What is it that gives a person their value and worth? Some believe and live as though skin color, socioeconomic status, or benefit to society are what determine it. For Christians, the book of Genesis begins to provide the answer in the opening chapter. The latin phrase ‘imago dei’ means “image of God”.
In Genesis 1:27 Moses writes, So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Men and women, the human race, everybody is made in his image. Thus, a person’s worth and value is infinitely high.
What is the Bible communicating with this idea? The human race bears the image of its Creator by their reason, morality, and ability to relate to others governed by love and goodness. It is a level of community and relationship that no other created thing within the cosmos can reach.
Human dignity is also reflected in the image of God. We are all inherently dignified by the Creator’s imprint. But when watching a video, or viewing a picture that went viral on Twitter, we more than likely forget this. We say, “that is what a _______ would say”, or “people who are ______do that”. Our different viewpoints, ethnicities, and religious beliefs can keep us from remembering that we’re a human community of the imago dei. And before we mourn over the scene of an image bearer laid dead on the street, we consider all the arguments that justify that tragic end result.
I give this example because of where I found myself a few years ago. My need to rationally understand everything that was happening in our world was satisfied by the simple act of labeling ‘others’. Add to that, many in my Christian ‘tribe’ were beginning to do the same thing. Those who believed that God created everybody, were now beginning to see some as ‘sub-human’. The irony of it all is tragic. Essentially, what many believed, including myself, was that everyone was dignified to the degree it fit our agenda. Unfortunately, this is nowhere found in Scripture.
But the demise into this kind of degradation can happen fast. For many of us it begins with labels. As soon as I label you and presume to know you, then I no longer have to care for you. It’s dehumanizing. Labels are the cancer that kills embodied neighborliness. Take a daily sample of labels that people use which potentially rob others of their humanity. The list is long: black, brown, immigrant, gay, transgender, leftist, politician, “the media”, celebrity, “anti-God”, liberal, extremist, or Muslim. I’m sure you could easily add to the list.
Usually, when there are disagreements concerning these categories, the first thing thrown out the window is the human dignity rooted in imago dei. That is anti-love and anti-Christ. You and I may disagree on lifestyle and worldview, but you are a person made in the image of God, and you are entitled to be treated in a way that affirms your value and worth.
So where do we go from here?
Jesus offers us a better way. And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” – Matthew 9:35-38
Seeing the masses Jesus had compassion. That phrase is an interesting one— it means that your bowels are stirred. The inner parts of who you are unsettled. Jesus saw their condition and then began to speak to his followers about their prayer life. Here is what we must consider: if you don’t recognize the humanity of an individual, you’ll never carry them into your prayer closet. I thought I had every good reason to be skeptical of the Black Lives Matter movement, but never once prayed for them. Zero invitations to the prayer closet. But according to Jesus, prayer and intercession is where compassion is birthed. “Pray earnestly to the Lord”, he says. Have I done this for image bearers who, despite difference, need me to act? Have you?
We will not actively engage and compassionately reach people that we haven’t prayed for and wept for in the presence of God. We just won’t. But when we do, I believe God will act. From there, he gives us the ability to take action, even without having all the answers.
Let’s be very clear. God is saving people from all tribes and nations. God is saving homosexuals. God is saving transgenders. God is saving people on the ‘left’ and saving people on the ‘right’. But do we pray as if this is true?
As we pray, and are moved with compassion, I believe God will lead us to see ‘others’ without the label. To see another human as the image bearer they are, in light of differences, is the doorway to neighborly love. You see, it’s hard to love people we don’t know. But if the gospel is about Jesus moving toward us to give real life, then let us pray and move toward our neighbors with all his strength and love.
Reflect On This…
Think of a few people that you are close too, who are precious to you. How do you see Jesus reflected in them?
Is there a person or a type of person that you consistently struggle to love, who always seems to be a “him,” “her,” or “them” instead of an “us” in your mind?
How can you pray for both of these groups, for you to see better the dignity of God’s image in them and for that image to flourish?