Said positively: learning to embrace the doctrine of “the offspring of God” is at the heart of becoming Christ-led reconcilers.
It doesn’t stop there. Once we buy into the valuation of this societal hierarchy, we are immediately flooded with an emotional sensation of feeling both an inferiority and superiority complex. Whether we have precise words for naming it or not, we know that there are some people (and groups) who are more valuable than us in the eyes of society, and some groups who are less valuable. Without the transforming power of the Spirit of God, it’s humanly impossible to avoid envy of those that are above you on the social ladder, and disdain for those who are below you.
This is extremely problematic on a lot of levels. Both a superiority and inferiority complex act like acid on the soul. We are not created by God to think that we are better than other people, and we are not created by God to think that we are less valuable due to whatever the current calculus promotes. Though there are clearly societal pains that tend to be greater for those who internalize a message of inferiority, the reality is that both sides of the equation result in significant spiritual damage.
This is also where prejudice, bigotry, and ultimately racism find much of their roots. Prejudice is usually thought of as something that happens more at an individual level – i.e. preconceived (usually unfavorable) judgments toward an individual or group based on the societal calculus. Bigotry is usually thought of as the next level of action, where people, informed by their prejudice, treats others based on fear or hate. Racism is usually thought of as the collective, corporate, systemic action that is enmeshed into society as a result of prejudice and bigotry (think prison industrial complex, discriminatory housing, police brutality, educational differentials, etc)
I don’t want to oversimplify a complex subject matter, but I am convinced that the Biblical concepts of worship, Imago Dei, and offspring/belovedness are at the heart of both the problem and the cure. It’s true that talk without action doesn’t change anything, but it’s also true that action without good theology is also largely impotent.
It’s one of the reasons I love Acts 17.16-34 so much. It does both. It gives us a comprehensive description of God, and then reminds us that this is what the Resurrected Christ is all about. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Paul ends his address with describing Jesus with the word “justice.” This is where it’s all ultimately pointing.
Last month I turned 41, and I know that in the grand scheme of things that is not all that old. But being in my 40’s has raised the level of urgency that I live with, and I feel time flying by faster than ever. I live with a deeper desire for the presence of God now than I have at any point in my life. I want to know God, and be known by God.
I also am more committed than ever to being a man of faith – I want to know the voice of Jesus, and I want to follow him with full abandon. Sermons like Acts 17 help keep my vision crystal clear for what I think that means. I believe Jesus is leading us into worship, into an identity rooted in belovedness, and into a life of faith that calls that out in every other human being. I want to be connected to Christ as he pursues reconciliation with every one of us at an individual level, and I want to be connected to Christ as he pursues reconciliation at a societal level. I want to learn. I want to see. I want to be brave.
In the words of Saint Paul, “I want to know Christ–yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings.”