So that’s Christmas done for another year. It seemed to spring up with very little warning and now it’s gone just as quickly. For any readers affected by the abysmal weather in England, I hope you managed to get some enjoyment out of the day this year, and I hope that you’ll be able to get back to normal as soon as possible.
This post isn’t about Christmas (I know, I move on quickly), but there’s been something else on my mind over the last few days other than festivities, and that is the concept of making God in our own image (perhaps there’s a tenuous link to this time of year when we celebrate God being made in human form on Earth, but it’s probably not the most helpful link and it’s really just forced in there because it’s just been Christmas). It says in Genesis that God made man in his image, but if I’m being honest, in my own life and in the things that I see going on around me, there aren’t a lot of people trying to reflect God’s image more faithfully. Instead, people are turning the image of God into whatever they need it to be at that time. I’m guilty of that; we’re probably all guilty of that sometimes, but at this point in time I felt that I wanted to write about it.
Let me take you back to the first millennium after Christ. Throughout those tumultuous centuries Christianity grew and became a European power. And don’t be fooled, it was power. Leaders used it to legitimise their rule; churchmen used it to maintain status over the common mob. The message of Jesus was twisted and changed to suit whoever needed it.
Move into the Middle Ages (roughly 900-1400 A.D.) and the same continues in an increasingly divided Europe. The Roman Empire is gone, replaced by Byzantium in the East and the Holy Roman Empire in the West. Independent states, linked by ties of marriage and common religion (Roman Catholicism) now exist, states such as England, Scotland and France. Kingdoms are forming the north, in Sweden, Denmark and Norway, along with the gradual conversion of the Norsemen to Christianity, bringing them in line with the rest of Europe. In the south-east, beyond the edge of Christendom, the Muslim caliphate extends through the middle-East and parts of North Africa. The ground, both political and religious, is slippery and treacherous.
What’s my point with all this? The point is that the rulers of these nations all claimed that God was with them. The Pope oversaw everything; religion was key to the landscape of politics. If people did not believe that God backed you, your rule was worth very little. So God became a propaganda tool. Convenient bits of the Bible were emphasised and the awkward ones downplayed. They made God in whatever image suited them at the time.
We like to think that we have progressed from those times; we look back on them and consider how backwards those so-called ‘Dark Ages’ were. However, though the way we use God may look different, we are still guilty of it. Think about the debates that rage between Christians on the internet and in politics, debates such as those over same sex marriage or women in ministry. Both sides believe that they are arguing for God, and both know that having God on their side will validate their arguments. Thus, certain passages of the Bible are emphasised and the awkward ones are downplayed. Does that sound familiar?
I’m not writing this to tell people that the debates are worthless, that the issues aren’t important and don’t need to be discussed. I’m writing this to encourage people, Christians, to look again at their relationship with God. Are you doing everything you can to ensure that you reflect Christ, or are you too busy arguing that God shares your particular set of beliefs about social issues? These are questions that I have to ask myself as well. The problem is, it’s so easy to mould God into your own worldview and it’s very hard to mould yourself into God’s ideal. In many ways, it’s threatening. To give yourself over to God and to let him shape you can, and in most cases will, lead to you reassessing your beliefs and maybe (gasp) changing some of them. We are naïve to think that God shares all our opinions on everything.
Are you brave enough to let God shape you? Are you humble enough to let God make you in his image? I don’t know if I am. It’s a big ask. Most of us like to be right, including me, and we get very het up if someone tells us we’re wrong, even if that person happens to be the supreme author of the universe and salvation.
Still, this is something to strive for. God knows what’s best for us and he knows what’s best for the world. If we start trusting him more and acting on what he says, not what we think he should say, maybe the world will be a better place. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. So let’s all take a deep breath, accept that we might be wrong on some things, and turn to God to see what he says. God is not a tool that we can wield in order to further our own purposes.