"The Priority of Love"
I recently re-read an essay by British theologian, Janet Soskice, titled "Imago Dei." The Bible teaches us in the first chapter of Genesis that humans are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Christians of all traditions affirm this important Bible teaching. Christian anthropology begins with this affirmation. The early church father and theologian, Augustine, framed the "imago Dei" as Trinitarian since God is Three in One. He also believed it is by virtue of our mind or inner self that we are in God’s image. Augustine developed this "intellectualist" notion of God’s image and highlighted memory, understanding and will as reflecting the divine life.
Soskice invokes another theologian who offers a contrasting view. Julian of Norwich, an unlettered British hermit, had a series of visions in 1373. She later wrote the content of these visions in two versions and titled them, The Revelation of Divine Love or Shewings. Julian’s book is the first book written in English by a woman. Her central metaphors are drawn from family life--birth, gestation, kinship, and growth whereas Augustine’s images are mental ones: choosing, willing, remembering and understanding.
In order to describe God’s astonishing love for his creatures, Julian turns particularly to motherhood. God’s loving gaze and abiding grace are like a mother’s care for her children. Julian believes that Jesus the Son loves us like a mother twice: at our first creating when the world was made and by our second birth through the Word Incarnate. Her work reminds us that we are created by God and destined to share in God’s life. God turns toward us in love; "the Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (Exodus 34, Psalm 103, Numbers 14, Psalm 86, Joel 2).
I have been studying Jesus’ words in Luke’s gospel (6:27-36) where we read the exhortation, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you." Later in the passage in verse 35, we read: "Your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked." Notice that the command to love enemies is linked to our status as God’s children and God’s example as One who is merciful to all.
Maybe Julian is correct. Perhaps the image of God has mostly to do with "abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness." In the month of February, we read and hear many messages about Valentine Day. When we do, let’s meditate on God’s love and the opportunity to show love to both neighbors and enemies. Let’s commit ourselves anew to showing and telling all people, including the least-reached, about the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Grace and Peace,
Richard L. HaneyExecutive Director