Who do you want to be like?

Now I’m the king of the swingers rule
The jungle VIP
I’ve reached the top and had to stop
And that’s what botherin’ me
I wanna be a man, mancub
And stroll right into town
And be just like the other men
I’m tired of monkeyin’ around!

Oh, ooh-bee-doo,
I wanna be like you-hu-hu
I wanna walk like you
Talk like you

No biblical reference to the above… but I had this crazy thought, who do we want to be like?

‘I want to be like you when I grow up’. The advantage that some of us have is we have a lot of growing up to do, so I guess we can still adapt and change as to who we want to be like when we finally grow up! [Not sure if that was a confession or not!]

I am fascinated by the stories in Scripture, and the original Garden one seems to carry a lot of provocative thought within it – and of course it carries so much more weight for me when I read it as story, as original myth that illuminates so much of life. ‘Who do you want to be like?’ is one of those questions in there.

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

I want to be like God… that must have been the appeal that was the hook. The internal response must have been something like, you’ve hit it in one, and if this fruit is the path. Bring it on!

If however we have a warped view of God, and by that I mean a warped view of who God is, not a warped view of what God can do, but of who s/he is we can end up in big trouble. Knowing good and evil, knowing all of that outside of relationship, outside of a life flow, outside of listening… having power like God… but without connecting to God as life… And so on.

A desire to be like God can sound so good, but to take an aspect of God and home in on it without realising WHO God is can be catastrophic.

Being in the form of God he kenosised himself.

OK rough translation, but my point is there is no ‘though / although / in spite of’ in the verse. Jesus does not do something un-godlike, something we would never expect God to do (and if we start there we are likely to take that wrong starting point to the finish point of the cross and have a God who forsakes the Son). There is no ‘in spite of’ but a big ‘being’ / because he is the express image of God he does what God does. He emptied himself, he went down.

The lie of eating the fruit of the tree is not tied primarily to disobedience, as if here is the law and you broke it so out of the Garden you go; it was that the fruit eating experiment was not an ’emptying myself’ path but a ‘filling me up’ path (and no pun intended). Eating the fruit did not change the task but for sure made the task a whole load harder:

By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.

The task is still an expanding Garden to fill the whole world… just originally the boundaries were there just to be expanded and moved out; now we move out and find that the Garden hasn’t automatically come with us. Sweat, sweat… but we shall eat!

I am not writing about some path of suffering, of a ‘woe is me I have to go down for there is no worthiness in me’. There is no unworthiness in God… of course we do understand that there is an ongoing sense of suffering, of holding pain in his/ her heart by God, but another level ‘he suffered once for all…’ There is laughter, joy in heaven. There is so much that God does, and invites us to do as well, for the ‘works I do you will do… and greater’. But to focus on what God does, and I want to be like God doing what God does is to miss it some. I want to be like God… and there is a growth that can then take place, there is no overnight fruit that can be eaten and then – look at me I am now like God! As if!

The path is – from a place of security – learning that because we carry something, ultimately we carry the image of God. (There is the irony in Genesis 3 as we read, ‘you will be like God’, but God has already declared ‘image & likeness’; the temptation should have been ever so ineffective; the stories have so much ironic humour in them.) Carriers of the image, with all the seeds to be like God already placed within us we can pour that out taking on the form of a slave. Not becoming a slave with our heads down and all beat up, but appearing as a slave to those who look on who do not understand who God is, and appearing ever so human. Not super-human, human.

Response to temptation in the Garden?

Nah, I think you have missed the mark. I am already like God, the seed is in there, the fruit on offer really will not help, in fact it will throw me off course. So step back and watch the effect as I give my life away, and actually act God-like by emptying myself. Watch as there will be an endless flow from a source that does not dry up. (That is the wonder of emptying the infinite, the effect is simply a flow of life; we can see the flow of life, but miss how it happens.) I will resemble God a lot more, becoming more like God as I grow up. You might only see what God does, you might be impressed, but there is something much deeper.

He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel (Ps. 103:7).

Is Jesus really like God?

Jesus is loving, God (and by this we normally mean, the ‘first’ Person of the Trinity, and so the one who is really God(!!)) we just are no sure about. It can also be underlined by such passages as the hymn of Philippians 2 – the ‘humbled himself’ lines.

Here are a few translations. First my favourite translation the New Revised Standard Version:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited (NRSV).
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage (NIV).
Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what (The Message).
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped (ESV).
You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had,
who though he existed in the form of God
did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped (The NET Translation).

In all the above the NIV does the best! I have emboldened a word that really snuck in with some of the translations – the word ‘though’. That word subtly gives the impression that he acts somewhat different to the divine nature. A bit like ‘Although I am a law-abiding citizen, I chose to break the law…’ An ‘in spite of’ phraseology. So let’s dig just a little:

ὃς ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ – literally BEING IN THE FORM OF GOD, not though but if one were to add a word of emphasis it would be the word BECAUSE he was in the form of God. His act of self-humbling is because he was God not in spite of being God. This early hymn is so deeply significant; God was ‘re-defined’ forever through the incarnation of Jesus. The high and lofty one is the humble one, always has been and always will be.

Another similar passage is in 2 Cor. 8:9

For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.

Here again the word ‘though’ creeps in. John Barclay has argued that if we add a word here to bring out the meaning it really should be the word ‘because’. There is no ‘though’, we simply have ‘being rich’ (πλούσιος ὤν), hence Barclay’s argument – and as these clever people can be, rather a large argument on the grammar construction – is for the sense of BECAUSE.

Jesus does not act ‘in spite of’, there is no ‘though’. His action is the action of God. Never is there a divided Trinity. Jesus is the way he is, because God is that way. God is the kenotic God.

Essential Kenosis

I have always leaned toward ‘Open Theology’, ever since meeting Gordon Olson who taught in many YWAM schools in the 70s. I visited him in California in 1976, stayed in his house and used his library. He had in those days the best library on Charles Finney and many books on Open Theology. Clark Pinnock, who moved from being a Calvinist to being a key figure in articulating Open Theology likewise influenced my thoughts. However, for me, the best writings to date are from Thomas Jay Oord, and his articulation of God’s love as uncontrolling is both releasing and challenging (in what sense is ‘God in control?’).

Oord has made a short introductory video of ‘Essential Kenosis’. If it whets your appetite then his book ‘Uncontrolling Love’ you just know is the one you want for Christmas!


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