By Dave Hopwood
“You are the best bit of multi-media God has.” A good mate of mine once coined that phrase and it’s stuck with me.
“Don’t you dare go making an idol — a small, lifeless, inanimate representation of me,” God once said. You see, he’d already made an image and placed it all over the planet. Living breathing sweating, smiling, arguing, questioning pieces of flesh. Everywhere. Chips off the divine block. People are the best sermons there are. Watch friends together, parents and grandparents, workers, tourists, the homeless, the rich, the poor, the broken, the unemployed. Their living speaks volumes about the God who wired them up.
This also of course explains why people see God’s image doing something harmful or destructive and go on to profess that there therefore cannot be a good God up there somewhere. Subconsciously, sub-spiritually they make the connection, if God’s representative can do that sort of terrible thing, then God himself cannot be helpful or benign, or even, existent.
From Adam through Abraham through Moses and the Kings and the Prophets, this was the plan. God would choose people who would accurately represent the Boss to the rest of the planet and thereby keep them well informed about the compassionate, passionate creator who put it all together. And time again these God-shaped people lost the plot.
So you know the saying — if you want something doing properly, do it yourself. So God did. The ultimate image — the perfect Israelite. Spending a lot of his time doing what? Well, for much of his life, growing up, sweating over a work bench, eating and drinking and doing a million ordinary things so normal they didn’t make it into the good book. I do wonder whether Mary and Joe grounded Jesus after that temple incident at the tender age of twelve.
“You’re not going out again till you’re thirty!” says Joe, and that’s why we have no other record of Jesus’s adventures while growing up. But I digress.
When he did get out again Jesus spent a lot of his time with the people on the fringes, the overlooked and downtrodden, sitting down in the back streets and dark alleys of the Holy Land. He ate a lot of food, told countless funny stories, made people feel better about life and generally hacked off the religious authorities. He showed the rest of us what being the image of God is really all about. And of course it’s a hard act to follow. But come the day of Pentecost God wouldn’t be deterred. “You lot can be my hands and feet to the world now. Off you go.”
When Jesus was about to depart the planet his friends, who still hadn’t really got the point by then asked him when he was going to deliver God’s kingdom to their world. And Jesus effectively replied, “I’m not. You are.”
When a Samaritan woman asked Jesus for water he cited Ezekiel 47 and told her she was more than welcome to the water he was bringing, but it came with a responsibility; living water was hers so she could pass it on and bless the land. Which, affirmed and inspired, she promptly did, dragging her whole village to the living well. That’s a little intimidating for losers like me ” I’m no good at dragging whole villages along; so I take heart from Shane Claiborne who once said: “Get ready, God is preparing you for something very, very… small. Because it’s small things that change the world.” Old Testament prophecies spoke of the coming branch of Jesse who would deliver the people. Then Jesus laid out his manifesto and turned it all upside down. “You’re the branches,” he said, “not me, I’m the vine, you can change the planet a little bit.”
Tom Shadyac, director of Bruce Almighty, tells the story of the nun who goes to see God and says, “Look at all this mess down here. Why don’t do you do something?” To which God replies, “I have done something — I made you.”
Er, I wouldn’t do it that way if I were you, God. What’s your “Plan B”?
“No plan B,” says God, “you can have my blessing and ability and compassion. Some of you will misuse it and abuse it, all of you will only get a glimpse of it, but I’m not a control freak. I want to see what you do with it and how you use these rich talents. Now off you go. Stop looking at the skies and get on with it.” There isn’t a God shaped hole in all of us — we’re God-shaped people.
Dave likes loud music, good comedy, great films and Tony Parson’s novels. He finds the Bible hard to read so is dedicating much of his time to retelling it using all kinds of inappropriate things. That’s not his natural hair colour.