My daughter doesn’t always enjoy eating, and being a stubborn little girl–I can’t imagine who she inherited that from–she simply won’t eat unless it suits her fancy. We’re trying to break this particular habit by removing alternatives: if she doesn’t eat her dinner, she can’t have anything else to eat until morning. We save her dinner though, in the event she decides to get hungry later. That way we can say, “You’re hungry? Well, that’s because you didn’t eat this. Here’s another chance.”
So far it’s not working. She takes stubbornness to Olympian heights. And maybe this is a bad plan on our part anyway. Parenting is a hit or miss endeavor. But in any event, this is why we had a pile of mashed potatoes in our garbage this morning.
And then I needed to throw something out. Being the sort of person who assigns fairly arbitrary goals for my minor tasks, I decided that I would try to land my garbage in the middle of the mashed potatoes. I succeeded, creating a bizarre sculpture of garbage standing at a strange angle in a plane of white goop. In garbage.
Here is my point. When the thing I dropped hit the mashed potatoes, it plowed into them a bit. If I were to take it out again, assuming I could extricate it carefully, I would see in the potatoes a perfect impression of what I had dropped.
This is not what Christians mean when we talk about the image of Christ. It isn’t an impression that’s stamped into us, or a brand, or any such. All of those things involve removal and replacement. Christianity is about death and resurrection, which is entirely different.
Now, there are some obvious objections, not from non-Christians, who may or may not care about the distinction, but from Christians. For example, they might quote Paul who says that he no longer lives, but Christ lives in him (Gal 2:19). That certainly sounds like replacement. (It actually sounds like possession.) Or they might quote John the Baptist: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30, NASB).
Actually, the second is said far too often to mean something entirely horrible, but that’s for another time.
In any event, Christ’s goal was redemption, not destruction. We were each created to be ourselves, and we were created through the Son (John 1:3). To abolish that creation by replacement would be to work at cross purposes, hardly fitting if Christ is the same “yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8, NASB).
Contrariwise, Christ living in us provides fulfillment. It’s the returning of a broken creation to the one who designed it and cares for it, a returning of a broken toy to the toymaker, so that he might finish in us what he started in us.
Now as it happens, that fulfillment isn’t easy. Nothing can be resurrected that is not first allowed to die. That’s a hard thing to think about, and much harder to experience. It’s relatively easy to misunderstand. The goal of it isn’t loss but release.
For example, I might give to Christ my desire for affirmation–which tends to manifest in the pursuit of popularity and such–because it’s a broken part of created me with which I cannot be trusted. The part of me that demands control over it has to be silenced. The part of me that opposes Christ’s entire freedom with created me, that part has to die.
But so that created me might live. It isn’t the joy of the toymaker to collect toys, but to give toys away. It isn’t the joy of Christ to destroy creation but to complete it. I stop demanding the right to mistreat a thing, so that he can give the thing back to me.