A couple of years ago, I was at the home of some friends for a dinner. During the meal, their kids, all quite young, had been rather loud, cranky, self-absorbed, and unmannered, as is the way sometimes with young children and with the ups and downs of the dinner table. After the meal, when they’d left to play in an adjoining room, the mother, tired and frustrated from her battle of wills with them, made this comment: “Sometimes when I look at my kids, I blush with a kind of shame because I see myself in their faults! I know exactly from where they get all of that! It’s in their genes. I see my faults inside of them. The good thing is that, seeing this, triggers a real compassion in me. I want to hug them and apologize!”
There’s a wonderful theology in that observation. The way she felt, looking at her children and their faults, is, I suspect, the way God must feel as he looks at us, his kids, with our unmannered faults and our self-absorption. God is like that mother. No doubt God experiences the same frustration in his battle of wills with us, but, no doubt too, God fills with compassion and understanding in the face of our faults, blushing with a little shame for how he made us. Like that mother, God sees exactly where all of this comes from and who and what is responsible for those congenital propensities.
That can sound like blasphemy, but it’s quite the opposite really. It’s not an attempt to blame God for our faults, but rather an effort to explain, more deeply, why we are as we are, why we have tendencies towards sinful and destructive things, why life is so infinitely complex, and, most important of all, why God was not a stingy, small-minded, small-hearted, petty, defensive creator when she made us.
When God made us, she didn’t play it safe, making us small, stupid, mechanical, easy to control, low-risk projects. God rolled the dice and risked the highest possible stakes, love and freedom. God gave us as much as she could give without making us, ourselves, gods and goddesses (the one thing God can’t do). God made us godly, almost divine, and that has consequences.
God is infinite, the creator of everything, self-sufficient Being, and Being who, in a manner of speaking, owns everything that is—all beauty, all love, all truth, all existence, and even all pleasure. That’s a lot to carry without losing one’s balance. God never loses her balance, but we, who have been given so much divine dignity and energy, often do.
And that’s the problem: If we sense within us a divine likeness, is it any wonder that sometimes we inflate with grandiosity and strut with pride; if we sense inside us infinite love, is it any wonder that we sometimes fill with lust and want to make love to the whole world; if we sense within us God’s holding all of being in existence, is it any wonder that we are often greedy and jealous, convinced like the mythical gods of old that we have first rights to sleep with everyone and that the whole world is really ours; if we sense within us the ecstasy of fulfillment that is inside of God, is it any wonder that we tend to excess and addictions, that we would want to swallow all the food, drink, and pleasure in the world and do nothing other than drink in its enjoyment; and if we sense that we are godly in nature, is it any wonder that we fill so easily with hatred and murderous rage when we are slighted or ignored?
We see this crystal-clear in some of its higher expressions; for example, in our experience of creativity. Why do so many great artists have such a temptation towards atheism or various forms of idolatry? It’s no great mystery. The greater the talent, the greater the work produced, the greater the artist, the more divine energy that seeps through, the easier it is to mistake the image of God for its reality—which is always the definition of idolatry.
The heart has its reasons. So too do pride, idolatry, lust, greed, anger, and concupiscence. God built us in a rather unsafe way. To walk the earth like gods and goddesses is, in fact, a dangerous business. Fortunately God knew this before she made us and, like an understanding mum who has mused on the origins of her children’s faults, still took that risk and now blushes just a little as she looks at us and our foibles and faults.