One of the most compelling aspects of the Christian concept of God (borrowed, as it is, from the Jewish tradition) is the image of the Creator as a Father-King figure. This is not, by any means, an image unique to the Judeo-Christian religion, but its role within the religion is, at the same time, one of the most comforting and one of the most challenging aspects of the religion. The God-as-King image establishes God’s dominion over Man (and, in fact, all of creation), as an active and concerned observer. Meanwhile, the God-as-Father image establishes God’s direct relationship to Man, and this relationship gains its greatest strength in the tenderness of the relationship — God is portrayed as a kind and accepting Father, mitigating the distance of authority through his personal concern for individuals, and his constantly accepting (and even longing after) his children. Moreover, the teachings of –and, in fact, the very existence of — Jesus, supported by the letters of his followers included in the New Testament, establish these two aspects of God as a single, complete descriptor of his relationship to Man. This relationship clearly establishes God’s intent for Man, Man’s responsibilities toward God, and the proper manner of interaction between the two.
Although the New Testament sees frequent references to the “Kingdom of Heaven,” the God-as-King image within the Christian community derives primarily from his portrayal in the Old Testament. The Old Testament tells the story of the Creator God, who built reality from nothing, forming it by the force of his authority. Man, a part of that Creation — albeit a special part — was likewise a creature crafted in submission to an all-powerful lord. Through the Covenant with Abraham, then later the establishment of the Law through Moses, God established a ritual-based relationship with Man, in which he clearly defined Man’s position as a subject of the King. The Old Covenant included rules and regulations that clearly showed the difference between Clean and Unclean, and revealed the vast distance between Man (the Unclean) and God (the Clean) — a distance that could be bridged through rigorous adherence to the Laws of the King, but these very laws emphasized the distance.
Christ, however, defied that distance when he prayed, “Abba, Father,” speaking to God as a little boy speaks to his daddy. God established, through the presence of Christ as well as through his teachings, that his intent was for a closer relationship with Man. Christ shows us an image of God that is not the tyrannical rule of a distant king, but the kind attention of a loving father. Jesus stresses this image with references to God’s providence, speaking of his concern for his children. This is particularly clear when he speaks of prayer, encouraging his followers to pray to God just as a child asks his father for something, and emphasizing that God will give in abundance. Of course, the greater significance of this image is not the change in God, but the impact it has on Man’s self-image — through Christ, Man is given the opportunity to see the divine within himself. The distinction is no longer between Clean and Unclean, but between Adult and Child. While Man is still not-God, it is not a difference of being, but of becoming — that is, Man is not inherently not-God, but rather not-yet-God. God testifies to this in two ways: the perfect life of Christ shows the capacity of man to live like God; furthermore, in Christ’s death, God offers perfect forgiveness to Man, dispelling the constant attention to Cleanliness that maintained a distance of degrees from God and replacing it with a system of Absolution that brings Man, in one step, into God’s presence.
Christ does not abandon the old image of God, however, and neither should Christians. Although Christ goes to great effort to establish the God-as-Father image, he frequently refers to the Kingdom of Heaven, and so reinforces the authority of God. Rather, once he has established the God-as-Father image, he returns to the God-as-King image to show the significance of Man’s adoption by God. Although it can be found throughout the New Testament, Paul states this concept most clearly in the book of Romans, stressing how God-the-King — that is, the very Creator God, who holds dominion over all Creation — has not only shown loving concern for Man, but has brought Man into his inheritance, establishing him as “heirs of God, and co-heirs with Christ.” Through this act of adoption, God made obsolete the Old Covenant, the system of rituals and Laws by which Man defined his relationship with God. Instead, Christians are all promoted to Priesthood, are all welcomed into the Holiest Place. As heirs of the King, Christians are welcomed into the Lord’s throne room, where before they came only with fear and trembling.
The relationship of Man to God expresses itself in the interaction between them. The God-as-King relationship demanded complicated rituals that reinforced the difference between God and Man. The very act of worship — an ancient term referring to the debasement of courtiers as they approached a king — has been done away with, replaced with a personal interaction that allows Man to approach God directly, to speak with him as a loving, caring audience. And this honor is extended not to some (as the old Priesthood implied), but to all of the Children of God — that is, to all Mankind. And with that change in relationship comes a change in responsibility. It is no longer the role of Man to recognize his difference from God, and live according to it, but to recognize his proximity to God, and live in accordance with the gift he has been given. It is not the call of the Christian to live as one condemned, but to live as one given life. Moreover, it is the responsibility of every Christian to recognize the great wealth that is his inheritance, and to spend it responsibly. It is not enough to recognize that God is better than Man, it is not enough to recognize that God has shown his love for Man — rather, a Christian must recognize that God has made Man like-God, and therefore live as though he is already a Prince in the Kingdom of Heaven. This recognition is, at the same time, one of the most comforting and one of the most challenging aspects of the religion
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