27.8.09

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 views on abortion. All this is 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, homosexuals, 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.

15 comments:

  1. I'm A youth pastor at a church in Texas. I'm on my way out because of the fact that my views differ so much from that of the pastoral staff, and church leaders. If I were to read and advocate this blog in their presence I would be considered a heretic. With that said I stand on your side. This is a beautiful example of taking a man that we as christians have beat up over the years and celebrating the light that shined in that darkness. - Thank You.

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  2. Richard,
    This was beautiful. I've struggled with my feelings towards Kennedy's death because of Chappaquidick and all the lore surrounding the Kennedy name, but you are right. He was a man, he, (like us all) was created in God's image, and he did do immeserably more for the rights of the downtrodden than possibly any other Senator, and there is nothing wrong in celebrating that. Thank you for this piece.

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  3. one small quibble: we right-wingers don't think the government shouldn't "care" about those in need. We just don't agree that more govt is the best solution to their needs.

    As for the entirety of the post: I agree with you. Unsaved people still bear God's image,m and He can and will do might things through them. Plus, there's always a chance Ted was saved. He fell a lot as a man, but many of us have done so, myself included.

    It did my heart good to see how the praise of him this week has been bipartisan.

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  4. I love this post. Thanks.

    It reminds me a little of the words of Amos in the ninth chapter seventh verse: "Are not you Israelites the same to me as the Cushites?" declares the Lord.

    And then I love Saint Augustine's words when he says, "Many sheep are without and many wolves are within."

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  5. James, I can see your point. However, I ask you this: If not the government, who should take care of them? The church? Jesus asked us to do that more than 2000 years ago. How long do we wait?
    I do know that the Church is doing a lot. But it's proven that it can't or won't do it all.

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  6. Sharon, it's a valid question, and one we can discuss only if the writer of the original post doesn't mind the hijack of his post. My point wasn't intended to start that debate, but to point out what I believe to be a commonly-heard fallacy about conservatives. We do care about the poor. Our solution might be different from what liberals want, but that doesn't mean we don't care.

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  7. oh gosh James, I'm sure you care. My point wasn't that you or conservatives in general don't care. It's that since you do care, what do you think should be done? You say, we the government, aren't the best solution. I just ask, what is the better solution.

    Sorry to have hijacked. I just couldn't let that go. I really didn't want you to be under the impression that I thought you didn't care.

    You say: "we right-wingers don't think the government shouldn't "care" about those in need. We just don't agree that more govt is the best solution to their needs."

    To say that government isn't the best solution, isn't a solution. What is?

    I love the article!

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  8. I used the word "care" because in the original post, he said "declaring the government shouldn't care about racism, or gender equality, or health care,"

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  9. http://www.burnsidewriterscollective.com/reviews/books/b/who_really_cares_by_arthur_c_b_10507.php

    Here's a link to a review at touches on your question Sharon. You're question is a valid one. However, it needs to live in tension with, "is gov't capable of being more of the answer?" The cure must be better than the disease.

    I'm becoming more of a moderate the older I get. One of the things that keeps me from switching parties is a disbelief that the Federal gov't can accurately provide the relief/safety net necessary.

    I'd rather spend my life nudging the church...

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  10. Larry, I think there are two things to consider, one of which (is govt capable?) you brought up. The other is: is it good for people to have a mindset of dependency on govt to take care of them in new ways?

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  11. in a representative democracy as we have, we are the government. We vote, we serve and the money the government has, is ours.

    There is no "they, the government."

    In countries where the people are not hungry, not homeless, not sick with no health care...

    How are they doing it? As far as I know, they do it collectively, through the tool of government.

    In countries with more poor and starving than we have here in the USA, taking care of the poor is left to missionaries and other religious and humanitarian groups. And as wonderful as they are, they are not solving the problem.

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  12. The third thing, James, if we are to told onto a conservative politic, are we willing to be prodigal with our generosity, with time and money.

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  13. Larry, I just saw your comment. You are correct: the church has dropped the ball in regards to caring for the poor. Big time.

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  14. I did not know Ted personally; maybe those who knew him saw in his the image of God.
    Maybe he was a good man. However, to the best of my recollection, only three people were ever said to be in the image of God: That would be Adam and Eve before sin, and Jesus when he walked the earth. Maybe Ted also. Read more about the image of God in the book called: THE IMAGE OF GOD IN THIS GENERATION

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