Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. (Ephesians 5:1-2 NKJV)
One of my favourite science fiction books, which I am currently reading for the umpteenth time, is ‘The Chrysalids’ by John Wyndham. The story is set in post-apocalyptic times in the area of Canada we know as Labrador. The only written book to have survived the apocalyptic event is the Bible. The Bible is supported by a book called ‘Nicholson’s Repentances’ that was written some centuries later. Nicholson’s Repentances defines the ‘norm.’ Anything that does not meet the norm is destroyed in the case of plants and animals, or sterilised and cast out of society in the case of humans (known as blasphemies against the true image of God).
David, the main character of the story, befriends Sophie who has six toes on each foot. Sophie’s parents have managed to conceal the fact that she deviates from the norm and have hidden her from the authorities. When Sophie is discovered in David’s company, he covers for her so that she and her family have a chance to escape. David returns home the next day to find his furious father waiting to question him with the District Inspector. The next day the inspector returns to speak with David and to remind him of the law. He advises David:
‘Every part of the definition is as important as any other; and if a child doesn’t come within it, then it isn’t human, and that means it doesn’t have a soul. It is not in the image of God, it is an imitation, and in the imitations there is always some mistake. Only God produces perfection, so although deviations may look like us in many ways, they cannot really be human. They are something quite different.’
That line about imitations of God got me thinking about Ephesians 5:1-2 where Paul is apparently telling us to be imitators of God. The society in which The Chrysalids is set considers this imitation to be external, as they have a definition of a physical image of God. The difference for us is that we see God defined not in fingers and toes but in the character of Jesus Christ. But how exactly in all our fallibility are we supposed to successfully imitate God? John Eldredge explains in his book Beautiful Outlaw:
‘The good news is this – you were never meant to imitate Christ…. His revolution is not self-transformation, but His transformation of us, from the inside out, as we receive His life and allow Him to live through us. Vine. Branch. Anything else is madness.’
We are not expected to imitate Christ, but we are required to be sufficiently surrendered to God for Him to be able to transform us – from the inside out. There isn’t any other way to imitate Christ.
Wyndham J, ‘The Chrysalids’, Penguin Books 1955
Eldredge J, ‘Beautiful Outlaw’, Hodder & Stoughton 2011, pp 202-203