Every day, from the moment we first look into our bathroom mirrors, to every encounter with spouses, children, commuters, coworkers, customers, clerks, waiters, mailmen, customer service representatives, and pizza delivery drivers, we come face-to-face with a glimpse of the eternal, a glimpse of the image of God - the Imago Dei. Each person, ourselves included, bear the impress of our Maker. It’s this foundational truth, above all others, that assures us of our inherent worth, dignity, and value. It’s this truth that should serve as a lens for how we see and how we treat other people created in God’s image - regardless of the color of their skin, social status, gender, or past or present behavior.
“You remind me of someone I know… Now I know who it is. That’s right, you remind me of God.”
- Peter Adam
Genesis 1:27 first tells the story of how you and I were created with dignity, purpose, and value because God, out of the overflow of His glory, love, and goodness, created us in His image. This doctrine is not a peripheral doctrine, but rather a central theme throughout Scripture. We are God’s viceroys in the universe, representing His sovereign rule and reign over Creation. As such, we are called both to represent and reflect His glory and majesty.
It makes sense therefore, that where the doctrine of the Imago Dei is understood, embraced, and lifted up, individuals, marriages, families, cities, nations, and civilization flourish. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. Where there is no regard for the Imago Dei, the poor, the weak, and the most vulnerable are dehumanized, mistreated, and oppressed.
“People travel to wonder at the height of the mountains, at the huge waves of the seas, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and yet they pass by themselves without wondering.”
The problem, of course, is that sin has veiled the image of God. The image, the worth, the dignity is all still there, but our sight has been darkened by sin. Each of us has a hard time seeing it in the mirror and we often have a harder time seeing it in other people. The consequence is most often present in the subtle ways we denigrate ourselves and others. We forget who we are, who made us, and what we were made for. So we chase meaning and significance in power, sex, money, and status. Along the way, we treat each other—other image bearers—with flippancy, disrespect, or as means to pursue our own self-demeaning idols.
In the extreme, when a culture, civilization, or powerful leader maliciously seeks to destroy the Imago Dei, the consequences are devastating. Twice I’ve stood in places where the Imago Dei was systematically and ruthlessly trampled upon. I’ll never forget the feelings of horror and shock when I first stood in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Or the sense of revulsion as I walked the dirt paths around the Killing Fields of Cambodia where the rains continue to bring bits of clothing, bones, and teeth to the surface.
How can we renew a vision for seeing and valuing the Imago Dei in ourselves and in others? First, we look to Jesus, the actual image of God and the perfect representation of God (Col. 1:15; 2 Cor. 4:4; Heb.1:3). As we look to Jesus, we see exactly what the Imago Dei should look like. We see a God who is perfect in His love and His righteousness. As we follow Jesus’ birth, life, and teachings, we see a God who took on an additional nature (human nature) to enter a world full of sin and suffering. As a human, Jesus took on the Imago Dei in the same way we possess His imprint. Yet, in Jesus, there is no veil of sin and darkness. But Jesus was betrayed, abandoned, persecuted, beaten, tortured, and lynched. In love, he permitted the destruction of the Image of God in him so that we could have the Image of God restored in us (Rom. 8:29).
“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously - no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”
- C. S. Lewis
Now, with fresh hope and empowered by His indwelling Spirit, we can and should practice the presence of the Imago Dei. Seeing the Imago Dei in the mirror will free us from the endless pursuit and the empty promises of the world. Seeing the Imago Dei in our spouse and our children will change our family perspective, values, and pursuits. Seeing the Imago Dei in the lives of the unborn child, refugee, slave girl, and other weak, vulnerable, or oppressed image bearers—whether in our own neighborhoods or across the world—will change how we pray, serve, and give our time and our treasure. Believing and embracing the doctrine of the Imago Dei will fuel a fresh passion in our churches to plant new churches and send more missionaries to people, created in God’s Image, who do not yet know their Creator, their purpose, and the hope of the gospel.
So let’s do it! Let’s lead the way in reminding each other of the value impressed on each one of us as we represent and reflect God’s image in the world. Let’s kiss our children good night, knowing that we are kissing an image bearer. Let’s confront systems of injustice and oppression and willingly lay down our lives to lift up the value and glory of the Imago Dei.