To the Christian citizens in the United States of America:
Our nation is deeply divided. It seems that the motto, “E Pluribus Unum” no longer applies to life on Main Street. “Out of many – One!” has turned into “Out of many – Two!” and never the two shall meet.
Some of us are right-hearted Christians. Some of us are left-hearted Christians. Yet, our spiritual environment is so unhealthy that we have become incapable of functioning together as whole-hearted Christians who work in harmony with one another to create a healthy society.
At the deepest core of our societal division are two vastly different images of God. It’s not a political division. Rather, sincerely held religious beliefs divide people into political parties. Most Christians are unaware of the fact that their image of God determines their worldview. In fact, one’s perception of God consciously and unconsciously shapes one’s view of life. Conservative and liberal opinions will always exist, but if we could agree on one foundational image of God, Christians would be able to operate from a common starting point. At the present time, Christians are operating from two vastly different starting points because people subscribe to two different images of God.
Without realizing it, the different images became slowly ingrained over many generations. Our ancestors believed one image of God was right and the other image of God was wrong. Today, we have inherited this unhealthy division which began over a century ago. When focused on our present dysfunction, all we can do is argue, throw stones, spew hateful rhetoric, and assign unflattering labels to each other. Yet, underneath all of the unloving noise, important questions about the division remain unanswered.
“What is the spiritual dilemma that lies at the deepest core of our societal division?”
Answer: A two-faced image of God and a one-faced image of God!
I understand the difference in the following way. A two-faced image of God is a God who offers love to humanity with one face and punishment with another face. One face offers conditional eternal love based on meeting certain criteria. If someone is unwilling or unable to meet the criteria, the other face of God punishes the person in this lifetime or the eternal fires of hell.
By contrast, a one-faced image of God offers unconditional eternal love requiring nothing of humanity to whom it is given. God is not seen as a punishing entity. God walks with those who suffer, those who make poor choices, and those who cannot love in return.
People who believe in a one-faced image of God do not believe in a literal hell. The lack of belief causes them to be judged as heretics. Many two-faced image of God folks want to send the heretics to hell for not agreeing with them about hell. Yet, the societal problems that arise from this fundamental disagreement enter our politics in the form of laws. Those who believe that the two-faced image of God loves the righteous and punishes the wicked are the very folks who write laws that favor their perception of righteousness or their perception of wickedness. Human laws reflect human ideology.
The two-faced image of God also stems from the belief that God required animal sacrifice to pay for the sins of humanity. This same image of God is believed to have required Jesus to become a final human sacrifice. So, the two-face image of God is a God who demands the spilling of blood as a payment for sin. This idea feeds into the human notion that something must be exchanged in order to receive forgiveness. It is a contractual agreement made between God and humans. God says, “You do this and I will reward you. If you don’t do this, then I will punish you.” This same two-faced image of God requires humanity to accept that God required Jesus to be a living sacrifice. If you cannot accept this, you will be sent to eternal hell where you will burn forever.
The one-faced image of God is a God who never required sacrifice. Never. All ancient sacrificial practices were carried out as a human expression of remorse and admission of sorrow. It was not done as a condition upon which forgiveness would be received. It was carried out in ceremony to grieve over the loss of innocence, spiritual disobedience, and the loss of relationship with Creator and Creation when these things are present. It was not done in exchange for forgiveness. It was done to cleanse and remove sin and have that sin carried away. Since God never required people to kill or spill blood in exchange for confession of sin or receipt of forgiveness, there exists no threat of hell right action or belief isn’t accomplished.
Eventually, humans called for the death of Jesus. He was an inconvenient figure in the Roman Empire and a threat to religious authority in his day. Too many leaders perceived him as someone who was upsetting the applecart of normalcy. He was blamed for the cause of social discomfort. People need scapegoats to blame for their discomfort and Jesus was the perfect target.
In his willingness to die, Jesus fulfilled the role of the ultimate scapegoat – the one that was slain and the one that carried away human sin. In walking to the cross with Jesus, God fully participated in the suffering of the cross. God’s Spirit departed the bodily form of Jesus just prior to the moment of physical death. Rather than lashing out in anger towards humanity, Jesus revealed the one true face of God as a merciful face, a face full of grace and love. “Forgive them … for they do not know what they do.” The one-faced image of God is a God that would rather die than punish humanity.
As in every case, once the targeted scapegoat is eliminated, people begin to feel relieved that the guilty person cannot torment them any longer. Yet, several problems exist in this type of faulty thinking: 1.) Relief is temporary, lasting only until the next problem comes along, 2.) Jesus wasn’t guilty of any wrongdoing, and 3.) he didn’t remain dead … he couldn’t be eliminated.
So, what can we do about hell and the punishing image of God?
The image of fire is always used in Scripture as a symbol of refinement – to make something or someone more perfect – never to punish or destroy. For people who hold to a one-faced image of God, the concept of hell is not a place of eternal torture, but the process by which impurities are cast off to create ultimate beauty.
Again, the societal problems that arise from such different perceptions of God enter into our politics in the form of laws. Those who believe in a one-faced image of God will be the very folks who write laws that favor their perception of unconditional love, mercy, compassion, empathy, and restorative justice. Human laws will reflect human ideology.
If we fail to discuss the spiritual differences between these two images of God, it is almost guaranteed that we will reach the point of civil war in the United States of America. It will be a war fought over the right to impose one religious ideology on the nation and the right to prevent that kind of imposition. Both sides will believe their image of God is correct, true, and best for America.
Before we go down the warpath, beating our drums, perhaps we could sit down at a common table, set by Christ, break bread, and talk about the two images of God that shape our opposing worldviews. Ultimately, only one image of God will create a healthy society. We must choose which image is the one that will restore a sense of well being and return the “e pluribus unum” motto to Main Street, USA.
The model by which we could work in harmony to create a healthy society is observed in the human heart.
The right side of the heart moves deoxygenated lifeblood from all parts of the body into the lungs where the blood becomes oxygenated. By contrast, the left side of the heart returns the oxygenated life blood from the lungs back into all parts of the body. The right side of the heart cannot do the job of the left and vice versa. Both sides function in tandem with each other while the breath of life enters and exits the body.
In the same way, the willingness to function in tandem between right and left hearted Christians (conservatives and liberals) would also result in the wellbeing of society. As stated earlier, conservative and liberal opinions will always exist, but if Christians agreed on one foundational image of God, the majority of Americans would operate from a common starting point. At the present time, Christians are operating from two vastly different starting points because two different images of God are informing us.
Rather than blindly choosing violence as the only way to resolve this ideological conflict, would it be possible to ask and answer a few critical questions?
1. What is the difference between a two-faced God and a one-faced God?
2. Which image of God is truthful and why?
3. Which image of God is false or deceptive and why?
4. Which image of God must prevail and why?