Path to Restoration
by the Rev. Philip Cunningham
Like many people, I make lists of things to do. The motivation for this is generally practical — without a list I might forget all of the tasks to be completed. There is, however, another reason I like to do it and that is for the satisfaction of being able to cross something off my list. Crossing something off demonstrates finality, knowing that whatever it was I was supposed to do is done; it is no more.
Sometimes, on my more unproductive days, I might even add things to my list that have already been completed, just to get the pleasure of crossing them off – washed my hands, check; ate lunch, check. Unfortunately, not all our tasks in life lend themselves to the neat arrangement of a check list, and this can often lead to frustration. For example, it would be nice if, in becoming a Christian, we could check off a little box that said I am now wise, placid, and joyful; but alas it does not work that way. Christians still get angry; they can be petty, pessimistic, and quite often a general nuisance. Which of course begs the question: why, if we have given our life to Christ, have we not been made perfect?
The second century Bishop Irenaeus of Lyon approached this problem by dividing our Christian lives into two distinct realities. His belief was that while we are born in the image of God we are, throughout our lives, to grow into the likeness of God. And if you will excuse a rather trite example, it is something like the character Pinocchio.
When he first comes to “life,” Pinocchio is very much the image of a human. He can move around, walk on two legs and even sing “I got no Strings.” And if we look at him as an animate puppet, we are likely to think he was made in the image of a man. However, there would still be something rather incomplete about him, what the movie called “not being real.” It is not until the end that Pinocchio moves from being the image of a human to being in the likeness a human.
Like Pinocchio, we humans must make the journey from knowing that we are made in the image of God to acting in ways that God would act. That is the struggle and, of course, some days are better than others; our progress may be glacial at times. C.S. Lewis once talked of a rather nasty man who was a Christian. When another person commented about this particular man’s nastiness, the reply was, “Yes, but you should have seen him before he became a Christian.”
Our life is a journey towards God, one that sometimes may be filled with disappointments and setbacks, but at the same time we must never give up. Through God’s grace and love we can start to reflect God’s likeness back to the world. Lent is a perfect time to recommit ourselves to this journey; affirming that we are traveling and trusting in God’s perfect will so that we may move from the image to the likeness of the almighty God.
The Rev. Philip Cunningham is rector of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in San Antonio, Texas. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below.