Social Justice

The Human - The Icon of God: Reflecting on the Biblical Basis for Human Rights

posted on 03/09/10 03:49 pm by Fr. Paul Hansen, C.Ss.R.  

The Judeo-Christian story records a love affair between God and the people, God and the creation: “And God saw that it was good.” (Gen. 1:19) In the Jewish scriptures, the story begins with God creating; God liberating in exodus; God feeding with manna and God giving life within the law of Mt. Sinai. As the story develops, God recedes and the creation, the human takes the lead never for a moment forgetting to “look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.” (Is. 51:1) We are made in the image of God. We are a ‘piece’ of the divine moment.

“Whenever the Icon of God – the human – is defiled, you must with you life say no.” This was the comment of a German bishop who spent six years as a young priest in the camps of Sachsenhausen and Dachau. The human is the Icon of God.

St. Irenaeus in the first centuries of our Christian story reminds us that: “The Glory of God is the human fully alive.”

If we read carefully the Gospel of John and the letters of John, we find that the two great commandments of Love of God and Love of Neighbour become one. Love of God is love of neighbour and love of neighbour if love of God for God is love. “Anyone who says they love God and hate their brother or sister is a liar.” (1 Jn, 4:20)

In the letters of John we also hear that “Perfect love knows no fear.” Fear is the opposite of love not hate. Love is the language of life and life in God while fear is the language of death. Living in the North of the Americas since September 11th, 2001, it is obvious that we are living in a climate of fear. We have developed a politics of fear. A culture and politics of fear does not know God. Such a culture often in the name of God leads the people into idolatry.

The story of the Golden Calf in Exodus 32 is the paradigm. The people are afraid. They feel that they have been led into a wilderness to die. They gathered around Aaron, the priest, and said to him: “come make gods for us, who shall go before us..” Aaron encouraged the people to bring their gold, their riches, their creativity, and their genius. Aaron took the gold and formed it in a mold and said: “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.

The first commandment of God suggests that we have no strange gods or idols. God knows we become what we worship. Notice the dynamic in the story of the Golden Calf : people are afraid; they bring their best to a religious leader and he creates an idol and they worship. In so doing they have defiled their God and have set brother and sister against one another.

In the Judgment Scene of Matthew 25 we note that the reign of God is given to those nations who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, cloth the naked. Note in this passage that belief in God is not even a requirement in order to be in the realm of God but rather the criteria is the service of God in the broken, marginal and the wounded one. St. Paul was reminded on his way to Damascus to round up the Followers of the Way: “Why are you persecuting me.” Jesus does not say: “my followers or my disciples.” God in Jesus identifies with the brothers and the sisters, the human.

The dignity and rights of the human are central to the worship of God. One, who comes with a gift to the altar and recognizes that a brother or sister has something against him/her, must first reconcile before worshipping.

Micah 4 suggests that “nation shall not lift sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid.” We are being called to love God and one another. We are being called to see that fear is the language of politics of war and death. Fear, the language of death is the diminishment of the human and is not of God who is love and the fullness of life. Isaiah 25 invites all of the human family to gather at the banquet table to enjoy the gifts of the earth and the work of human hands.

The Project of God unlike the Project of the New American Century has love as its motivating spirit and the human at its centre. The rights and dreams of the human take precedence over any system or politic especially if such is based on fear. The Project of the New American Century is a repudiation of the word of God lived in the person of Jesus.

We are all called to the banquet and to sit under our tree, whether it is a fig tree, an apple tree, a maple tree or a palm tree. We are called as humans to reflect the diving moment in creation.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer suggests: “it is not the religious act which makes the Christian, but participation in the sufferings of God in the secular life.

Paul E. Hansen

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