect and honour as much as anyone. Maybe you have no wealth or power, but you carry that image. That realization should make you rise and stand tall; it can transform you into the person you are designed to be.

In closing, just a comment about Muslim reaction to the powerful concept of the image of God in us. They outrightly reject it—or so they think. I hope to address that soon in my other blog < Chrismus—ChristiansAndMuslims >, where I will show that perhaps what they reject is not the genuine concept but a distorted version of it. If you are a Muslim, please keep an eye on that blog for an explanation geared to you.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Kingdom of God Everywhere

Post 5:

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created ….

Today we meditate on the fact that when God created, He created not just a universe, but a universe that is His Kingdom. The story of creation is the story of the establishment of God’s Kingdom, even though the word itself is not used in Gen. 1.

The fact that God created the universe makes Him the owner of it all. This is a strong emphasis throughout the Old Testament. The Psalmist wrote, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for He founded it upon the seas and established it upon the water” (Psalm 24:1-2). We find the same truth expressed time and again: “Let all the earth fear the Lord…, for He spoke, and it came to be…” (Ps. 33:8-9). Ps. 89 tells us, “The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth; you founded the world and all that is in it.” “His kingdom,” we are told in Ps. 103, “rules over all.”

This relationship is confirmed in the New Testament (NT) by the Apostle Paul in Acts 17:24. God is Lord because He made the earth. That is the reason or basis, Paul told the Athenians. The NT says many more things about the Kingdom, but it is all an expansion and a further enrichment of the OT teaching of the Kingdom.

So, today, wherever you go, remember you are in His Kingdom. Today, whatever you touch, be aware you are touching part of His Kingdom and should treat it accordingly.

The creation basis of the Kingdom of God has deep and profound meaning. Among other things, it means that there is no place, no thing, no animal, no person who is not part of the Kingdom, who is outside of it. The verses above, along with Ps. 24:1-2, Ps. 33:8-9, and many other passages, show this clearly. Even people who either do not know God or who reject Him are still part of that Kingdom, whether they like it or not, whether they know it or not. “For dominion belongs to the Lord and He rules over the nations,” says Psalm 22:28. It should be understood that this claim does not necessarily mean that everyone is “saved.” For that, more is required.

The creation basis of the Kingdom, and I want to emphasize this, means also that the Kingdom does not consist exclusively of people. It includes ALL of creation—animals, water, land, rocks, and so on. This Kingdom is as wide as reality itself.

The Biblical teaching of the Kingdom is very comforting. Wherever you go, He rules. Even if you go into the territory of your enemies, God’s power is there to protect you. For Nigerians and people in many other countries, it means you no longer tremble when you enter the office of an oppressive government official. Even that official is in some way ruled by God and will be used by Him. If you go in unbelief, you will naturally be afraid. But when you go in faith, hope and courage drive away your fear. Your God, your King is there even before you arrive….

In the Western world, we do not usually tremble when we enter a government office, but you may well tremble if you enter a university classroom and you want to say your piece. You will soon feel the extreme secular bias of the place with its stonewalling. But that, too, is part of the Kingdom in spite of all the haughty denials. Challenge Him by challenging them!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Service in the World = Spiritual Service

Post 4

Genesis 1:31 God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.

Yesterday I emphasized the goodness of God’s world and its values in His eyes. Apart from celebration, there is another reason for emphasizing this point at the beginning of our journey. When you have a spiritual contempt for this world or you think God is not very interested in it, you will not understand your proper task in it. It will be hard to understand God’s concern for the things of this world and His love for His entire creation. You will not feel the push to make it a better place. You will not feel the need to improve it and will regard those who spend themselves in working in this world as being busy with things of secondary importance. You will see their work as inferior to that of those whose work is more "spiritual" in nature. You will think that the real servant of God is not she who works in a government office or he who drives a taxi. The real servant of God is the church worker, especially the pastor and evangelist.

The perspective just described is very common among Christians—and as wrong as it is common. If you want to know how to serve God, you must know the meaning of the creation from God’s point of view. Being wrong here will almost guarantee that your entire life will be wrong.

As you continue this journey with me, you will be exploring spiritual service in a worldly or earth(l)y way. This may do two things for you. First, it will help you realize the importance and the meaning of your work, however menial or boring you may have found it till now. Secondly, it will help you find joy in your work. It will become both more meaningful and joyful. How many people can say that about their "worldly" job?

Friday, May 1, 2009

Celebrating the Creation of the Physical

Genesis 1:31 God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.

You will be reading from Gen. 1 for a few posts, though perhaps interrupted by comments on current events. When you read it, what do you think of first? You may be thinking of the creation-evolution controversy. The chapter has long been central to this dispute.

My purpose is different today. We want to begin our journey by celebrating the goodness of God’s creation. The chapter tells us about the goodness, the beauty, the value of the physical world around us. Five times are we told "God saw that it was good." Then the sixth time in verse 31, we read "God saw all that He had made, and it was very good."

Please note that these pronouncements concern the physical universe especially. The whole chapter deals with the creation not of spiritual beings or values first of all, but of very physical things like animals and plants, water and land. These are the things described as "very good."

It is good for us to remember that in God’s eyes, the things of this world are not evil in themselves. Too many people think that God does not value the world of physical things very much, that He prefers spiritual things and truths. Nothing is farther from the truth. God, the Creator, declares them to be "very good." For us to despise them is, therefore, wrong. It is to despise what He Himself has made and declared good. To put it even stronger, to have some sort of spiritual contempt for His world is to have contempt for Himself. A major emphasis in this blog will be a positive approach to God’s world.