The Imago Dei and the Mercy of Christ
“People today are trying to hang on to the dignity of man, but they do not know how to, because they have lost the truth that man is made in the image of God…”
(Escape from Reason: A Penetrating Analysis of Trends in Modern Thought, 1968).
We all feel it. We see the posts. We watch the videos. We glance down at every notification as our twitter feed explodes with hundreds of hashtags expressing anger, sadness, confusion, grief…And while the reality of the brokenness brought about by sin has been present since Adam, we feel it more acutely at times. This week feels particularly heavy.
Coming off of a long weekend, Tuesday started with the reports of a suicide bomber in Baghdad killing almost 200 people in a public market.
Then the story out of Baton Rouge where police responded to a call about someone with a gun that ended in the death a man named Alton Sterling.
In an even more confusing situation, what should have been a routine traffic stop near St. Paul, MN ended with the death of Philando Castile while his girlfriend and her 4 year old daughter sat in the car with him.
…I couldn’t watch the videos or read the stories without tears.
Then, as if the week could hold any more grief, during what were peaceful protests in the Downtown Dallas area concerning the recent violence and clashes with police, an individual** opened fire on police officers, sniping from an elevated position, killing some and wounding others, including civilians.
And, this morning as I’m reflecting on the events of the week and thinking of how to respond helpfully as a pastor to the people God’s brought to River City, my news ticker flashes with another suicide attack in Balad (a city north of Baghdad) killing at least 35 more people and wounding more than 60!
It seems as if there is blood everywhere.
In the face of violence and death, millions of voices are clamoring for justice and peace. And yet, even as we search for them, we find justice and peace are scarce commodities. The violence seems senseless, death and loss seem to rule the day, and the cultural and racial tensions in the U.S. seem to stretch beyond the limit, ready to snap…
With all the ink spilled (or keys and screens tapped) in regards to these recent events, issues of race-relations, of justice and injustice, socioeconomic challenges, the difficult job of law enforcement and of the good and bad of police training and response, and the truth about historical events and attitudes and their impact on current cultural realities… what can I possibly add to the conversation that isn’t just more noise?
If I may, though, there is one thing that seems to rise to the surface as I’ve prayed, searched the Scriptures, and sought wisdom this week—we’ve too often lost sight of the Imago Dei (the image of God).
We want to be treated with dignity. All of us. And, as human beings, we have an inherent dignity and worth that should be acknowledged. However, human dignity isn’t self-existing—we don’t create our own value. We have dignity and worth as human beings because we are made in the image and likeness of God. In the beginning God made male and female, one human race, distinct from all other created things. Created in His image and likeness.
As Francis Schaeffer observed in 1968 - we are unable to hold on to the dignity of humanity because we’ve lost the truth that men and women are created in the Image of God.
How do we know we’ve lost sight of this truth?
- when human life is more easily counted in statistics rather than the names of the people lost
- when we over-generalize and lump groups of people together as “them”
- when we fail to see every death as tragic
- when our emotion keeps us from seeking justice and the facts of a situation
- when desire for facts hinders our ability to “weep with those who weep.”
Pastor H.B. Charles said, “The Bible exhorts us to weep with those who weep. It doesn’t tell us to judge whether they should be weeping.”
As Christians we need to hold to the Truth—that all humanity bears the mark of God—we carry the Imago Dei.
This means two things for us:
1 - All peoples deserve dignity and respect. AND WE, as followers of Jesus, not only bearing the mark as image bearers, but willfully carrying the mark of Jesus as well, are to be examples and vehicles of mercy because God has been merciful to us in Christ.
2 - We are to respond with mercy and compassion. YES there are going to be differences. YES there are going to be moral issues and Biblical disagreement with people—even with other professing Christians—but NONE of these things precludes our responsibility to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:9-21)
As editor and author Justin Taylor tweeted, “The world has no explanation for the sinfulness of sin and no hope for true and lasting justice. We have a better and truer Story.”
Paul tells us in Colossians 3:11-12 (ESV)
“Here (IN CHRIST) there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…” (emphasis mine)
By God’s design, we are all made in God’s image. Sin has marred that image and sin continues to be the root cause of brokenness, injustice, strife, and division. BUT—that’s the beauty of Christ’s Gospel! IN CHRIST, what has been broken is made new. We are now both reconciled to God—no longer enemies, but sons and daughters—AND there is no longer division with one another, but we are ONE in Christ Jesus!
In view of this, here is my heart’s prayer:
Oh Lord, open my eyes to see where I am blind to the challenges of others who are not like me. Break my heart with compassion and not just pity; mercy and not condescension. Enable me to weep with the broken-hearted and give me courage to speak up against injustice in favor of Truth…always working toward peace.
Κύριε ἐλέησον Lord, have mercy.
Χριστέ ἐλέησον Christ, have mercy.