Deep calls to deep, in the roar of your waterfalls1
I’ve written earlier about the experience of having significant disagreements with God. I’d like to suggest some of those ongoing disagreements might demonstrate we are listening to his image in us. If we are moved by compassion and concern for others, doesn’t that sound like an expression of the fruit of the Spirit?
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. 2
It could well be that when we raise our voice to God about such concerns he agrees with us. We, sometimes painfully, do not know what he is planning. But we do know that passion for the welfare of others aligns strongly with who he calls us to be. That passion for good things is something to be celebrated and affirmed.
When Paul wrote to the Galatians he highlighted the difference between those who use their freedom to hurt and harm others and those who invest in love for people. Rather than outward shows of religiosity,3 he says,
The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.4
Those are strong words. Love matters. It is foundational to our faith and lives. Amid all the gifts that people might bring, as valuable as they might be, Paul called love “the most excellent way.”5 Love is greater than faith, greater than hope.6
Love is humanising
It’s not like God has chosen some arbitrary value to prioritise above all others. Love is practical. It’s not a concept or an intangible feeling. Being loved, or not loved, affects our health and well being in profound ways.
When Moses explained the responsibilities of a husband, for example, he referred to physical and emotional care.7 The whole person is important, and we previously saw the way God cared for Elijah in his flight from Jezebel.
Caring for people benefits them. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome:
Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.8
A few years later,9 Paul talked to the Christians in Ephesus about the same type of behaviour:
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.10
However, it also makes sense that caring for others is often good for our health. UCLA encourages its students to be kind to others, to help their own wellbeing. That advice is based on studies that show a positive relationship between prosocial11 behaviour and physical and mental health.
We are more ourselves when we practice love.
Deep calls to deep
One of the wonderful things about being made in God’s image is that as we get to know our deepest selves, we find we have much in common with him. The part of us that cares deeply about others and their welfare resonates with others who feel the same. When we see those qualities in God we might experience the same intimacy with him. I say “might”, because different experiences of trauma can also make relating to God quite complicated.
But there is good news. When abusers lie to us about who we are. If they turn the tables to make it look like we, not them, are the ones who love to hurt people. When they gaslight,12 or project,13 or provoke, in fact, no matter what they do to hide reality, it is always true that you are made in God’s image.
Our choices matter, however. It is fascinating that one of the Old Testament names for abusive people, “Sons of Belial”, literally means “sons of worthlessness”.14 I wonder if that name is a reflection of their relationship with the image of God in themselves. Perhaps they have worked so hard to ignore the voice of God and their conscience that they have become empty. But in contrast, when we listen to the voice of our conscience, which resonates with the voice of the Holy Spirit, we become increasingly full and complete.
I love the imagery of Psalm 42, where it says:
Deep calls to deep, in the roar of your waterfalls15
When we listen to the deepest, and most beautiful, parts of who we are, we find deep resonance with the Spirit of God. That like talking to a most trusted friend, he shares our deep concerns for love, for justice, for whatever is good.
Investing in deep ethical foundations
One does not need to be perfect to be inspired by, long for, and work at, the welfare of others. As we practice walking in step with his image in us, we become healthier and increasingly worthy of the deep trust of others.
Making ethical decisions in the face of abuse can be extremely complicated. It does become easier when at least we can get away from the abuser and find space to reflect. It helps when we have trustworthy friends to bounce off. Reading the Bible might be very difficult if the abuser has twisted its meaning. Relating to God might be difficult if the abuser has harmed our picture of who God is. Some ethical issues might appear quite simple to those who haven’t suffered great harm from others and finding friends, and professionals, who understand the complexity can be of great value to us.
Being made in God’s image is a wonderful gift. There is a strong, vibrant part of us that knows our creator. It cares about people. It has wisdom, and although it might take quite some work to sift through the turmoil of abuse, and the ways abusers can mess with our heads and hearts, this part is never lost.
One strategy to recover ourselves and our own voice in the context of abuse is to spend time getting to know this deep part of ourselves. As we listen to the image of God in ourselves and follow its advice, we can experience that “deep calls to deep” sense of resonating with our creator. We can habituate this rock-solid core of who we are as we express it in the choices we make each day.
Steve WadeBeing made in God’s image is a wonderful gift. This strong, vibrant part of us knows our creator, cares about people, has wisdom, and is always there. Click To Tweet
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- Psalm 42:7
- Galatians 5:22-23
- Such as we might see in an abuser
- Galatians 5:5
- 1 Corinthians 12:31
- 1 Corinthians 13:13
- Exodus 21:10
- Romans 14:19
- Assuming Romans was written around AD 55/56/57, and Ephesians around AD 62
- Ephesians 4:29-32
- Prosocial: denoting or exhibiting behaviour that benefits one or more other people, such as providing assistance to an older adult crossing the street. American Psychological Association Dictionary of Psychology
- Gaslighting: the action of tricking or controlling someone by making them believe things that are not true, especially by suggesting that they may be mentally ill. Cambridge Dictionary
- Projection: the process by which one attributes one’s own individual positive or negative characteristics, affects, and impulses to another person or group. American Psychological Association Dictionary of Psychology
- beliyyaal (בְּלִיַּעַל)
- Psalm 42:7