The Consequences of Imagebearing and Breathcarrying

Conflict was on my mind this morning. First thought of the day. I apologize ahead of time for any unfortunate person who stumbles upon this post, for these thoughts are so jumbled and unorganized that I hardly understand them myself. Thus, I cannot expect that they would be communicated to a reader very well either.

Genesis in 1:27 and 2:7 paint an interesting picture of human life, and if these words are true, then reconciliation and forgiveness take on new depth and importance.

27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them;
7 Then the LORD God formed a man[b] from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

The word for image in the first passage is Tselem, which doesn’t have a surprising or insightful definition. It just means “image” or “likeness”. Neshamah is the word for breath in the second passage, and, apparently, the word is used specifically to refer to “the breath of God.”

Seeing others are image bearers and breath carriers can shed some light on some later words of Jesus:

Matt. 5:15 – But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Maybe this statement is true precisely because a refusal to reconcile and forgive is tantamount to a rejection of God. If “the other” has the likeness of God, and we reject “the other”, then it seems likely that, in some sense, we are rejecting God when we refuse to be reconciled.

There’s a lot of complications to this picture, however. What are we to do when “the other” will not be reconciled unto us? What are we to do when “the other” is attached to things that we ought not to be attached to. Perhaps it would be useful to draw a distinction here. This distinction is tentative, for it is one that has just now come to mind:

  • Forgiveness is an internal state of beginning to love an individual that has harmed us.
  • Reconciliation is an external happening whereby both the harmer and the harmed are reunited.

So, perhaps the first question can be answered by this distinction. Forgiveness is what we ought to do for our part. Reconciliation is what occurs when both parties do their part. (This all seems pretty obvious now that I’ve thought it through.)

The next question, however, seems more difficult. Within the Jesus narrative, there is this antagonization of the pharisees, of conventional wisdom (i.e., the wide path that leads to destruction), and of those who reject Jesus.

Yet, we find the Jesus on the cross saying, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” There is no antagonizing here. (It is almost as though Jesus was in agreement with Socrates that “knowledge is virtue” and that “no one does wrong knowingly.”)

Perhaps antagonizing is too strong a word, but what about “detachment”. What is the difference between detachment and lack of reconciliation? Is there a difference?

Its interesting that Jesus could advocate “treating others as a tax collector” if that person refuses to repent if Jesus saw others as image bearers. (Matt. 18:17) Although, I suppose that this is only interesting if we have a certain understanding of what Jesus meant when he said that we should “treat others as a tax collector”. I know that tax collectors weren’t exactly as popular as Santa Claus back then, but I also know that Jesus ate with the tax collectors and called some of them to follow him. So, what does it mean to treat someone as a tax collector? What did Jesus mean by this? It matters not (for this discussion anyway), for even if Jesus meant love them with no expectation of adherence to “the way”, there are still other instances of Jesus’ rejection of the “sinning other”.

Think about Jesus coming to bring a sword. Think about Jesus instructing his disciples to shake off the dust of their feet at those who reject them. Think about the promises of God’s judgment for the pharisees who saw the son and killed him, so they could profit from the Father’s farmland.

Unfortunately, these ruminations have done little more than confirm my suspicion that there is a deep textual tension between prescriptions pertaining to how we should respond to conflict. (Perhaps John Dominique Crossan was right about having to choose between the two textual prescriptions.) Fortunately, the little more that these ruminations have done is actually far from little: this time has served as an opportunity to reorient myself and start my day off thinking about Yahweh and connected with the image bearers of Yahweh.

That can’t be too bad…

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