Summary: God created us in his own image and likeness, with intellect and free will. He respects our dignity by allowing even bad choices.
The temptation that humans in an unredeemed state constantly undergo is the temptation to create gods in their own image and likeness. So Zeus, the king of the gods, was created in the image of earthly kings–capricious, selfish, lusty and unfaithful. Dionysius, god of wine and revelry, was a storied alcoholic. No pagan god had the best interests of humanity at heart. Moreover, no pagan god could be counted on to be consistent. So pagans offered up sacrifices and the best they could hope for is regular rain, no locusts, no hurricanes to disturb commerce, and “please, O god, leave us alone.”
Now the temptation to us who believe in the One God of the Bible is no different. God is our Father, and He loves us so much that He gave His Son, once for all, in sacrifice. It’s the sacrifice we re-present in this great daily memorial, the sacrifice of His eternal love that changes us into His image. Jesus as the vine–we as the branches–is a great Eucharistic image. But it is more than a linguistic metaphor. The blood of Jesus Christ’s resurrected body is really meant to flow in our veins and arteries in our own resurrection. We take it sacramentally so that we can bear fruit in good deeds, in prayer, and in mystical union with each other.
But there is another face of God’s love. God loves us so much, wants so much for us to be in His image, that He does not interfere with the free will that images His essence. He will not physically constrain us from wanting and taking things that are morally bad, that harm us and others. We ask, “why didn’t God prevent that fellow from murdering all those people?” And the answer, remarkably, is that He loved that fellow too much to take away that which makes him human, and that which he needed to become divine–his free will. He loves us so much that when we tell Him, “I know better. I want things that aren’t mine, disordered sexual expression, cursing and swearing and gossip,” God tells us, “OK, if that’s what you want instead of me, take it.” The wrath of God is us getting what we ask for, and all the bad consequences of our evil actions, including eternal separation from God. O Lord, help us to want only what you want, and to loathe all those things you hate. Make us in the image of your servant, Mary, and your Son, Jesus Christ.