Forgive the vernacular, but Jesus sees past all the crap you have done and the crap that has been done to you. He sees into the core of your humanity, where you are deeply loved by God. He sees past the drinking of my neighbor and into the core of her humanity, into the shining heart that is still somewhere within her, even if she is now unaware of it. God cannot help but see this core part of you—your true self—as beautiful, nor can the God of love help but love you. He sees past all the false selves that, in your pursuit of comfort and power outside of God, have become disconnected from this true self, leaving you with the sense you are fractured, damaged, incomplete. This is what is so breathtakingly beautiful about Jesus. “A smoldering wick he will not snuff out.”Jesus sees all of our conflicted, unsorted self, and responds with compassion. Jesus always honors our humanity, our original longing for God, even if it has been misspent in the pursuit of pleasure. He invites the moralists to stop pretending that she’s fine without God.He confronts the sin while embracing the longing beneath it, redirecting us away from sin and back to God.
This changes the way I am withmy neighbor. It doesn’t mean I approve of her drinking, but that’s far from the point. The point is to be with her in a way that helps re-humanize her, that honors her, and that calls out the image of God within her.
My friend and fellow pastor Jaci Anderson taught me a wonderful frame for helping people see how they are made in God’s image. When she sees certain traits in a friend or neighbor, she says, “I think you and God have that in common.” For example, she might say to a friend who delights in good food or good art, “I think you and God share this love of beauty.” What a wonderful way to point someone not only to the divine fingerprint within them but also to God Himself! It’s a way to both affirm someone while speaking truth about God. Disciples are those who help re-claim the humanity—born in the image of God—of those Jesus gives them to love while telling the story of God in the process.
All of this may be a different way of thinking about our humanity. After all, perhaps we dislike our humanity. We might hold it in contempt. We may have been trained to think of it as bad or depraved. Perhaps we think we just need to whip it until it gets in line. But Jesus makes it clear that our humanity, with all of its weakness, is where and how we connect with God. Before there was any notion of original sin, there was original blessing: God saw that our humanity was good, rooted as it is in the Imago Dei. Even if we are fallen, that original blessing remains.Theologians often beat and berate our humanity, or they curse our bodies as corrupt; meanwhile, Jesus is busy trying to liberate both.
When Christianity is seen as false or hollow, it’s because Christians are not willing to deal with our humanity in the same way that Jesus did. Jesus wades fearlessly into humanity, confronting all of its pain and messiness directly. Most of his religious contemporaries, on the other hand, just wanted people to put a nice face on and act religious so that they could avoid their humanity and the messiness of their deepest longings. That approach felt sincere to them, yet it's exactlywhat Jesus called them out for. They focused on cleaning “the outside of the cup,” while in their hearts they were full of untouched “greed and self-indulgence,” the telltale signs of a humanity numbed out instead of brought into life in God.Dallas Willard says the same thing about the Church today: “Life, our actual existence, is not included in what is now presented as the heart of the Christian message, or it is included only marginally… The current gospel then becomes a ‘gospel of sin management.’ Transformation of life and character is no part of the redemptive message.”
Unless we in the Church are willing to deal with our humanity, and not just the trappings, we cannot deal in transformation in Jesus’ name. The result—what Willard calls “sin management”—is an anemic shrinking-down of the Gospel in which Christians are only focused on going to heaven when they die and being good, religious people rather than people who are actually transformed from the inside out. Again, this is messy! It’s only through the vulnerable unmasking of our humanity that Jesus can bothliberate usand liberate others through us. It’s painful, but it’s at the heart of Jesus’ ministry.
For all of these readings in one place, order my book 'Learning to Live and Love Like Jesus.'
E.g., John 4, “The Woman at the Well.”
Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God. HarperCollins, New York, NY. 1998. See Chapter 2, in general; this quote, page 41.