Humans are complex creatures. We are full consistencies and inconsistencies; predictabilities, and surprises; logic and paradox. We experience tremendous joys and horrific suffering, sometimes at the very same time. We long to live and fight to survive while griping about the manner in which we must live and survive. We long to be good, but often find ourselves acting with selfishness or contempt toward others. We long for people to judge us as good while fearing all the while that they judge us otherwise. The desire to appear good presses us toward complex and intricate strategies to manage the impressions others have of us while trying desperately to crush, hide, or deny that part of us that we believe deserves the kind of self-loathing our hedonism or self-condemnation indicate. In short, we have a hard time being whoever it is we were meant to be and can’t stop trying to figure it out.
Layer 1: IMPRESSION MANAGEMENT
We all seek to manage the impressions others have of us; furthermore we seek to manage them such that it is advantageous to ourselves. This isn’t always selfish. There are ways to manage impressions altruistically, but in the end, even in altruism we manage the impressions of others toward our own advantage.
Somewhere deep down we know what we are doing. We know that we have to perform for people. We must do the task at work, show up to class at school, appear productive or smart when we are not. We want people to think the best of us in the context we live. Or, if not the best, then some other thing. The dark Goth teen is managing impressions showing only the dark. The hipster is managing impression hoping for sophisticated status and their denial of it is their best perpetuation of it – and they know it. The professor must be professorly even when everything within screams otherwise.
We want people to have a particular understanding of us and there is the fashion industry, political narratives, and all manner of ways of being seen and understood to back up the sense that we want control over the beliefs others have of us. The person who says, “I don’t care what people think,” lives within a secret from whom no one is excluded knowing the truth – that they too are managing impressions.
Layer 2: SELF-LOATHING
Some people are more honest about their self-loathing than others, but mostly we are all dishonest about it. We try hard to conceal it. This self-loathing is our reaction to ourselves and that collection of parts about ourselves that we wish were not real or true. Stupid. Ugly. Failure. Rejection-worthy.
We “know” these things about us are true. Or we “know” that the meaning we assign to them is true. And these things are undesirable. Some of them are just physical characteristics (I’m short or my nose is too big) while others are potentially humiliating. We will do whatever we can to conceal or hide and misdirect such that these undesirable characteristics cannot be seen or given a value by anyone else. With self-loathing comes fear and with fear comes an inability to love.
We manage impressions in a particular way that people will both see what we want them to see while not see what we wish to hide from them. We bury underneath the surface these things and they become secrets. Secrets just left to rest untouched or covered up rot and spread to everything else around them. We get sick with secrets as the infections spreads within. Usually, the answer to the sickness of our secrets is greater effort invested into impression management. With so many secrets, there is so much more to manage.
Layer 3: IMAGO DEI
Buried beneath years and decades of impression management and self-loathing is one more layer of complexity – and innocence. It is the Imago Dei. It is the image of God. Humans are not God, but are in so many ways like God. We are daughters and sons of God. What this means is that we have the impulse within us to create, to appreciate beauty, to reach for infinity. We are capable of love through compassion, peace-making, justice, mercy, grace, and all manner of virtue. There is an endless impulse within us to sacrifice for others, to improve whatever it is we come across in this life, to declare “good” that which is good.
The divine impulse within each person is always alive in the person. Even when the seduction of impression management and the tyranny of self-loathing pile on layer after layer, this impulse to make all manner of good burst forth is always alive. It may be buried with some, but it is alive, free-willed, and ready to unleash goodness, redemption, and relief.
When humans are at their best, they have given up on the high cost of impression management and have faced their fears concerning that which seems to deserve self-loathing. When humans go to the third layer deep and reach past their base desires and deep fears, there is something there it is beautiful and infinite.
Where is God? Well, if humans are an image of God, then I suppose God is partially within each of us. If God dwells in a temple and that temple is human flesh and blood, then God is in you.