We all know of people like Lindsay and Erica who for various good reasons protect themselves from shame by wearing a mask.
Both of these young women lived in communities that rejected parts of their story, and to disclose certain aspects of their lives would have brought untold pain and near certain social rejection.
Great words to describe what it feels like to courageously uncover such deep aspects of our identity might perhaps be these words from novelist Susan Howitch in her book Glittering Images.
Then I stepped out from behind the glittering image. I felt stark naked, terrifyingly vulnerable but not alone. I came out because [a trusted friend] was there to meet me and I trusted him not to recoil in horror…
I leant over the table, buried my face in my forearms and cried as I had not cried since I had learnt of [my wife’s] death seven years before.
We wear our masks to protect ourselves from vulnerability. This is a good thing! But growth, transformation, and the birth of hope in our lives are all built on our capacity for authenticity not defense.
We are lovingly invited to bring all of what we know of ourselves before all we know of God.
The Psalms certainly encourage this, letting no emotion go I redeemed outside the presence of God!
Sarah Hogget’s beautiful poetry confirms this as well:
It’s such a comfort for me to know
That I don’t have to ‘do’
But that you love me because I’m yours
And accept me through and through.
For many of us we keep our masks firmly in place precisely because we are hiding portions of our lives from God!
And why wouldn’t we, if our mask functions to defend us from attack? At least, why would we if the image of God we have is of a violent angry God whose sense of ‘justice’ demands eternal punishment just for being human?
Many of us have inherited such a god, a god we might refer to this week knowingly as the Adrian Peterson god. You’ve heard about Peterson, the star running back in the NFL accused who believed that violence is the only way to rid his four year old son of his misbehavior?
This is the same god as fundamentalist evangelism invites you to somehow love: the god who demands divine child abuse as the price of your freedom.
A. Believe you are a terrible person
B. Believe the solution is an angry, wrath-filled God who demands punishment.
C. Find a way to love and cherish a being we would despise if we were with them in person.
This myth of the violent god keeps many of our masks rightly rooted firmly in place! Why in the world would we bring all of what we know about ourselves before a god predisposed to want to destroy us? We wouldn’t. And religion would necessarily be the very thing we would need to protect us from such a god.
But is this god, this Adrian Peterson-like violent god, the god we actually meet in the anew Testament?
Paul’s words to us in Romans 3:21-26 are of central importance to our journey of answering such a question because here we see God’s justice intersecting with the violence of Jesus’ crucifixion. How is it, exactly, that God fulfills his intent for just wholeness through Jesus death as a criminal of Rome?
God doesn’t make things right through fear and shame and punishment! But through grace, gift, redemption, mercy and faithfulness. Forgiveness isn’t offered in spite of Gods need for (retributive) justice; it’s offered because of Gods passion for (restorative) justice! Put another way, the justice of God IS love.
Now that we’ve clarified our image of who and how God is this sentence feels entirely different: Authenticity starts by bringing all of what we know about ourselves before all we know about God.
Imagining a God who is not violent helps us to imagine alternative forms of behavior and a more workable (ie shalom like) future.
We have, for 1700 yeas, recreated the world in the image of a violent God. From Constantine to colonialism; slavery to salacious support of the death penalty: we are violent because God is violent. But imagine the world we would create if our image of God were Jesus Christ; who redeems the world not through scapegoating and blood sacrifice but through restoring justice and embodying shalom.
This biblical image of God rooted in the story of Jesus frees us from protecting ourselves with masks to embrace Gods loving presence in our lives and the world around us. We need no longer hide! Instead, we are partners with God standing side by side in love and mutuality.
Which means that for many of us today, and all of us at some time in our life, may very well need to grow our image of God.
A reality you have permission to engage. You have permission to comb through the text and upgrade your image of God from those images which have ceased to work for you. Father and King are two images we readily distort so awfully they have little power to introduce us to the Living God of Jesus.
God is Mother, Son, Brother, Friend, Process, Life, Energy, Emmanuel, Spirit, Mystery.
Some of us – for the sake of our spiritual health – NEED this.
Some of us WANT this but resist out of fear.
Some of us are so cynical and resigned we aren’t sure what we need or want anymore.
But all of us have permission. It’s both essential and natural.
Because we aren’t punished out of our sin we’re loved out of it, we are free to participate in Gods peace project by making peace through peace not violence.
As peacemakers, we can now recreate the world – or at least those systems of which we are part- in the image of our God who is not violent.
The gospel is clear and worthy of our attention: God is NOT violent!
Take off your masks and be remade in the presence of the one who loves you with an infinite redemptive love.