Committed to God’s Image

This is the first in a series of posts sketching some of the most important truths guiding this website’s editorial direction.

We’re made in God’s image.

That may be a familiar phrase to a lot of Christians in the United States, but really, it’s kind of a weird concept to get your head around today.

In the ancient near east, the image of a god was a big deal. Gods’ images were usually carved out of wood, stone or some kind of precious metal. They were spoken of reverently, honored with constant maintenance and flattered with frequent gifts. Every god had an image or even multiple images for his followers to honor and revere—except the god of the Bible.

Instead of settling for an image carved from an inert lump, God created humanity to be his image—an entire dynamic, living, breathing race of beings. Humanity is, as J. Richard Middleton put it in The Liberating Image, meant to serve as “a localized, visible, corporeal representation of the divine.” And God commanded his people to honor that representation.

After the first generation of humans to live outside of paradise discovers murder, God’s rationale against it is rooted in the fact that his image is too important to ever be dishonored:

God imprinted his image on humans before the fall, but even after the fall, even after humans were exiled from God’s presence, the power and the authority of his image is not diminished. Indeed, as the story of humanity continued to unfold, his image on us only became more important. When Jesus came to embody and fulfill God’s word and take God’s mission of salvation and redemption global, he took the commandment from Genesis 9 even further:

We are living in an age of hyper-partisanism. In this age, in this place, one of the most distinctive stances Christians can take for the gospel in the political arena is to declare that, to us, God is so great and his image is so important that we’re not going to belittle or insult it—even when it’s found on people we disagree with. 

The gospel compels us to disagree with our political opponents without dehumanizing them. This is no easy feat when so much of the political conversation we read online or see on TV or hear on the radio seems dedicated to tearing down anyone who belongs to one camp or another. Every day, politicians, pundits and political hit men toss around words even harsher than “fool.” Words like, “fascist.” “Terrorist.” “Racist.” “Traitor.” But when was the last time you looked at someone who disagrees with you and called them, “brother?” Have you forgotten how to disagree with someone without resorting to language that tears them down? Is it even possible to remember that the political figures whose policies you loathe are dynamic, living, breathing images of God?

“The gospel compels us to disagree with our political opponents without dehumanizing them.”

The writers who are about to start sharing their experiences with you on this blog don’t have this entirely figured out. Neither do their editors. We’ve all sinned. We all fall short of commands that Jesus gives us. But we’re here on this site because we want to help one another to keep our eyes fixed on Christ as we walk through our political lives. We hope that you’ll join us, and I can’t think of a better way for us to start together than with prayer:

Father, you knit together each of us—man and woman, Jew and Greek, Democrat and Republican—and stamped us with your image as a testament to your glory. We often have a hard time remembering to honor that. We insult people who don’t look or think or vote like us and we tell ourselves that they are somehow beyond the scope of your kingdom. Give your church in this country a deeper reverence for your image wherever it is found. Teach those of us who are engaged with the civic process to honor your image by treating our political opponents with dignity and respect. We pray these things not for our own security, but for the glory of your Son, whose name we carry and in whose name we pray. Amen.

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  • Rick Barry is Executive Director of Center for Christian Civics, where he helps ministry leaders and faith communities develop missional approaches to their local public squares. He has worked on campaigns for local, state and federal office, is a former writer and editor for Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and oversaw communications for the Grace DC church network. He and his wife live in Washington, DC.

2 Responses

  1. Interesting, and very challenging, probably to most of us engaged much at all in politics. Curious though how this would apply to Systems(Slavery, Fascism, Capitalism, Socialism, etc) as opposed to people. Like, we look back at slavery and see it as a vile, ungodly system, but it also feels like we, to some degree, also apply these things to the knowing proponents of such a system as well. But I guess that’s where "Hate the [policy], love the [politician]" comes in.

    1. Chris, that’s a very good question, and I don’t have a clean and easy answer. If I wanted to be trite, I’d say that one of the purposes of getting a bunch of different people together to write for this site and then attempting to get even more people to come here and join in the comments is to try to figure out an answer to that.

      My best guess right now is that of course we are supposed to work to make the unjust systems of the world function justly—that’s all over the Old Testament and the New—and the world is so big and vast and complicated that any cause your faith moves you to is probably going to leave you with allies in the cause that don’t share your faith. The thing we need to do is to avoid "fighting in the style of the devil under the banner of Christ." We need to find the ways that the gospel equips us to look and sound different from the people around us, even the people we generally agree with. Respecting the image of God imprinted on people who are doing things you detest is extremely difficult, but even if it only results in a slight change in your tone or language, I think it’s probably worth it.

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