Liquid Church,  Rough Diamond

A Rough Diamond

John Dryden once referred to Chaucer as a rough diamond. I suppose he meant that underneath all the naughtiness of the Miller’s Tale was fine literature. The image of a rough diamond is supposed to elicit the idea that underneath a person’s environment, appearance and demeanour is a thing of beauty, something worth revealing.

However, as this idea permeates our culture it has taken on mythic proportions. In its grasp we all, no matter how wicked we appear, are, by nature, beautiful, good, magnificent even. Not even an assasin is rotten at the core (see here for my comments on the film, The American). In fact, it appears that the more repugnant the outward appearance is the more beautiful the diamond inside.

This has important theological implications. What exactly, if we are all beautiful on the inside, do we mean by redemption? Well, if we are all rough diamonds, redemption must mean the cutting and polishing of the outside to reveal what was inside all along. For some churches, this is their intent. A recent interview “revealed” this idea at the heart of a ministry in New Jersey called “Liquid Church” (listen to the interview here). The church had been using music by Lady Gaga in worship. Music usually used to tittilate (that’s to put it mildly) was used to gain an audience for a worship service (the congregation sang some Gaga to God!). How was this to be justified? The music of Lady Gaga is redeemable because contained within it, said Liquid’s pastor, Tim Lucas, is a treasure that can be revealed.

There are a couple of problems with this view when applied to human beings. Firstly, the Bible is a little darker about human “inner” nature. The key to virtue is not found in habits or in activities, but in faith. Romans 14:23 says, “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” Redemption is not the revealing of an inner diamond, but the creation of a new regenerate nature, one that believes in Christ and submits to his Lordship. 

Secondly, perhaps the rough diamond analogy is a reflection of a return to a somewhat neo-platonic ontology. Plotinus thought that all was connected to the ‘One,’ the transcendent principle from which all that is emanates. The One, Plotinus thought, was to be thought of as beauty itself. All that exists, then, emanates from the One. And each person was imbued with the essence of the One. Is this what might be meant by the diamond supposedly found in each of us? It is not clear, but perhaps it is what is meant by the belief that we somehow “see” God in all people.

While all human beings are made in the image of God and, consequently, are of intrinsic worth, image is not the same as substance. God did not ooze his ousia (Greek for “being”)  there was no leakage from God in creation. Consequently, human beings (or any other part of creation) are not pieces of divine substance. Creation was ex nihilo not ex deus. What human beings do possess, however, is the image of God, a likeness with the creator. Augustine likens the image of God to the imprint of an insignia left in the wax, but what you see is the mark of the creator, not the creator himself.

There is a touch of the romantic about the idea that sealed within the hopeless sinner is a perfect jewel just waiting to emerge like a beautiful melody from a cacophony. Unfortunately, this is a human delusion and fails to recognize how deep the problem of sin goes. Sin is not surface deep, like some kind of restraining layer of cling wrap waiting to be torn off, but a fundamental orientation of the heart, the inner person. It is rooted in unbelief, a commitment to human autonomy from God and a desire to worship the creature not the creator. Nothing we can do can make any difference to this condition; we cannot redeem ourselves. For that we need God. And it is he who has given his Son to death on our behalf and, when we place our faith in Christ, it is he who reckons us as a jewel for the sake of his Son.

Assistant Professor of Philosophy and History of Ideas at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and The College at Southeastern.