As I stated in yesterday’s post (read here), my seven month old son has started to clap. When I say “clap”, I by no means am saying that he is ready to be on the front end of a timely bit of applause at the Master’s. No, by “clap”, I mean that on roughly half of his swinging attempts he is connecting his palms. And he has begun, more and more, to attempt this maneuver when we do it in front of him…he has started to imitate us.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.
(Ephesians 5:1 ESV)
This act of imitation is an inherently imperfect endeavor. And I believe it is so because imitation is, on some level, a life long pursuit of learning. At thirty-five years old I find myself no longer copying my father’s impressive motor skills, but the deft way that he makes wise life decisions or navigates relational issues. I continue to imitate him because the older and wiser that I become I find that he is doing the same thing. We don’t stop learning at some point (unless we make a choice to do so), so the amount that I could learn from him when he was thirty five and I was a child has not diminished thirty years later, but the content and context has changed drastically.
God doesn’t mature, obviously, as He is an eternally complete Being. But in His enormity there is a truth that needs to be understood: we will never reach the end of His wisdom or experience. God doesn’t become less useful as we grow in our maturity, He becomes more relevant each day to us; for the more we know, the more we know we need (and anyone who comes to believe themselves self-sufficient has ceased to progress and begun to regress).
I return to my son. As I said, when it comes to clapping right now his average is about .500. For a baseball player that is phenomenal, for clapping hands that is not nearly as impressive. But as Asher sees me clap and imitates me I have yet to look at him with frustration in those times that he misses his hands. I know that he will eventually “get it”, but it will take time. And as soon as he has mastered that skill there will be a hundred more to learn.
I say all of this because I fear that what Paul says in Ephesians 5:1 (and the rest of the chapter) can easily become a source of frustrated despair. We read this verse and look at our actions in comparison to God’s and we see an obvious cleavage between the two. To say that we are doing the same things as God would be a ridiculous notion, almost as ridiculous as saying that we shouldn’t try to narrow the gap at all. What Paul says here, as he draws in the illustration of children, is that imitation will be imperfect, perseverance, however, will be the signpost of success for us.
My son has a hard time imitating me because of his level of physical and mental development. I have a hard time imitating God for different reasons. I want to talk about two of those reasons tomorrow, and I believe that they are traits that we all deal with on one level or another.
Today, it is enough to remember that imitation is a process. We almost ought not call this aspect of Christianity a race, because it lacks a finish line (even in heaven we won’t find that our learning and imitating have ceased). Perhaps the description Paul uses later in Ephesians 5, as he speaks of marriage, is a better descriptor of this process: a mystery. It is a mystery that we investigate. Just as Asher investigates my movements and then attempts to duplicate them with forensic exaction, hoping to figure out just how these things work, we attempt to imitate God. In this resolute analysis we are diving into an eternal mystery full of twists, turns, surprises, and clues. But more than that we are diving into God, who is the source of the entire reason for imitation in the first place.