Image Is Everything…
…And we’re not talking about your LinkedIn profile picture or your resume. We’re talking about something that every human being has in common: they are made in the image and likeness of God. Those who will do redemptive poverty work—the kind of service, partnership, and care with communities of poverty that honors God—stand on the doctrine of the image of God as their firm foundation.
It is the basis for treating each person, each family, and every people group with respect, compassion, and honor, regardless of background or position. Genesis 1, as well as the entirety of Scripture, boldly affirms that every human shares God’s own image. This does not mean that God owns human-like traits. Rather, God has granted each human being the unique honor of sharing his own likeness, one which no other creature owns. Essentially, each human shares within their nature God’s very own nature.
Throughout history, theologians have debated what the “image and likeness of God” means, describing it in terms of our intellect, our spiritual makeup, our conscience, or our ability to relate intimately to God. Though the scope of its meaning is contested, the essential implication of the image of God is clear: Every person shares at their most essential being God’s own likeness; and therefore should be treated with respect, care, and protection.
Regardless of their station or condition, every person is of infinite value and genuine worth, and should be seen, related to, and treated with the care consonant with that God-given worth. This is the basis of our spirituality, ethics, and morality. A human being is a divinely-gifted being, and every person can be united to God through Christ. Though that image was marred through the rebellion of Adam and Eve, Christ’s redeeming work has established the possibility of being restored, of becoming God’s own child, and being reunited with him in his Kingdom.
Nothing that a person has done or can do will eliminate or cancel how God sees us as image-bearers. However broken, traumatized, or crushed a human life may appear, its essential value will never diminish. This image caused God to give his Son for the world, to send his apostles to the nations with the Gospel, spawned thousands of missionaries of the Church to serve with joy those who are pressed down under the crushing weight of evil and oppression.
As one theologian has said, “However bad a person may be, they will never be as bad off as they can be, for each one is made in God’s image.” Is it any wonder why this concept lies at the center of our humane treatment of others, of our Gospel mission, and our biblical vision to serve and partner with others in communities of poverty? This image is everything.