This piece is in response to last week’s article, “Quit Acting Like Pagans.” A Louisiana deacon wonders if God is deformed and suffering from creating the universe and experiencing the pain of humankind. The article reflects the views of its author. Join the discussion. Read and respond. Thank you.
By Charmaine Kathmann, Deacon
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Kenner, LA
In the last email about the Easter Vigil in New Orleans and Christians falling into paganism, the anonymous writer said:
“Christians, Jews, and Muslims believe that every human being is created in the very image of God, that God loves everyone equally, and we are to treat one another as a full and equal child of God. Furthermore, Christians believe that, in Christ, all stand forgiven for faults, failures, and sins, and no one is to stand in judgment of anyone else’s personhood. Furthermore, Christians believe that everyone has an eternal destiny. Thus, society is to provide everyone equal treatment and opportunity to, in the words of the American constitution, ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’”
What does it mean to be Christian — like Christ? How do we keep from sliding into paganism? As I watched the Paschal candle blowing in the wind a block from the mighty Mississippi River (during the St. Polycarp service), I knew that to be Christian (or Jew or Muslim, as we all share Abraham as our ancestor) was to be like Christ — to suffer. I thought that Christ was among us like the wind — an ever-living and life-giving presence. He was the one moving the flame, but we could not predict where it went or where it was going next.
Being Christian means to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to stay true to God’s commands to love Him with our whole heart, mind, and soul, and to love our neighbor, each other, as ourselves. The Paschal mystery may mean that to become like Christ, we must share in his suffering. We may not be created in God’s image as most think — but rather as suffering beings.
Nobody born on this earth escapes the human condition. And the human condition may be to “suffer like Christ.” Now I would hope and pray that I will not be crucified on a cross to die — but there have been painful times in my life which included suffering. Most people suffer because they believe that “Life must be fair,” however, much of my suffering was alleviated when I came to the conclusion that life is not fair — but I still live and strive to treat others with fairness. Sometimes I am able to do so, and at times I fail. Now let us go into a “science-fiction like” journey into who is God?
Very few people in the Bible have ever seen God. Moses came close but a great cloud overcame him and still his face shown, and he had to wear a veil to cover his face. Job suffered much and kept saying he was innocent and demanded to “see” God to ask why he had so many trials in which to live through. At the end God did appear to Job and said, “Where were you when I created the sun and the stars? Where were you when I set the planets in motion?” And as he gazed at God, Job automatically said in his own way, “I’m sorry. I see you are all powerful.” Well why did Job do that? Could it be that God was burned and suffered when he created the sun? It is very, very hot you know. The Paschal fire and candle is hot and we saw it ourselves at the Easter Vigil. For God to breathe life into humans so that they would be alive with free will is just a miracle. But, it is also true that God may have suffered to see his creation do wrong. We do not take care of God’s creation — His universe, or His people.
God made man in his image and we always think that the image is our physical body. Yet, God made man from the dust of the Earth and we only lived when he breathed into our being. So maybe it was not our body that is made in the image of God. Perhaps it is His spirit — His breath. But, that spirit is also alive in the wind. The wind blows wherever it goes and we don’t understand all of its rhyme and reason. Despite all the billions of dollars of man-made computer-generated simulations of hurricanes and storms, we still do not know where the wind comes from and why it destroys. So it may not be from the spirit only that we are in the image of God.
God may have suffered to create the world and all that is in creation. He suffered when he saw people hurt and that is why Jesus healed so many on Earth. Jesus may have healed others so God would not suffer. What do you think? Can you imagine Jesus speaking to God face to face and witnessing God’s distorted shape that had been marred from creating the world and from the actions of mankind on Earth? Is God a God who suffers whenever a husband batters his wife and children? Maybe yes. Is God a God who suffers whenever a soldier is wounded in battle and there is no consolation on the battlefield? Maybe yes, He does suffer. Is God a God who suffers when we hurt our neighbor, or destroy the environment and play human one-upmanship games to get ahead of each other? Maybe yes, yes, yes. For when Jesus spoke to God he may have seen a Godly-being who suffered so much over so many thousands of years that he was much like a science fiction monster all mangled. God’s heart may hardly stand another emotional pain when we humans harm each other. So God’s body may not be the only thing that is deformed from suffering — Is it His heart, and mind, and soul that suffers too?
Well maybe the image of God — that we are in kinship with — is God’s ability to suffer and our ability to suffer only a smidgen of what God endures. We worship God because all the humans in the world could never suffer as much as God, and still God wants to welcome us home, as a prodigal son. God is always ready to hear our prayers and he wants to have a relationship with us — despite opening himself to more pain. So the might, and glory, and image of God may be that we share in his image of suffering. While we run from psychic and physical suffering, it is understandable. We are not God. But if we ever did see God, we would fall on our knees to the horror that we witness and the humility that we know our God has suffered all these eons. God is a mighty God because he holds the door open for us and let’s us in with welcome and open arms. God knows all too well how much it hurts to be unable to escape the human condition, as he sent his son to live the Paschal mystery.
For, when we forget all that Christ suffered on earth, and all God may have suffered to create the universe, that is the point when we begin the slide into paganism. When we cease to love God with our whole heart, mind, and soul, and we don’t love each other as ourselves — then we cease to be Christians.
Respond to this article here.