Spirituality for Today – January 2012 – Volume 16, Issue 6

The Challenge to Imitate God

By Rev. Msgr. Frank Wissel

Every individual is a unique person. There is no one else in the world who is exactly like you and me. Most of us take pride in this. We like to think of ourselves as originals. One of us wants to be an imitation of some other person. That is a healthy attitude. It would be a sad thing to go through life pretending to be someone else.

Yet, there is a sense in which imitating other people is an essential part of living. We all do it.

The language that we speak is a case and point.

A photo of a many colored hand prints on a white background

Every one of us learned to talk by imitating the sounds that we heard others make. And to a large extent we learned to walk, to eat, to play, and to work by the same method.

Unique individuals though we are, our lives in large measure are imitations of what we have seen and heard in the lives of other people. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

That all depends on who we chose to imitate. We are inherently imitators. Some degree of imitation is inevitable for every one of us. Therefore, we should exercise wisdom and caution when choosing our role models.

There is a scripture reading that Paul wrote: "Be imitators of God as he dear children." The apostle was not a thinker of small thoughts. His attitude was that since we are going to imitate someone, why not the highest and the best.

Why not God, himself? Our first reaction to that, if we take it seriously is probably disbelief. How could we mere mortals model our lives after "God the Father, Almighty Creator of heaven and earth?"

Obviously, there are some things about Him that cannot be imitated. He is omnipotent. That means he is all powerful. We cannot imitate that. And he is omnipresent. That means he is everywhere. We cannot imitate that.

However, Paul mentions three characteristics of God that we as his own children can imitate in our own living.

The first is kindness. One might think that the challenge to imitate God would begin with a call to some heroic deed or some ultimate sacrifice.

Paul began with a thought so simple and so down-to-earth that children often memorize in church school. Here it is, and we adults would do well to memorize it ourselves: "Be kind to one another."

A commitment to model our lives after God could ultimately lead you and me to unanticipated heights of heroism and sacrifice. But for the moment that is not our challenge.

Right now, we must deal with the daily routine of life; we must do our work, pay our bills, and hopefully have a little fun in the midst of it all.

While doing this, our most consistent challenge would be living with and relating to other people. It is here that we are called to practice simple kindness.

If we would imitate God in the daily routine of life we must begin by being kind to one another. Sometimes I think of epitaphs – those brief statements etched on grave stones in memory of the deceased. What would you choose for your epitaphs? How would you like to be remembered?

Allow me to make a suggestion: Let us live our lives in such a way that when we are gone, it can be rightly said of each of us: "He was a kind man," "She was a kind woman." If we do that, we will be called imitators of God as his dear children.

Another divine characteristic is that we are called to imitate is compassion. Scripture tells us that God has a "tender heart." It can be broken. God can be made to grieve. Thus we have the phrase "Do nothing that will sadden the Holy Spirit."

Paul gives us a list of things that have that effect – things that bring sadness to the heart of God. They are "bitterness, anger, harsh words, slander, and malice of every kind." Such things are contrary to the divine nature.

They have no place; they play no part in the life of God. And if we would be like Him, we must rid ourselves of these attitudes and actions that bring sadness to his heart.

Another way where we can imitate God is willingness to forgive. It makes sense that I should forgive someone who may have hurt me because I may soon offend another and seek forgiveness.

In the church, we carry a profound message of hope for a sinful world. God is a great forgiver. But every day of our lives, we either confirm or deny that message by the way we deal with one another.

If we fail to forgive, we are contradicting the very measure that we preach. When we are mutually forgiven, we are simply imitating what God has already done for us.

In the strongest sense of the word, Jesus spoke of assimilation. He offered himself as our spiritual food. His personality can e assimilated into our personalities so that we may become like him. He alone had seen the Father.

And as he said in another place, "The Son can do only hat he sees the Father doing." His kindness, his compassion and his willingness to forgive were exact reproductions of those qualities as he had seen them in his Father.

And when his life is incorporated into our lives, then it becomes possible for us to be "imitators of God, as his dear children."