I was re-reading a book that should be considered a classic…but it was only written in 1991, so it’s a little soon for that award. The book is Putting Amazing Back into Grace: Embracing the Heart of the Gospel by Michael Horton. The following passage was just as convicting this time as it was the first time I read it…
“Redemption, or course, is limited to the group of those whom God has moved in history to redeem and call to himself. In other words, only justified believers are saved from God’s judgment. But creation is much broader, embracing not only Christians, but non-Christians. James warned the faithful against the hypocrisy of using the same tongue to “praise our Lord and Father” and to “curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness” (3:9). Even those outside the household of the faith bear the divine image.
In one sense, this universal character of the divine image is a plus, in another sense, a minus. First the good news. The universality of the divine image means that your neighbor, whether the world’s most obstinate atheist or a pastor’s wife, is an equal in the sharing of the image of God. This divine imprimatur is the result of creation, not redemption. The image of God which requires us to respect those who bear it, therefore, requires us to recognize the dignity of all human beings, regardless of who they are, what they believe, or what they do.”
What Horton is essentially saying is that we Christians need to treat everybody with dignity and respect.
That should be a no-brainer, right? But when he says ‘everybody’, he means everybody. Not just our family and friends. Not just our co-workers who are easy to work with, but also the one guy who sees you as a rival for a promotion. Not just the neighbors that we like and get along with, but also the neighbor who lets her dog do its business on our front lawn. Even people whose politics oppose yours at every turn. Yup…even them.
Why is this? Because every human being bears God’s image and is worthy of that respect. Every…one. Even if those people are doing horrible, ungodly things and we need to oppose them politically or socially, Paul says we should always conduct ourselves “in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.” (Phil. 1:27) Jesus says that this manner includes loving even our enemies. He does not mean “Those with whom you are slightly peeved.” Jesus says ‘enemies’; He means ‘enemies’.
Notice that Horton maintains the distinction between ‘God’s creation’ and ‘God’s children’. We are not all God’s children. John wrote concerning Jesus, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:12-13) So according to the Scriptures, only some of us are God’s children and will have an eternity to spend with the Father, but all of us are God’s creation and are bearers of the divine image and worthy of respect and dignity here on earth.
I see the Christians already nodding their heads in polite agreement right now (except maybe for the ones wondering if I’ve gone New Age with the “all of us are bearers of the ‘divine image’” stuff).
Well…if this is true…then why do I see and hear so much bitterness and hatred from my fellow Christians towards those on the other side from us? Why don’t we practice what we claim to be true?
I get part of it; for instance, abortion is evil. Those who practice it are murdering the innocent. IMHO, they certainly deserve some measure of wrath. But is it my place to pour out that wrath? Paul says,”Do not repay anyone evil for evil.” I can hate the evil that is committed. I can vote to prevent it whenever I can. I can write against it and try to convince others of the correctness of my position. But does that excuse the vileness I see out of so many Christians towards those who ‘deserve’ it? Our examples would seem to say ‘no’.
When Jesus was dying on the cross, what did He say about those who put Him there? “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Stephen, the first Christian martyr, as he was on his knees being stoned to death, said,”Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
If this is the way they treated those who were actually killing them, how are we supposed to treat those with whom we are having a mere disagreement?