Rev Ron Ham
The magnificent first chapter of Genesis in the Bible has something important to say about what it means to be human. It opens like this: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…”, and near the end of a majestic description of the stages in that creation, the author writes, “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image.’” If this is true, then the image of God is in even the most spoiled of human beings; that image of God makes them related to us and deserving of at least as much respect and love as we expect for ourselves!
John’s Gospel in the New Testament gives an equally revealing statement about what it means to be human. In a description as grand as the first chapter of Genesis, John writes, “In the beginning was the Word…All things came into being through him.” Then John tells us about Jesus, whom he identifies as that Word, being born into the human family: “The Word became flesh and lived among us…” Only a week ago we celebrated that birth. Referring to that coming of Jesus, John says of him that “the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” The living Word of God, who was present at, and participated in the creation of the world and all its creatures, and was born Jesus of Nazareth, has lit a light in every human being!
Both Genesis and John make these bold claims – every human being is made in God’s image, and everyhuman being has the light of Christ within. Is this true of Pontius Pilate who sentenced Jesus? Yes! Judas Iscariot who betrayed him? Yes! Martin Luther the great Christian reformer and Karl Marx the Communist theorist? Yes! Mozart the superb composer and John Lennon of Beatle fame? Yes! Those remarkable women, Joan of Arc and Florence Nightingale? Yes! Kylie Minogue, a modern Australian idol and Andrew Denton the skilful interviewer and comedian? Yes! The street people of Melbourne and the influential business tycoons at the top end of town? Yes! Each of these is made in God’s image, and each has the light of Christ in them.
I name these people because ‘everyone’ having the image and light only has meaning when he or she is ‘someone’. But as far as we can judge from what we know of them, it appears that the evidence of the image of God and the light of Christ in them is variable, and is hard to find in some of them. There seems little doubt that the image of God is tarnished and the light of Christ is dim in countless human beings. And yet, precisely because the image and the light are there, every person has the potential to become an ‘image of God’ person and a ‘light of Christ’ person.
The presence in us of this image of God and this light of Christ, could be what the English poet, William Wordsworth was trying to express: a presence
“…And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thought…” (Tintern Abbey)
Or it might be what the English poet, Robert Browning felt: strange powers feelings and desires
“I cannot chain my soul; it will not rest
In its clay prison, this most narrow sphere.
It has strange powers, feelings and desires,
Which I cannot account for nor explain…” (Pauline)
Or we might take some light relief and identify this stirring God in a humorous poem about a dachshund, one of those long, low dogs!
“There was a dachshund
Once so long
He hadn’t any notion
How long it took to notify
His tail of his emotion;
And so it happened, while his eyes
Were filled with woe and sadness,
His little tail went wagging on
Because of previous gladness.”
There is in every human being a “previous gladness’, a “presence that disturbs”, “strange powers, feelings and desires” which give the game away. We can ignore or silence these deep stirrings until no visible trace seems to remain, but however deep, however hidden, the image and light are there. If we can begin to grasp this about everyone, we will begin to remove all grounds for pride and prejudice. We will begin at last to understand Jesus in his comments about loving neighbours as we love ourselves. Jesus expressed this by being with ‘tax collectors and sinners” whom he did not put in a special category at the edge of human life. Jesus knew there was image and light in them as in all other people of better reputation.
This view of humankind is what lies at the heart of the mission of this and every church. Doesn’t it make a difference when we can look into the eyes of any person in this city and know that God’s stamp is in their very being? There is hope for them because the Holy Spirit never ceases to connect with what is already there.
An excellent example of this relationship of every human being with God came from the Scottish theologian, John Baillie who taught and wrote during the last century. When he was a chaplain to the British Forces in France during the First World War, he found that many of the soldiers, probably the majority of them, had no clear belief in the existence of God, and certainly never went to church. But Baillie was impressed with their astonishing courage. They would go out under enemy fire to rescue a colleague, and some of them lost their lives doing it.
Baillie realised that though they were not believers, they acted under pressure in Christian ways, giving their lives for their friends. John Baillie came to the conclusion that these soldiers who could not believe in God with the top of their minds actually believed in God in the bottom of their hearts. That is what Genesis and John are telling us – there is in every human being an image of God, and that also means that in every human being the light of Christ is still there.
There are many people in this city, and among our friends, who do not believe in God. It may be that they have looked for but have not found any proof that God exists – or at least no proof that their enquiring mind can honestly accept. In addition, they are troubled, perhaps, by the scale of human suffering, and with passionate objection say that if there was a God of love that God would not allow that to happen. Where was God when the earthquake struck, setting off the devastating tsunami? Their minds are troubled with these questions of meaning, and so they cannot believe in God with the top of their minds.
But we discover in some of them, even if only occasionally, what Baillie discovered in those soldiers – compassion, generosity, justice and other qualities. Many non-believers are giving generously to the appeal for victims of the tsunami, and some are going to devastated areas to use their skills in relief operations. These responses spring from that hidden image and light which is God’s gift to every human being.
Perhaps we should revise our way of seeing other people. Do we see them first of all as sinners? Or should we see them first of all as holding God’s image and Christ’s light? If we were to see them like that, we would build better community, and raise to greater consciousness their connection with God who came in Jesus Christ.
As we come to this Communion Table, let us bring a new appreciation of our fellow human beings who unknowingly share with us the image of God and the light of Christ. We come to this Table as those whose hearts are melted by a love that will not let us go. We will hear it spoken again: “This is my body broken for you”: yes, for you. “This is my blood poured out for you”: yes, for you. And let us remember that that body was a broken, and that blood was poured out for every human being whether they know it or not.