“God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them.” [CEB]
Genesis tells us something about ourselves that is both humbling and a bit overwhelming: we are created in the image of God. But if this the case, then why are we such jerks about it? Why are we quick to judge others and make them feel like they are LESS THAN the image of God? Why are we tempted to do a little superiority dance every time we meet someone whose understanding of God is different from ours? Why do we keep on insisting that our Creator is exclusively male and white, when those who are made in God’s image, come in all kinds of shapes, sizes and colors?
Notice that the book of Genesis says that WE are created in the image of God. In other words, all of us TOGETHER are a reflection of the Divine. It’s not a competition about who looks more like God. Instead, it’s an art installation where each of us gets to play a small part in something bigger than ourselves. Individually, we are simple brush strokes. Together, we are a masterpiece.
So being created in the image of God requires that we make an attitude adjustment. It’s not a ME thing. It’s a WE thing. All of us TOGETHER are a reflection of the Divine. And when we understand this, it radically changes the way we look at God, ourselves, and our neighbors. Suddenly, God is a whole lot bigger than our attempts to put the Eternal in a box. We just might learn something about God from the person we labeled as our enemy that we did not know. Suddenly, the person who pushes all of our buttons, becomes a holy opportunity for us to examine our prejudices and grow beyond them. Like I said before, it’s not a Me thing. It’s a WE thing. The sooner we learn this, the better.
I have a story for you. During my teenage years I was fortunate enough to be part of the Agape Singers at Berkeley Hills Lutheran Church. Every year we did a musical together, performing concerts in the area. In the summer we went on a 10 day tour. I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that THIS group and THIS church got me trough those difficult high school years. I was the new kid in town, but they welcomed me with open arms, and treated me like a long-lost friend. They showed me through their kind encouragement and warm hospitality what a healthy Christian community looks like.
They are the main reason why I am a pastor today, and why I try to each others the same values I learned from them. They helped me to see that I was a beloved child of God. Together we formed a magnificent portrait of the Divine image. This experience became my gold standard for how to do Christianity right. This doesn’t mean our group was drama free. But we worked out our differences in love and that was the key to our success.
Fast forward to 2018, and the world around me seems like a much different place. While its true that someone in their 50’s naturally has a different perspective than a 17 year old, the Body of Christ is clearly more divided than ever. I watched people loose their minds this week over the new 30th Anniversary Nike ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick. People were literally setting their Nikes on fire as an act of protest. Seriously? I stayed out of the drama but watched friends on both sides say horrifying things, about him and about each other. People whom I know to be followers of Jesus, looked very un-Jesus-like to say the least.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. The mean-spiritedness of some Christians these days is absolutely horrifying. We cannot simply have a difference of opinion with our siblings in Christ. We need to humiliate them, call them names, demonize them and squash them like a bug. It’s a sad state of affairs, indeed. But we know that this kind of heated rhetoric is being modeled for us from the White House on down. Social media has only served to amplify the vitriol because it’s easier to be mean to someone when there is a computer screen between us and them.
Yet in the midst of this war of words, God reminds us that we are created in the Divine image. All of us. Every single one of us. The Nike shoe burner and the Colin Kaepernick supporter. The Conservative Christian and the Progressive Christian. The Republican, the Democrat, the Independent. And so on and so forth. All of us TOGETHER are a reflection of the Divine. It’s not a ME thing. It’s a WE thing. The only way we will heal our nation, along with the Church of Jesus Christ, is if can remember this essential truth. It should define who we are as followers of Christ and as human beings.
If we’ve forgotten what it looks like to live as those created in the image of God, the Bible gives us lots of clues. In the midst of all the heated rhetoric that passes for conversation these days, St. Paul’s words come to mind: “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. [We’ve certainly heard enough of that lately!] Love is patient; love is kind; Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; It is not irritable or resentful; It does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Cor 13:1,4-7)
The next time we’re tempted to barbecue someone with a flame thrower of hurtful words, perhaps we should read 1 Corinthians 13 before uttering a syllable or hitting a keystroke. The next time we notice ourselves feeling judgmental of others, perhaps we should remember that even those whom we label as our enemies are created in the image of God. Christ tells us to love them and pray for them, even when they are persecuting us. This is not bleeding-heart liberal thinking. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we as the Church could look more like my experience of the Agape Singers, we would, indeed, change the world.
Our second lesson from Philippians captures the attitude we need to possess as those who are created in the Divine image: “Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus: though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like a human being. When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Generosity, humility, helping our neighbor prosper, setting aside selfish motives and serving others. This is what it looks like to live as those who are created in the Divine image. This is the most challenging work we will ever undertake, because it’s so much easier to be greedy, opinionated and judgmental. We can do that without even thinking about it! But embodying the qualities we see reflected in the life of Jesus, is another matter altogether.
It’s a work in progress. It’s doing really great one day, and then failing spectacularly the next. However, the good news is that we have a forgiving God. We have a Savior who promises us that new life can come from death, and new bridges can be built after we’ve burned them to the ground. Let us never forget that we are created in the image of God. All of us. Every single one of us. It’s not a ME thing. It’s a WE thing. May this truth inspire us to become the best images of God we can possibly be. Amen.
Copyright ©2018 by David Eck