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In God’s Image

02 May

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?

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9 Comments

Posted by on May 2, 2013 in Christian Ethics, Culture, Religion

 

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9 responses to “In God’s Image

  1. Jacob Howard

    May 6, 2013 at 10:39 am

    I was going to write a long piece on this to get some discussion going, but sometimes hurling too many elephants just ends up stifling things; so I decided to work through this in smaller chunks. 🙂

    First, I would assume you agree that in addition to loving our enemies, we’re also called to love our neighbors (Matthew 22:39), our fellow Christians (Galatians 6:10), and our wives/families (Ephesians 5:25; 1 Timothy 5:8). Correct?

    Jacob

     
  2. grinningdwarf

    May 6, 2013 at 11:12 pm

    Yes. (And I would post more now, but I am feeling under the weather tonight, to put it mildly.) looking forward to the development of your thoughts.

     
  3. Jacob Howard

    May 7, 2013 at 9:47 am

    All right. Do you believe there exists a hierarchy between these duties? For example, let’s say your enemy breaks into your house intending to harm your wife. In this situation, there’s a conflict between your duty to love your enemy and your duty to love your wife; the former may result in violence to your wife and the latter may require injuring (or even killing) your enemy. Do you think one takes precedence over the other in such a scenario?

    Hope you get out from under the weather. 😉

    Jacob

     
  4. whitefeatherfloating

    May 8, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    I would do all I could to protect anyone in my household from someone breaking in trying to harm them. I believe my duty to protect those in my home definitely comes before loving my enemy. But each situation calling for me to love my enemy is different, and the situation you mentioned would call for immediate action, whereas loving someone who has hurt me would require forgiveness, etc. which takes more time.

     
  5. grinningdwarf

    May 8, 2013 at 10:47 pm

    OK…I don’t think I was clear enough in my post.

    Jacob…I would answer ‘yes’ to your question…but it doesn’t really address the problem I had in mind.

    I’m talking about Christians upset with the outcome of the last presidential election who say “Obama is not my president.” Well…yes, he is. He won the election, like it or not, and he IS your president.(And this is one of the most mild forms of disrespect I’ve seen.)

    We see this on both sides of the political spectrum when people talk about abortion. People on the Left talk about the ‘War on Women.’ Sorry, but NOBODY I know on the Right who is pro-life is anti-women. A lot of them ARE women. They are motivated by a compassion for the unborn, not the ‘keeping down of women’. The Right is just as guilty when they use terms like Rush Limbaugh’s ‘feminazi.’ A ‘feminazi’, to paraphrase Rush, is a woman who gets furious whenever a woman is talked out of having an abortion. I don’t think I know ANYBODY on the Left who fits that description, but I hear it thrown around all the time to describe feminists.

    Language like this from either side Is quite loaded, throws kerosene on the discussion, and is never helpful. Christians should not be guilty of that sort of provocation. To repeat my lead sentence, “What Horton is essentially saying is that we Christians need to treat everybody with dignity and respect.”

     
  6. whitefeatherfloating

    May 9, 2013 at 11:18 am

    Yeah, I gathered that. I was talking about how I would respond in the situation Jacob mentioned. Everyone does deserve respect and dignity, and we ought never treat anyone differently because of their beliefs, ethnicity, or political stance.

     
  7. Jacob Howard

    May 9, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    The reason I ask about a hierarchy of duty is that the abortion issue involves two groups of people. If both the unborn and their destroyers are created in the image of God, then how we prioritize our duties will largely determine how we respond to the debate. Can we support abortion in an effort to love our enemies? Or do we oppose abortion in an effort to love our neighbor (assuming the unborn fall into the category of neighbor)? Now, concerning the concept of respect and dignity, does approaching the abortion lobby with respect show disrespect for the unborn? That is, does treating the people of Planned Parenthood with dignity imply that the deaths of the unborn aren’t even worth getting our hackles up over?

    Here’s why I ask….

    In Matthew 3:7, John the Baptist calls the Pharisees and Sadducees “brood of vipers.” Jesus uses the same phrase in Matthew 12:34 & 23:33. The words seem designed to dishonor and provoke (the phrase is structurally similar to our SOB). In Galatians 5:12, Paul wishes those causing the Galatians distress would emasculate themselves…which is not exactly charitable. Now, of course, Jesus didn’t go around slurring everyone. Likewise, Paul didn’t wish everybody who opposed him would take a knife to the boys. But it does seem that when things got serious enough, the gloves came off. And the reason seems to be out of love for others. Especially in the case of Paul, it appears that his love and concern for the Galatian church is behind his venom; their proper grasp of the Gospel overrules any thoughts of treating his opponents with dignity. If we accept that the Pharisees were a similar hindrance to the Gospel, then the words of John and Jesus also seem to be born out of love for those who might be led astray by Pharisaism.

    So, getting back to the original topic, is abortion an issue serious enough to warrant such tactics? Since the Church doesn’t bear the sword, we’re not at liberty to employ violence in the protection of the unborn, but might this be something where Christians are justified in getting a little short with the opposition?

    Jacob

     
  8. grinningdwarf

    May 14, 2013 at 7:40 pm

    Jacob, that’s a lotta questions in there!

    “Can we support abortion in an effort to love our enemies?”

    No.

    “Or do we oppose abortion in an effort to love our neighbor (assuming the unborn fall into the category of neighbor)?”

    We don’t oppose abortion in an effort to love our neighbor, but because abortion is morally wrong.

    “…does approaching the abortion lobby with respect show disrespect for the unborn? That is, does treating the people of Planned Parenthood with dignity imply that the deaths of the unborn aren’t even worth getting our hackles up over?”

    No to both of those.

    I think we need to pick and choose where and when we allow ourselves to vent our ire in the way that Jesus and Paul did in those specific instances. We tend to use the sharp tongue, acid wit, and poison pen in every day interactions with those who disagree with us on these points, and I don’t think it does our cause any good. I will certainly be developing this line of thought in the future.

     
  9. Jacob Howard

    May 15, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    “We don’t oppose abortion in an effort to love our neighbor, but because abortion is morally wrong.”

    I’m not sure the two are mutually exclusive. If Jesus had commanded us to hate our neighbor, then I don’t think abortion would garner that much attention from the church, for it would be an effective way to fulfill the commandment. It seems to me that the severity of abortion is due to the very fact that it results in the death of our neighbor.

    “No to both of those.”

    Could you expand on this a bit? Let’s say a child killer is captured and given a prison term. Now, let’s say his incarceration is quite luxurious. Cable television. Internet access. The works. From certain circles, there would be quite the uproar. Why? Because by giving the killer such dignity and respect, we’d be telling the victim’s parents (and society as a whole) that the child’s death doesn’t carry enough weight to warrant removing these commodities. Why can’t the tenor of our interactions carry similar implications?

    “I think we need to pick and choose where and when we allow ourselves to vent our ire in the way that Jesus and Paul did in those specific instances. We tend to use the sharp tongue, acid wit, and poison pen in every day interactions with those who disagree with us on these points, and I don’t think it does our cause any good. I will certainly be developing this line of thought in the future.”

    There is much wisdom in being situation-specific with our interactions. I wouldn’t disagree with that principle. However, by and large, I think the church has neutered itself too much in this debate. Especially amongst those with the ability to make a sophisticated pro-life case, there seems to be excessive respect shown to the opposition, as if the idea of abortion is some noble concept in the marketplace of ideas. I think the general message we’re sending the world is that abortion may be wrong…but it’s not that big of a deal. When it comes to the church’s response to the destruction of the unborn, I’d like to see more Rottweilers and fewer teacup poodles. 😉

    I look forward to your future developments on this issue.

    Jacob

     

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