Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Restoring Us To His Image, Part Two by Teresa Beem

In part one, we explored Christ's command to "be perfect" as God the Father is perfect and what that really means to us as Christians today. I suggested that one way we may better obey Christ and restore us to the image of God is through finding and living the joy of self-sacrifice. For the ultimate example of how to be perfect as God is perfect was seen in the joy of Christ's offering of Himself on the Cross. If we look to the Cross, then we see that perfection isn't about keeping laws perfectly or learning perfect truth or making perfect decisions and acting perfectly. As humans we will never be able to know all and so we will make mistakes. However, what we are able to do is love like the Father... love perfectly. 

It is found in suffering for the other. For suffering helps us to understand this eternal and highest thing we call love. In fact, suffering in an act of self-giving, best exemplifies love.

And this is hard for most people to understand. Before I was a Catholic, I would have simply stared at that concept without even the slightest notion of how to understand that, for I had been raised in a culture that says love is a feeling, a tender connection between two people. I did not see love as a gift of self-sacrifice based on one's will. I never realized that perfect love was not easy to give.

While we all enjoy things like gifts, time with each other, people listening to us, the greatest gift one can ever receive is when a beloved is in need and another person gives up what they need for the beloved.

I don't mean that real love is giving your ice cream to someone. I mean the really hard stuff.

Jesus told us that the greatest love is for a man to give his life for his friend. Sometimes that is not just taking a bullet for them. Sometimes it is not about an instant death to save another--as a soldier gives his life for his country on a battlefield. Sometimes giving one's life for another means giving up your dreams, your ambitions, your rights, your energy for them--day in and day out. Sometimes we are called to be living martyrs of love.

Think of the husband whose wife has had a stroke and his days are spent in total care,

brushing her teeth, dressing her, helping her to the bathroom not for a day, but until death do they part. This sacrifice, as painful as it is, through Christ's grace, we can learn to give with joy. And that will restore us to perfection.

Think of the spouse who has been unfaithful, or is an alcoholic, or is irresponsible. While love does not mean to sacrifice so that these people can remain in their sin. It does mean that we give up what we want, what is easiest for us, in order to authentically help that person be better. True love does not enable people to be weak and sinful. True love stands by, never abandoning them, as love helps them be strong overcomers of sin.

A side note: Please understand I am not saying this saves us. This is not about justification or earning salvation. This is about restoring us to perfection--sanctification. My audience is the Christian--the one already accepting the covenant relationship of God and themselves.

The Garden of Eden

I have been thinking about this quite a bit and here's some thoughts about how this idea of perfection can be traced all the way back to the Fall of Man in the garden.

After humankind sinned, we learned to take care of ourselves first; we began to look inward and no longer enjoyed sacrifice. God knew that we would have relearn what had been natural to us--the joy of sacrifice and self-giving. And the "punishments" of God in the garden of Eden were to help us regain this knowledge of the natural joy of self-giving.

God Disciplines Man

Let's look at the Genesis story after the fall:
To the woman he [the Lord] said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” Genesis 3: 16-19

In these verses, God is using His gift of creation in order to restore us back into His image. These chastisements were not simply punishments to show us who was boss. No, these were specific penances/disciplines in order to restore us to His image.

Man's sin was that he did not truly love God, nor his wife. For Adam's love for his Creator was neither obedient to the command to take authority over the earthly kingdom nor did Adam love his wife perfectly. For Adam deferred to his wife. Because she was so beautiful a creature, since she had been the crowning creation, the man abandon his wife to deal with a deception without intervening as was his job as her husband. Keep in mind that Adam was not deceived. He was being irresponsible and disobedient. He fell to cowardice.

Therefore, God had to reverse these tendencies that would now follow man through the millennia. He had to give the man courage to take responsibility and act with self-sacrifice. Therefore, God told man that he must work hard tilling the ground. He must act in order to take responsibility for his wife and family.

In order for he and his family to survive, man must act with courageous love. He could not stay within the protective confines of his mother and father, but God said men must leave his parents--go out--and make his own kingdom cleave to his one wife--take courageous, self-denying actions.

By this action of hard work and sacrificing his mind and body, by being faithful to his wife, he would be taking back the kingdom he had been given by God.

The attachment to the land, the working and striving with the soil was man's way back--his restoration--to perfection. Man's sanctification would come through responsibility for a family. (Again to re-emphasize--this isn't taking away from salvation history and redemption through the Cross, this post is describing a kind of earthy penance.)

God still uses this method for man's sanctification. And that is why Satan has attacked men in this area. Satan does not want man to take authority over his earthly kingdom. Satan wants man perpetually irresponsible and cowardly. Satan has made men weak and given them Peter Pan syndrome.

Satan has taken men from the soil and enslaved him to the little illusionary digits in his bank account. He has lost his freedom and independence and man is reduced to toiling day in and day out for another man's kingdom, thrilled to get a few dollars, rather than seeing the work of his own hands on his own land. Satan's system has long been to make men nothing more than robots, creating a system where men no longer have kingdoms. Instead of self-sacrificing courageously for his family, many men have given their souls over to strive for mammon. And that is if they are striving for anything anymore. Many men have been raised to simply see life as a place to seek entertainment and comfort--watching others work hard for heroic masculinity via sports, video games and movies rather than becoming a hero themselves. 

Men today are demeaned by the culture. They are shamed into believing they have toxic masculinity. They are told they must not take up for themselves, that they are stupid and unneeded, that their most basic instincts are unworthy and evil--even their instinct to pursue a wife and then care of her. They cannot be the hero they desire to be, for everything they need to redeem them into the men God intended them to be has been shamed and mocked and stolen from them. 

Satan wants our culture to prevent man from learning perfect love through the joy of self-sacrifice. So Satan has allowed them to give into the dark and deep abyss of their weaknesses and now western men are vain, gender ambiguous cowards who would rather be a hero in a video game gratifying their sexual needs with a cyber freak than a wife.

And this has been Satan plan all along. 

Men need to start taking back their kingdoms. Marry. Have kids. Work hard for them. Be responsible and courageous and don't allow your wife to be deceived. Be a good warrior for God by being obedient. Be a good husband by making her your queen. Be a good father by disciplining your children, teaching them courage and godliness through your example. Take authority with sacrificial love. And ask for the grace to do it with joy.

Be a king. 

That was what you were made to be. For you were created in the image of God. 

(In part three we will discuss how Satan has tried to rip away women's sanctification, the female way of attaining joy through self-sacrifice.) 

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