Chapter V. In the Image of God
IN moving from a consideration of God to a consideration of man, the transition is easy. We pass from God to God's image. No introduction of human life into the pages of immortal literature could excel the single sentence which sets man in the world, second only to God Himself--God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him. In the truth of this statement consists our only, though our sufficient, hope for the race. Human nature is insured of a worthy destiny. It can never become the caprice or puppet of a mere creator. Man is, in his main character, the beloved child of a loving Father whose likeness is stamped upon his inmost self-hood.
Wherein does man's likeness to God consist? In capacity for self-giving--I use this term rather than love because it accentuates the power and effort of choice, which is the keynote of liberty. Whatever human life becomes, it becomes by cumulative decision, not by chance. Power of choice is the heritage of our manhood; its neglect or destruction is the abdication of human personality.
It is not with the will alone but with the total self that high choice is made. This includes our affections and intelligence as well as the categorical imperative of our being. The will alone, it is true, can force us and hold us to duty with the balance of our nature in violent revolt, and there is something sternly splendid in the process, but it is stoical rather than Christian. There are occasions when the will as helmsman and the conscience as captain must keep the ship steady to her course with the whole creed of inner faculties and outer senses in mutinous mood. But the triumph of choice is achieved when the personality decides as a unified whole. This can come about only by living life steadily and living it whole. Preference frequently must be put to school to conscience, and the lower is always a laggard pupil of the higher.
The highest choice that self can make is to give self to the Self-giver. This is living religion. Just as God's first gift to man was Himself in the endowment of the Divine image, so the first gift of man to God must be in kind. Anything less than self is a denial of organic relationship. Let us once admit that God has made common lot with us, and it follows that making God our first and fullest choice should be spontaneous. Our co-likeness with God insures our success in finding Him. If we are discouraged in our religious experience, let us linger awhile over the thought of our being built in the image of God and we shall soon find ourselves moving towards Him with the naturalness of children to their Father.
We must emphasize the firstness of our choice of God as the receptacle into which to pour self. We, the first-born of His creatures, must give Him in intensity and in order the firstness and then the fulness of our choice. Von Hügel, in his curious forcible language, drives home the thought when he says: "Religion is essentially Social vertically--indeed, here is its deepest root. It is unchangeably a faith in God, a love of God, an intercourse with God." There is something splendidly suggestive in the thought of the soul's "vertical" choice. It chooses ambitiously the highest heights, surmounting clouds, adventuring sunwards and beyond. The soul leaves side issues and dilettantism far in the rear as it rises vertically, a "convinced follower of the straight line."
There is something of the mystics' thought that God "needs us," in a writer whom we would harldy suspect of mysticism, William James, the great exponent of pragmatism:--
"I confess that I do not see why the very existence of an invisible world may not in part depend on the personal response which any one of us may make to the religious appeal. God himself, in short, may draw vital strength and increase of very being from our fidelity. For my own part, I do not know what the sweat and blood and tragedy of this life mean, if they mean anything short of this. If this life be not a real fight, in which something is eternally gained for the universe by success, it is no better than a game of private theatricals from which one may withdraw at will. But it feels like a real fight,--as if there were something really wild in the universe which we, with all our idealities and faithfulnesses, are needed to redeem; and first of all to redeem our own hearts from atheisms and fears. For such a half-wild, half-saved universe our nature is adapted. The deepest thing in our nature is this dumb region of the heart in which we dwell alone with our willingnesses and our unwillingnesses, our faiths and our fears."
I have gone on quoting beyond that which is apposite because of the discerning beauty and power of the entire passage.
We best learn that we are made in the image of God by, so to speak, matching our likeness with His in the mirror of Jesus Christ. No one can seriously and thoroughly survey the reasoned as well as the instinctive sacrificial history of the race without seeing in it the likeness to the Lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world to the Christ of Calvary. The groundwork of the universe and of man, its crown and climax, is patterned after the groundwork of the character of God, and more and more it reveals itself to be in the form of the Cross.
In the reckless, and yet calculated, self-giving of to-day for the benefit of to-morrow, out of sheer loyalty to dominating ideals of righteousness, justice and liberty, self-sacrifice has reached a summit hitherto unsealed. The horrors of the Great War are compensated for by the wealth of self-giving found behind its scarlet veil.
What heart does not quicken to the tramping of that massed human courage, which to quote an American lad who fought with the British forces before his own country came in, one moment is clothed in the superb glory of young manhood and the next is nothing but a few fluttering rags on a tangle of barbed wire? Who is so tame as not to be thrilled by the self-abandonment of the youth who sends home this message as, under no compulsion save his own glorious choice, he strides away to take his place by the big guns:--"I hate war and loathe everything military, but I see the issue at stake and must go. I am not afraid to die, except that it will give pain to mother." What is there on record more enduring and vital than the sacrificial victory of the Belgian defiance of "science without a soul" and, its sister, the Gallipoli adventure in which, as Masefield insists, men aimed at, and almost achieved, not merely the impossible but also the unimaginable?
Let us thank God that He "has matched us with this hour." Our day and generation is full of men conformed to the likeness of God and worthy to follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth. Religion may be halting and crude in its form, but it is powerful in its substance.
Self-giving, to borrow further from von Hügel, is horizontal as well as vertical. Of course it must be so. We cannot choose God without choosing what God chooses. If we recognize God as Father we do so solely on the basis of being made in His image. Involved in our choice of Him is the choice of all the rest of the family constructed after the same pattern. The inspiration of the thought that the human race is our heritage and the measure of our capacity for fellowship, is second only to the thought that we are made in the image of God and that He is ours as well as we His. The horizontal choice strikes across the vertical and makes the sign of the Cross, or self-giving, over our human relationships. With and for the rest of humanity we must work out our sacrificial or self-donative career.
Even if but two men sincerely and fully were to choose vertically and horizontally there would be of necessity group self-giving or a Catholic Church--a Church whose life found expression in the terms of the whole. Such a Church there is, vast beyond knowledge, hidden rather than manifest. It comprises a family, each member of which knows the Father, and is known of Him, though each with his own intimate secrets and each with his own personal knowledge and experience. By mutual interchange of all their treasures each is enriched by and enriches the rest. The giving of self does not mean the suppression of self; on the contrary, it means the realization of self. All that every one knows of God is, so far as it goes, good. It is incomplete in itself. It needs amplification and relationship to the whole. Whatever pruning it may require it is never abrogated or nullified by any subsequent manifestation or discovery. God never makes mistakes in His self-showing. Man never makes hopeless mistakes in his discovery of God except so far as he tries to make his own experience or conception of God the whole of revelation without regard for what God has revealed of Himself to others. Sectarianism, in spirit and in form, is par excellence the cult of the incomplete. It is a refusal to consider truth and life in terms of the whole, not merely the whole of now but the whole of yesterday. It pins its trust to the dicta of a group or the findings of a fixed period. It is content to worship and to defend a conception of God instead of God. It lacks the shape of the Cross which rises vertically as high as God, and stretches right and left to the outermost bounds of humanity. In its extremist form it not only refuses to recognize as acceptable to Christ any group-culture save its own, but it also questions others' right to continue to be. It is precisely this spirit, not in one special Church but in many, which has disrupted Christendom.
Unity, visible and invisible, is not an accident of the Gospel. It is the Gospel. There is one body, and one Spirit even as also ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Upon honest recognition of this depends our knowledge of God and our understanding of man in all their richness and power. We need not wait for the outward manifestation of catholicity before thinking and praying and loving in terms of the whole. We can direct our choice toward catholicity now.
We can begin by refraining from condemning doctrines with which we are not familiar, and which we know solely from the standpoint of controversial prejudice. If we are moved to a study of phrases of thought or usage foreign to our experience, let our study of the subject be in the best constructive expression of its own exponents. We must bear in mind that Truth is that which men live by. When individuals or group-Christians, commonly called churches, though I shrink from applying so sacred and complete a term even to the largest fragment of Christendom--when they are found, generation after generation, adhering to a given doctrine, it is fair to assume that a vital truth is imbedded in that doctrine.
To take a single illustration: The major portion of the Church has from an early moment practised the Invocation of Saints. A little examination might reveal to those to whom it is an unaccustomed doctrine, that its chief offence is in their idea of it or in its abuse. It stands for the permanent interrelationship of life on earth and beyond. It has its scientific counterpart in psychical research. At its root is the superb conception of the un-loneliness of God--so that in approaching God you approach the crowded self-giving life of all heaven. Look through your Bible and see how God hates separateness or loneliness. From Genesis to Revelation He gathers close to Him His beloved in men and angels and living creatures. The figure of a lamb is part of His symbolic life. The Invocation of Saints makes direct appeal to those who stand nearest to Him and share His life of self-giving. I write as one who prefers to reach the saints on high through God, but I refuse to condemn those who prefer to reach God through the saints. Provided it is not the chief or only way of approach to Him, it is quite Christian. The matter is only one of: formal usage. Underneath lies the splendour of the unloneliness of God and the Communion of Saints.
Let this one illustration suffice.
The churches will become the Church when there is in them all mutual horizontal as well as unified vertical self-giving. We have this to encourage us that there is an increasing disposition in this direction, a growing readiness to think in terms of the whole and a deliberate group-choosing of a life larger than that of its own prescribed boundaries. A self-centred church is self-destructive. Aloofness is something worse than schism. It is the root and origin of schism, deliberate segregation and isolation of the jewel from its setting, the part from its whole. Like the individuals who compose it, a church must be signed with the sign of the Cross, as well as be able to sign others with it. Its efficacy of signature is bound up with its completeness of surrender. All life comes in to being and is sustained by the One Spirit in His perpetual flow of self-giving. So far as a church fails to be a self-giving body it belies its origin and its character as a Spirit-bearing body, for it is the character of the Spirit to give without measure, deeply and inwardly as well as extensively.
Salvation consists in being lost in the universal. No individual or group experience becomes a permanent contribution to the world or reveals a dependable principle upon which to construct future experiences, until it has submitted to and stood the test of the universal. Churches must be ready to die before they are worthy to live. We hug our tenets because they are ours, and we reject the tenets of others because they are theirs. We look at the brand on this or that embodiment of truth rather than at the embodiment, and judgment is pronounced on appearances instead of merits.
The same Spirit that is searching out the heart of nations to-day is searching out the heart of national churches and revealing to them their provincialism. The time has come when we can no longer rest satisfied to express Catholic truth and order in terms of national religion, the greater in the terms of the lesser; we must begin to express national religion in terms of catholicity, the part in terms of the whole.
Praised be God for the image of Himself with which He has indelibly stamped me. Thou hast endowed me with power of choice. It is Thy power, and without Thee it is a menace to myself and my fellows. In its right direction is freedom. By choice we fall: by choice we rise. No choice is free unless it be guided by Thee. No choice is wise except it be inspired by Thy wisdom. I praise Thee, O God, for all the right choices that I have made. I praise Thee for that I can reverse all the wrong choices of the past by a new and right choice. Lord, I would praise Thee by choosing right, by choosing Thee instead of me, by choosing Thy way and not mine, by choosing shame and pain, if need be, rather than honour and ease. Save me from the sectariansim of self into the catholicity of Thee.