You are Good

 God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. (Genesis 1:31, NASB)

In a sense, this is the whole lesson. Last time we talked a little bit about Who and What God is. The next step, the Image and Likeness, flows from this piece of Scripture. When God looks at the esssence of you, me, and all creation, what He sees is Very Good. If you know that, if you really know that, you become unstoppable in the same way that love is unstoppable.

Some people are really attached to the idea that our essential nature is flawed; that we are helpless and hopeless miserable sinners by default. We’ll talk more about that in a minute. For now, let’s think about what that concept says about God. If God can create something (namely you and me) that is broken and flawed and more-or-less doomed from the get-go, what does that say about Him? If He can create something (ahem) that starts out fine but then can be ruined and corrupted almost immediately, that’s not much better. We all have growing and changing to do, but that evolution can only happen when we know who we are.

God is not just Infinite. God is Infinity. For God, it’s always right now. This means, among other things, that the “Very Good” observation isn’t something that God made a long time ago in a galaxy far away. Instead, it’s what He sees about you right now. It’s the first ingredient listed on your box.

Yes, the Bible is a history book. We believe, for example, that Jesus Christ actually said and did the things that the Bible says He said and did. But let’s remember that one of the keys of Jesus’ ministry was action. He said, over and over (and over and over) again, and in many different ways, that it wasn’t enough to hear the teachings. Our job is to do something about them. The Bible is a history book, but it’s not only, or even primarily, a history book. Instead, the Bible is a living account, a guide to God’s presence in the world, right here and now. The key to understanding the Bible is remembering that it is a book about you, right now. In one way or another, everything that’s happening in the Bible is also happening in your life, right now. Making that connection will bring the Bible alive to you, and will bring you to life in your world.

The essential Truth about you is Very Good. How well you know the Truth, and what you do with that information, determines the quality of your experience.

If you know where to look, and if you’re patient and thorough enough, you’ll see that every created thing bears the fingerprints of its creator. You can tell a lot about a carpenter by examining the bookshelves they make. You can tell a lot about a baker by trying one of their cookies. I bring that up for two reasons: First of all, it means that cursing yourself or any other person amounts to cursing God. If I say that I am no good, I’m making a statement about my Creator. I don’t believe that God gets His feelings hurt, but it’s just a silly, and limiting, position to take. We all know better, so a negative statement like that isn’t anything more than a cop-out. You can’t grow beyond your highest consciousness, after all.

There’s another reason to talk about this, though. There’s a behavioral imperative implicit in the “fingerprints” idea. If we know that we are each made in the Image and after the Likeness, part of our job is to try and make ther family resemblance shine through.

“He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9, NASB)

In and through whatever we’re doing, let’s try and shine a little bit. Let’s try and get ourselves out of the way of our Self. It might take some archaeology, but it’s worth the effort. Let’s try to do this with other people, too. There isn’t any room for accidents in a universe of Omnipresence. That means that the people in your life, every single person, is there for a reason. Two reasons, actually: everybody in your life is there to learn from you and to teach you. If you work to seize the educational opportunity, your relationship with grow, and so will you. You’ll either discover new depths of friendship and love, or you will have earned the right to move on from that relationship without carrying baggage into the next one.

In other words, you are now a detective. Congratulations! When you look in the mirror, when you examine your life, when you interact with others, you are investigating, looking for clues. You are dusting for fingerprints. This isn’t a new job, though. You were born with it. Every child is born with a desire to connect, because every child, you and me included, is a manifestation of Love. People have been trying to satisfy that hunger for unity in all kinds of ways all their lives, and throughout human history. Maybe your personal history has a story or two about this.

Life is consciousness. Life is what we are alive to. If the best and highest of a person’s consciousness, if their deepest knowing and most profound passion, is something superficial, they will have a life that works on a superficial level. Their relationships, their jobs, even their health will reflect what’s in their heart. Let’s open our hearts to bigger ideas and deeper feelings. Let’s let our connections with others be based not on material connections, biological compatibility, or physical proximity. We know that none of those factors can truly define us, so why should they define our relationships? We’re told to love our enemies, to practice outrageous love and radical mercy. Welcoming the stranger is at the core of ethics.

Love works when it’s not just a connection between subject and object. Love works when it’s grounded on a oneness of you, me, and God. If you can find something bigger than yourself or the other person, you’re going to grow.

We exist in the context of God, and life works to the degree that we are conscious of that oneness. By the same token, when life doesn’t work, the dysfunction can be traced back to an idea of isolation. Every problem we’ve ever made for ourselves, individually and culturally, has separation at its core. People might believe that some humans are better than others, or that there’s a finite amount of good, that for one person to succeed somebody else has to fail, for example. Building a life and a world on those notions is painful. And if something hurts, it’s probably not what you’re meant to do. What happens if we start building bridges instead of walls?

Some of us have been taught that life involves embracing contradictions and compartmentalizations. Some of us spend a lot of time and energy deciding what version of ourselves to be at any given moment. Perhaps it’s time to tear down some walls. Life isn’t about drawing boundaries. It’s about opening up our minds and hearts.

When I start talking about divine inheritance, Image and Likeness, and the inherent goodness of humanity, it’s not uncommon for somebody to bring up Adam and Eve. That story, you know the one, has been used to justify viewing humanity as flawed, women as secondary, life as struggle, and so on. You’ve heard it before.

Just for a moment, let’s talk about the role of women in the Bible. We know that the text was written by and in the context of a patriarchial community, and that set of sensibilities comes through. The Bible didn’t drop out of the clouds, as you know. Instead, the Bible was written by humans, passed down orally by many people, speaking many languages, over a very long time. That doesn’t lessen the inherent Truth behind the words; if anything, it strengthens it. But it does mean that we have to look deeper. In a way, the Bible is just like you and me: there’s a divine, timeless Truth behind the human, temporal facts. That said, looking at those facts, especially as they pertain to women, tells us something important.

In the Bible, when somebody gets a divine message, when they make the tough choice, when they step out on faith, when they truly understand what’s going on, most of the time “they” are women. On the other hand, if a Bible character does a selfish, egotistical thing, if they don’t realize what’s happening, if they screw up, nine times out of ten “they” are men. Before we start using the Bible to claim some kind of gender superiority, it might be wise to read it a little more closely.

Speaking of which, the Bible is full of quotes supporting the essential nature of humanity as victory and not loss. You already know that Image and Likeness part, and we’ve talked about Good and Very Good. In addition, we are told that we are salt and light, the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16). We are told, several times, that it is our faith that makes us well (Matthew 9:22, Luke 17:19, Luke 18:42, among others). We are told that the works Jesus did, we shall do too (John 14:12). Jesus called God our Father. We don’t have to do chapter and verse to make this point, though. If we were supposed to suffer, why did Jesus help anybody? If misery was the point, why did He show up at all?

These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. (John 15:11, NASB)

Jesus Christ’s message is one of empowerment and revolution. If, on the other hand, I want to control people, I can’t tell them that they‘re powerful. It’s easier if I can make them believe that they are flawed, that they need something that only I can provide. If somebody asks me for help and instruction so that they can create a better life and a more loving world, I can either work with them or I can tell them to lower their expectations and wait for something better. That second option means that I don’t have to do any work and, over time, I don’t have to answer any questions. If I tell people that they are supposed to be miserable, preferably as miserable as they can be, and that somehow that misery will earn them a first class ticket later on, I can prevent the messy work of actually changing things. That’s precisely the kind of religious cop-out that Jesus spoke out against.

Once again, this does not mean that we don’t have any work to do. Quite the opposite. This church is not here to validate. Water and Stone is here to challenge. Of course we have learning and growing to do. Of course there’s always a better way to treat each other. But, as we’ve said, the growing can’t start until we know who we are as children of God. That process, infinite love and Truth expressed through and filtered by finite human understanding, is really what the Eden story is about.

Everything that has happened in the Bible is also happening in your life right now. The Eden story isn’t just about Adam and Eve and the creation of the essence of humanity. It’s also a story about the ongoing creative process happening in and through your life, right now. Adam and Eve are stand-ins for the essence of you, me, and everybody else. They represent generic humanity in all of its aspects, the masculine and feminine parts of each of us. Just to cover all the bases, the name Adam means something like “dirt from all over the world.” Common clay.

Adam and Eve are created in a place of pure unity. There are no barriers in Eden, symbolized by the ease with which things are created, by the relationship Adam and Eve have with God, with each other, and with their environment. Clothes haven’t even been invented yet, and neither had shame.

In this place of conscious oneness, the creative process is easy. There’s nothing in the way. As we read in the story, in Eden, when you name a thing, that’s what it will be for you. Life stillworks that way, of course, but sometimes it’s hard to see the process at work. There are too many barriers in the way. More about that in a minute.

The job description given to Adam and Eve and, by extension, the one you and I have at our core, is twofold. We are to create through the names we give things, and we are to care for what’s been created. Again, this is still what we’re here to do.

So what happens, in this place of oneness and power, if we decide to label some things as good and some things as bad? What happens if we insist on duality in a place of unity? Adam and Eve eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. That last part is especially important. Knowledge isn’t a problem; it’s clear that Adam and Eve have, and are in the process of accumulating, knowledge. It’s a specific kind of knowledge that’s the issue. A dumb idea can get you in trouble.

Eating is symbolic of the internalization process; when you eat something, it becomes a part of you. This is why, for example, we might hear somebody say that they won’t break bread with an adversary. Whether they know it or not, what they’re saying is that they don’t want to take in the other person’s ideas. (That might be precisely what they need, and maybe that’s what Psalms 23:5 is getting at, but that’s a topic for another time.)

We are each born powerful and free, just as Adam and Eve are in the story. Freedom and power must include the ability to make a bad choice, to let ego and fear lead the way, to put up walls. Every decision is an act of naming; every choice is creative. Every moment is an opportunity to choose love or ego. Love unites, and ego separates.

No sooner do our heroes internalize the idea of duality, than they start to experience barriers and isolation in the external world. Where before there was a sense of partnership with God, now He seems distant; Adam and Eve even try to hide from Him. Nudity and shame are now an issue, where before they were not. This is when God arrives (before, He was right there with them) and tells everybody to get out of the pool.

God is not punishing Adam and Eve for their actions here. For one thing, a bad idea is punishment in and of itself. Because life is consciousness, we aren’t punished for our misdeeds. We are punished by them. In addition, the idea that God would get bent out of shape to the point of vengeance is a pretty small, petty, limited one. I have to believe that God is bigger. More than that, God has created Adam and Eve in love, has empowered and cared for them out of love, and even at this point in the story He is looking out for them. They are ashamed of their nudity, and He gives them clothes. He’s not out to get them; He just made them some pants.

Adam and Eve can’t live in Eden any more, but they haven’t been kicked out for their actions. They’ve been evicted by them. You can’t live in a place of unity if you carry duality in your heart. Something’s got to give. Gravity doesn’t punish us, but we can’t jump off the roof without experiencing its implications.

With all that in mind, it’s hard to read God’s comments in the “parting gift” speech (Genesis 2:16-19) as a statement of punishment, even though some people do. It’s also difficult to read them as advice. It’s clear that this is not how we are supposed to live. Instead, the comments are a list of implications, of indications that we’ve made a bad call. If God’s words here feel familiar, it might be time to make different choices. At the end of a medication commercial, a voiceover will list potential side effects. If you are experiencing sweaty brows, please consult your physician.

One of my favorite quotes is one often attributed to Mark Twain: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” We have each experienced the poetry inherent in cycling through a situation, each time with new awareness and increased capability. Life does not move in a straight line, no matter how hard we try to make it do so. Life also doesn’t move in a circle. We grow and change. We get new ideas.

Life is a spiral. We start with an idea, which leads to an action, which leads to an experience. If the idea is limiting, or dysfunctional, or just silly, the experience we end up with is negative. That negative experience, in turn, makes it feel easier to have a negative idea. Everybody knows what it feels like to walk down that spiral. The good news is that no matter how bad things get, we have the ability, and even the responsibility, to change.

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.(Romans 12:2, NASB)

There’s a difference between fact and Truth. The way that things seem to be is not the way that things have to be. No matter where you’re at or where you’ve been, you have the power to change your mind, and that change is the beginning of growth. A good idea, one based on love rather than ego, unity rather than duality, leads to healthy actions and uplifting experiences. From there, it’s a little easier to have an even better idea, and we can start to walk the other way, up the spiral.

It’s important to take a minute here. Just as we read in Romans 12:2, it all starts with an idea; with a renewed mind. But it doesn’t end there. It is not the case that all we have to do think a certain thought or repeat a pretty affirmation over and over again, and things will magically change. Last time we talked about the difference between thinking and knowing. This isn’t about saying magic words; it starts with what you know in your heart. It doesn’t stop there, either.

When you really know something, you do something about it. True knowing inspires action. When you’re really in love, for example, you don’t buy flowers and compose sonnets because you’re supposed to. You do it because you can’t help yourself.

Some people are really attached to the first part of that Romans quote. I am, too. But I know that the second part is significant; we can’t leave it out. If you are transformed, you’ll prove the will of God. Just as it says in the Bible passage, and just as we’ve been talking about, God’s will for you is good. The question is, what will we do about it?

Moving up life’s spiral starts with changing our minds, but it ends with action. Whatever needs to be done, can be done. You have what it takes. If you want further proof that humanity is essentially good, that the universe is a loving place, the spiral is a great place to look. The spiral is open at the top. There’s no limit to the growth, evolution, healing, innovation we can experience. The spiral is closed at the bottom, though. You and I know what it feels like to run out of options, to reach that place where things can’t get any worse, to know that there’s no place to go but up. It may not feel like it at the time, but that’s a holy moment. In that moment of release, we finally get out of the way and let God be in charge. If that’s what it takes for us to choose faith, so be it. There’s beauty in that Prodigal Son realization that it’s time to come home. In a way, that’s the other end of the Eden story.

Easy way or hard way, we grow. The world we make together gets better. The fact that there’s a floor but no ceiling says something about what life is all about. It tells us a little bit about who we are.

So who do we think we are? That’s the question, and there are a lot of answers. There are a lot of sources of identity; our jobs, our backgrounds, our bank accounts, even our favorite hobbies all get spots on the name tag we present to the world. Most labels we choose are factual. But are they True? This is an important distinction.

Life is lived from inside-out. When you put your focus on what’s inside of you, when we cultivate the inner self and learn to listen to it, our outer experience is lifted up. Life gets easier. You and I have experienced this in one way or another, when we do something that feels so true to our nature that we lose track of time, we don’t get tired doing it, and things tend to work out.

If, on the other hand, we try and live from circumference to center, life gets harder. When we put our focus on external matters, we just end up getting tired. We get stressed out, because that’s where we’ve placed our stress, our attention, our power. Life doesn’t have to wear you out; moving from perspiration to inspiration is a matter of changing where we look.

People are often taught to be divided, giving different parts of their identities to the different aspects and activities of their lives. People are often taught to be dependent on job, society, opinions of others and a million other places to get their sense of self and worth. We are not here to consume, however. Just like Adam and Eve, we are here to contribute, to create, to care. We are here in this life to share something of our true selves with our world. This means that life is not something that happens to us, from the outside-in. Life is something that happens through us, from our hearts out to the world. We start by looking within. We grow into in-dependence, in-dividuality. The question isn’t who we think we are anymore. Every moment, through every conversation and interaction, life is asking us who we know we are. The answer changes everything.

What you know in your heart determines your experience. This also means that we can’t grow beyond our fundamental beliefs. If you believe, for example, that you are a miserable sinner by nature, there’s only so far that you can go.

If we are going to grow, we have to move past the notion that we are flawed by design. This might take some courage; the concept of inherent sin is a tremendous and convenient cop-out. If I believe that I’m no good, that I was built for misery and failure, I can let myself off the hook a bit. Why try to do anything? Why dream? Why change things, if I don’t truly believe in change?

We know better, though. We are familiar with the pain of stagnation and the thrill of aspiration. Spiritually, biologically, psychologically, and in every other way, we were built for speed. We are growing and moving, each and every moment, whether we know it or not. Embracing that inherent growth and rejecting the idea of baked-in limitation is the beginning of a bigger life.

We’ve already talked about some of the many Biblical supports for the idea of human worth. Let’s add another one to the list. Jesus says “from now on sin no more” (John 8:11, NASB) and issues similar statements several times in the Gospels. Let’s think about that for a moment. That concept was important enough to Jesus that He said it on a number of occasions. It was so important, in fact, that He tracked down the man who had been healed earlier at the pool of Bethesda to make sure he’d gotten the message (John 5:14). If you can quit doing something, then it can’t be the fundamental Truth about you. If you can truly set it aside, it’s not essential to who you are. Once again, that doesn’t mean that we don’t have work to do; clearly Jesus wanted us to keep working. It just means that the work can be done.

We don’t need to look far to prove what we’re made of. We know it in our hearts. We can find proof in our own lives. It’s time to talk about what I call The Room Temperature Theory of the Inherent Goodness of Humanity. It goes like this: if you were born broken and made out of misery, wouldn’t misery feel right? Wouldn’t brokenness and failure feel like room temperature? Misery feels miserable because we don’t have anything in common with it. The pain and discomfort we feel is an educational feedback mechanism. If you accidentally put your hand on a hot stove (don’t try this at home), you’ll get some very important feedback. You can choose to act on that information, or you can decide that you were meant to suffer. We both know what the right answer is, in the kitchen and in life. The fact that good feels good and bad feels bad tells us something about what we’re made of. Go and sin no more.

Everybody knows that transformational Prodigal Son moment when we realize, just as he did in the story (Luke 15:17), that we aren’t meant for slop. Sooner or later, everybody knows when it’s time to come home. In those moments, look for what it really True, really life, really love. There is an indivisible, independent, indestructible connection with Spirit in your heart. That’s where God has been waiting all along.

God is everywhere. Miracles are happening all the time. Our ability to experience those miracles, our aptitude for accepting and acting on them, is largely dependent on our consciousness of God and our awareness of self. If you feel far from God, if you feel as though your prayers aren’t working, if you feel like you might be in a pigsty, ask yourself two questions: “How big is God?” and “How worthy am I?” If you believe that God is all Life, Love, Power, and Freedom, but you think of yourself as insignificant and undeserving, there’s not much room to accept what God wants to give. If you are faithful and strong, but you have a small, limited, petty concept of God, you’re going to have tiny miracles.

You know how God feels about this. How do you feel? Remember Romans 12:2. Let’s get a bigger idea. You are made in the Image and after the Likeness. All the beauty, overcoming, healing, plenty, and good in the universe is right there in your heart. Let’s prove it.