Cursing the Image
But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh. Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. (James 3:8-16)
Because of our problem with relying on false premises for our identity and value, God has to be very careful in how much He blesses us in ways that we are prone to use to supplement our addictions. For instance, if a weakness is to think our identity comes from how financially well off we are, then when God blesses us financially it would serve to aggravate our weakness and weaken our dependence on Him for our sense of value. Likewise in any number of areas of particular weaknesses we might indulge, God must be careful not to strengthen the very things that cause us to feel secure when we are resting our security on false premises that will produce disaster when testing circumstances come.
To the extent that we crave material blessings over the blessing of God's declarations about our true value, identity and importance to Him, those external blessings can become curses for us. If we don't see this it is likely because we don't know the true meaning of the words blessing and cursing.
To bless means to speak well of, to highly esteem, honor, value and desire.
To curse means to speak negatively about, to accuse of evil, to point out faults, to despise and devalue.
Throughout the Old Testament we find God talking about His people profaning His name in the earth. He described this as speaking ill about Him and acting as if He were not important or trustworthy. This is in reality cursing God, taking His name in vain, even blasphemy. It is lying about God by slandering His reputation. Yet it is something every one of us has and often continues to do without even realizing we are doing it.
We have been so infected with belief in a supposed balance between good and evil, an idea inherent in our fallen nature received from the fatal Tree in the Garden, that we do not see it as a serious problem affecting our relationship with God. But James alerts us to the danger of speaking evil of others even while speaking well of God and views it as a serious problem. When we are honest we recognize the conviction of the Spirit and how often we speak evil of God as well without realizing we are even doing it.
Far too often it is easy to miss the fact that a critical spirit, the habit of fault-finding, whether in our thoughts or words about others or even toward ourselves, is actually a spirit of cursing. Notice that James defines humans as those made in the likeness of God. And while it is true that the image of God in humanity has been tragically distorted by the effects of sin, the good news is that Jesus has restored a perfect reflection of God and has already implanted it back into every human soul. So to focus on the faults and failures of any human being, inferring that their identity is somehow defined by their malfunction or sins is to curse both that person as well as the God they are meant to reflect.
It is inconsistent for us to claim to honor and bless God while finding fault and accusing the human reflection of that same God. Every human being is by creation designed as a mirror image of the God they believe in, whether or not they are even consciously aware they believe God exists. In other words, by inherent design it is impossible to even be human yet not be a reflector of some god. So the real issue that must be dealt with is our internal perceptions and beliefs about God that occupy the core of our being, for it is at the gut-level where our concept of what God is like determines everything else in our lives and relationships.
It is true that for most of humanity our internal conception of God has been terrible distorted by sin, selfishness and abuse. This is the result of Satan implanting his own diabolical nature on the throne inside each one of us where God's throne is designed to be. (Dan. 11:36; 1 Thess. 2:3-4) So long as our internal concept of God is infected with the selfish, exploitive virus producing a nature leading us to be reflective of Satan's character, this condition will cause us to exhibit attitudes and behaviors consistent with the curse of sin. We curse God by accusing and blaming Him for evil we see happening around us or to us, or we profess to honor Him with our lips while speaking evil of others. Either way we are still participating in perpetuating the curse of sin in this world. James says this is wrong and violates foundational principles of reality created by God which results in bringing increased effects of the curse into our own lives.
For those willing to cooperate with the work of God's Spirit in salvaging their life and their patterns of thinking, this problem of duplicity in how we think and relate to others is one we will constantly be challenged to face at an increasingly deeper levels as we grow in faith. As we respond to the Spirit's convictions about how dark our internal picture of God is in contrast to the God Jesus revealed, we are challenged to confess and renounce terrible lies we have believed about God that have long been at the root of our own dysfunction. This is an important first step in the process of transforming our lives from living under the curse to living in the light of blessing, joy and gratitude, the renewing of our minds. (Rom. 12:2)
But the second step is equally important though necessarily after the first step. As we come to see that God is radically different than we have always believed Him to be, that He is exponentially better, more gracious, humble, forgiving and unconditionally loving than we have ever dared to imagine, we are then prepared to face the second stage where we come under increasing conviction of how deeply entrenched are our habits of speaking ill of others and/or of ourselves.
The first step involving belief in lies about God's motives, methods and attitudes can be an issue of projecting back onto God our own ways of doing things and our own attitudes we display toward others. An old adage contains a great deal of truth, God created man in His image and man returned the favor. The way we conduct business here on earth, the way we try to carry out justice, the way we treat enemies and how we determine worth, value and identity – all of these and much more we project into our internal concepts and beliefs about God. Yet in reality we are actually projecting our own sinful ways and practices into imaginary gods of our own making. Christians today are just as guilty of worshiping false gods as have been pagans and heathens throughout history, because in every way that we insist God does things like we do them, we are slandering His reputation just as surely as Israelites did by setting up worship paraphernalia on high places and indulging in gross immorality while presuming to be God's chosen people and His representatives on earth.
Terrible concepts about God's wrath, distorted teachings about His disposition towards His enemies and so much more are false teachings being pushed by popular Christianity today. Yet so many of them are nothing short of blasphemy and denial of the clear teachings and example of Jesus. Nationalism mingled with religion, arrogance, pride and immorality are in many cases more rampant among religious people today than outside the church. Those claiming to be God's representatives today are slandering God's reputation just as did His chosen people centuries ago, and God had to finally allow them to suffer tragic natural consequences of their stubborn unbelief in His goodness and truth.
Before we start to imagine that this is only a problem with other churches or other groups of people, that we have the true set of doctrines that earns God's favor, we need to listen more to the quiet voice of the Spirit prompting us to come to an even deeper level of awareness of our own complicity in the widespread slander of God in ways we may find horrifying when we were honest enough to admit it.
"But I had concern for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations where they went. "Therefore say to the house of Israel, 'Thus says the Lord GOD, "It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD," declares the Lord GOD, "when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight.
"Then you will remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and your abominations. "I am not doing this for your sake," declares the Lord GOD, "let it be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel!" (Ezekiel 36:31-32)
A son honors his father, and servants their master. If then I am a father, where is the honor due me? And if I am a master, where is the respect due me? says the LORD of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. You say, "How have we despised your name?" By offering polluted food on my altar. And you say, "How have we polluted it?" By thinking that the Lord's table may be despised.
(Malachi 1:6-7 NRSV)
"I am honored all over the world. And there are people who know how to worship me all over the world, who honor me by bringing their best to me. They're saying it everywhere: 'God is greater, this God-of-the-Angel-Armies.'
"All except you. Instead of honoring me, you profane me.
You profane me when you say, 'Worship is not important, and what we bring to worship is of no account,' and when you say, 'I'm bored - this doesn't do anything for me.'
You act so superior, sticking your noses in the air -- act superior to me, God-of-the-Angel-Armies! And when you do offer something to me, it's a hand-me-down, or broken, or useless. Do you think I'm going to accept it? This is God speaking to you!
"A curse on the person who makes a big show of doing something great for me - an expensive sacrifice, say -- and then at the last minute brings in something puny and worthless! I'm a great king, God-of-the-Angel-Armies, honored far and wide, and I'll not put up with it!
(Malachi 1:11-14 Message)
What are we promoting as the truth about God's attitude toward sinners? Do we teach or imply that to be blessed of God means enjoying prosperity, advantage, power over opponents? The blessings we desire from God reflect what we think is important both to ourselves and what we think is important for Him. But if we honestly examine many of our prayer requests filled with personal agendas and priorities, how much of our spiritual experience is saturated with selfish desires for supernatural power to advance our own agendas rather than submitting everything to God's agenda?
I am as guilty as anyone. The more I discover my own hidden motives in my petitions to God, the more ashamed I feel. But that can be a good thing, for I want to be more sensitive to these convictions from the Spirit of God in my heart, for they alert me as to how out of harmony I still am with God's heart. It is not how dysfunctional I am that is God's primary concern, but rather how willing I am to cooperate with His work to transform me so I can be brought into fuller maturity to live out my 'in Christ' identity I already have that is defined by Him. In the meantime, I must embrace even more intentionally a spirit of humility so that pride or indifference does not inhibit the ongoing work of the Spirit within my heart as He rewires me to be able to live in the presence of the intense love that is the atmosphere of heaven.
Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, "that You may be justified in Your words, and prevail when You are judged." (Romans 3:1-4)
Any version of religion that does not have love as its highest priority is a counterfeit and dangerous religion. The result of any emphasis other than what was demonstrated in the life and agenda of Jesus, to bring honor and glory to His Father's reputation, will likely lead to the practice of cursing.
It is easy to think that cursing only involves expletives we have socially deemed off-limits, vulgar or what we label as swear words. That is what I presumed most of my life. But now I am coming under increasing conviction that a great deal of my life has been contaminated by the infection of cursing, for fault-finding, pointing out errors in the church or supposed evil intentions by church leaders, political leaders or anyone else for that matter, are all included in God's view of cursing. Speaking ill of other people, pointing out their errors and sins, even if every aspect of such claims against them can be proven to be factually accurate, all comes under the venue of cursing. And according to James, to curse another human being is by inference to speak the same way about the One who created them.
Note that this symptom shows up immediately after the very first sin happened on this planet.
Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?" He said, "I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself." And He said, "Who told you that you were naked? [long uncomfortable pause waiting for an answer] Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" The man said, "The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate." (Genesis 3:9-12)
One of the symptoms that shows up in this interchange is the introduction of blame as a sure sign of a guilty conscience. Yet I had not noticed until now that Adam was actually cursing both Eve and God in his avoidance of God's question about the real source of their fear and shame. God directly asked them who had altered their identity to cause them to act so out of harmony with the identity He had created in them. But instead of truthfully answering the direct question, which could have led to much different results, both Adam and Eve chose the blame route, and in so doing launched the practice of cursing others and also invoking curses on themselves and everything that had been put within their dominion.
In essence, by cursing God and cursing his wife, Adam authorized Satan to now be over himself, his wife and everything under their dominion. Adam's answer to God was itself the curse giving Satan authority to now be the prince of this world. The words of God in response to the answers He received from our first parent's were not in themselves a curse imposed by God but were rather simply descriptions of the unavoidable effects of the curses that Adam and Eve had themselves pronounced. Now the reign of the curse would be experienced in all the dominion they had been given.
It is one thing to begin to understand how our first parents failed us, bringing the blight of the curse of sin into our world and even into our nature. But before we rush to judgment about them, we must accept responsibility for how much we continue the curse against others, God and even ourselves. Every human being is still created in the image of God, and now in addition has been unequivocally impregnated with a perfect identity by Christ, the one sent to save and rescue us from this dilemma. Yet when we continue to emphasize the faults, mistakes and sins of any human being, or when we implicate God as being at fault for not preventing bad things from happening in our world, we are perpetuating the curse and join in their guilt. By releasing even more effects of the curse into our lives and that of others around us, and even in unknown ways affecting nature, we participate with our first parents in their guilt of bringing more sin into the world.
So what is God calling each of us to do? Jesus spelled it out explicitly, and if we will take Him seriously we can find the path toward the full restoration of God's original image in our hearts and lives. In fact, the gospel brought to us by Jesus Christ is that evil can be overcome, and it will finally be eradicated altogether. And we do so as we counteract the curse in this world and reversing it to bless.
Furthermore, in your bedchamber do not curse a king, and in your sleeping rooms do not curse a rich man, for a bird of the heavens will carry the sound and the winged creature will make the matter known. (Ecclesiastes 10:20)
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:14-18, 21)
Jesus was not just giving nice advice here. He was elucidating a foundational principle of reality as God has designed it. We do not bless because people deserve it any more than God blesses us because we have earned it. We bless and do not curse because what we do reacts on ourselves and releases supernatural forces that immediately become authorized to enforce whatever we express. It is an issue of authorization as well as infiltration of our own souls that collectively works to form our characters.
Does it come natural to us to only bless, even after we begin to follow Jesus? That depends on what you mean by the word natural. With our fallen condition it will grate against our selfishness and defensiveness to bless and never curse. Yet as we choose to embrace our real identity in Christ, we can begin to experience more of the benefits of choosing to bless and refrain from cursing (speaking ill of others or ourselves) even when our emotions demand we do the very opposite.
I want to touch on an area of great deception among many of God's people. How do we relate to the latest conspiracy stories we hear that sound so compelling, that demand our attention and compel us to circulate them to others? They can feel so convincing of truthfulness that our emotions drive us to insist people must know about these things in order to protect themselves. But how does this relate to the standards Jesus and His apostles laid out as parameters of what defines our true identity in Christ?
Did Jesus spend even a moment of His time seeking to publicly expose corruption, deception, schemes and slander of His enemies in order to humiliate them? Or did He practice what He preached by doing everything possible to prevent even the most guilty of them from being unnecessarily exposed, even when they were actively exploiting vulnerable people He was seeking to shield from their attacks?
It is so easy to justify ourselves in this area by thinking that evil must be exposed in order for others to know what is really going on behind the scenes and who they are supposed to trust or distrust. But where does this presumption of need originate? Does God call us to be prophets exposing the evils of the church, or anyone else for that matter? Is it evidence of the work of Christ in the heart to dig up the faults of leaders in God's cause and to expose their errors or condemn their theology? Is this the example Jesus gave us or what He assigned His followers to do? Is this what is meant to be a disciple of Jesus, promoting the kingdom of God on earth and preparing a people for His return?
After the morsel, Satan then entered into him. Therefore Jesus said to him, "What you do, do quickly." Now no one of those reclining at the table knew for what purpose He had said this to him. For some were supposing, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus was saying to him, "Buy the things we have need of for the feast"; or else, that he should give something to the poor. So after receiving the morsel he went out immediately; and it was night.
Therefore when he had gone out, Jesus said, "Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him; if God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and will glorify Him immediately. Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, now I also say to you, 'Where I am going, you cannot come.' A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:27-35)
Isn't it just like Satan to bring in the most subtle, convincing deceptions in these last days to entice us and fill our imagination (the most important part of our makeup from where we receive our sense of identity) with the faults or presumed hidden sins of other people. On the other hand, he leads many to view themselves with loathing and a sense of utter worthlessness that they imagine to be humility, when in fact it is really a denial of how the God views them. Whether in arrogance and pride of opinion, or through believing feelings of worthlessness that tend to lead us into all sorts of abusive relationships, negative thinking and focusing on dysfunction wherever it is found, cursing should have no part of our lives. What is needed is what Jesus demonstrated, making the goodness of God our main focus which is the antidote that can reverse the curse, the very work Jesus came to fulfill.
I grew up deeply immersed in a dark state of fearful foreboding about how God must feel about me. I had mentors who infected me deeply with the infection of focusing on faults of others. It feels natural for me; it is my default reaction to most situations and is extremely hard to stop. Yet the gentle Spirit of God has been convicting me for years about my need to confess and surrender this habit, to see it for what it really is in contrast to how Jesus treated those who conspired against Him all the time.
Jesus unconditionally loved His enemies as well as those who responded positively to His offers of grace and love. He never even rebuked Judas, His false-hearted disciple who Jesus knew was stealing money all along from the purse meant for the poor. Jesus knew that Judas was duplicitous in his dealings and profession and that in doing so he was misrepresenting the the good news that Jesus was seeking to spread. Only when Judas, along with his father Simon, ganged up to shame Mary while she was pouring out her affection on Jesus did words of restraint come for Judas. Simon it seems may have received the warning and possibly later repented, but Judas took offense and soon after went off to seal the deal with the enemies of Jesus to betray Him into their hands for the price of a slave, more money for his own pocket.
Yet as we just saw in the previous passage, even having full knowledge of the evil heart and the conspiracy of Judas, Jesus refused to expose him, even to allowing the other disciples to falsely presume Judas was going out to fulfill desires of Jesus to bless the poor. Jesus and Judas both knew exactly what Judas was going off to do that night, yet to the very last moment Jesus only showed him compassion, love and forgiveness and never once exposed him as the fraud he had chosen to become.
If we want to be followers of the One who treated Judas, the Pharisees and all His other enemies the way He taught and demonstrated consistently, we can make no allowance for indulgence in the practice of fault-finding, criticism or titillating ourselves with the latest conspiracy stories. No matter how stimulating or even spiritual such activities may make us feel, these emotional stimulants do not originate with the Spirit Jesus sent for the purpose of reminding us of the words of the One who showed us how God feels about His enemies.
God, deliver us from this evil in our hearts. Liberate the true identity You have implanted deep inside each of us, that identity that reflects You just the way Jesus reflected Your heart perfectly while living among us. Heal us from our perverted enjoyment of evil-speaking and deliver us from this evil that clings to us so tenaciously.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2 NRSV)
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7)
So what are we supposed to do about all the evil in the world, in the church, in the lives of leaders and others around us? I believe the correct answer is to follow Jesus as our example – focus our attention on the surpassing (that means going far beyond everything else) riches of God's graciousness and goodness as displayed in His kindness we so often ignore in our penchant to focus on the darkness. Jesus repeatedly asked God to glorify His name. And this is what that means, blessing to displace cursing
For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God. (John 3:17-21)
We will never get rid of darkness by dwelling on the darkness. Only light dispels darkness.
We will never expose what is hiding in the darkness by dwelling on it. We will only strengthen it.
The only way to expose what is in the dark is to simply introduce true light. Light does what light does. We do not have to dwell on the negatives, either in ourselves or in others. Neither are we to imagine that we are the source of light. The only way we can be lights is as we focus the mirror of our heart on the light of glory, the real truth about God's goodness that shines light of truth. God's goodness and love is the only true light and works naturally to expose passively whatever is hidden in the dark.
It is not our job to convict others – there is no vacancy in the godhead. However it is our responsibility to personally respond to the convictions of the Spirit of God in our own hearts concerning our own faults. But even then we are not to despair over them. God does not come to condemn but to make us aware so that we can give God permission to heal us in His way and time. In this way each one of us may choose to come to the true Light so that it becomes evident to all around that we are choosing to live honestly, transparently and we are embracing the truth about our real identity that is in God/Christ.