Made in the Image of God


This term, I have been taking an Introduction to African Studies course which has been fascinating. But also perplexing – for there are so many times in history (including recent history!) when Africans were mistreated, particularly by white upper middle class Westerners. Throughout the term, I’ve had the question of how could this happen in my mind? Yesterday, in preparing for my midterm, I came across a line that spoke a potential, yet disturbing answer: In order to take a human being into slavery, you have to view them as less than human. If they were fully human, then they require respect that would not have allowed them to be treated like animals.

It made me think of something that I had read in the summer – that the trouble with sexual abuse is that it attacks the very heart of our creation, that we are made in the image of God. To use a child for your pleasure and to meet your needs is to negate that the child is a God-bearer, someone God has chosen and made in his own likeness. I’ve been trying to understand lately how anyone could hurt a child in this way and there seems to be two answers: 1) the abuser thinks of himself as more than being made in the image of God (that is, he thinks he is above humanity) or 2) the abuser thinks of the child as being less than made in the image of God. Indeed, I just wrote a research proposal on a cult leader who considered himself to be God’s instrument and with that assigned himself special privileges that basically enabled him to take any young girl he wanted to be his sex slave.

One of the most confusing aspects of my story, is that my parents are Christians – it was my parents who taught me that I am made in the image of God. They had me memorize Psalm 139 which is one of the most beautiful passages that speak of God’s intimate love and involvement in each person’s life – that he hems me in, behind and before, and wove me together in my mother’s womb. It is through my parents that I first heard of God’s love for me.

And yet at the same time, my dad treated me as an object that could be used for his own gratification at any time of the day or night. It makes sense to me now that I would feel less than human, and that somehow I am not loved by God. A common theme in the various support groups I have been involved in, is a deep feeling of being unworthy mixed with guilt and shame. Honestly, this makes it easier for coping strategies that end up causing more harm than good as if I am not loved by God, if I am less than human and do not bear God’s image, then does it really matter what happens to me? This has led me to dark places. And while I have written and spoken of God’s love over and over, I have always felt that somehow I was beyond God’s love, beyond his grace… until last winter.

And it has been through this love penetrating the deepest parts of me that I have found healing. It has been through a slow reclaiming of being a “God-bearer” that I have found life.

I wish my dad had thought more before crossing the line to hurt me. I wish he had seen that his actions would attack one of the most beautiful things about God’s love for me  – that God has made me in His image.

It’s amazing how viewing someone as made in the image of God changes how you treat them. As I was walking home, a street-involved, or perhaps homeless, man called out to me that I am as beautiful as the day is today. I’ve written about my friends who would be considered the lepers of society and when I am able to see them as fully human, I see God in them. I see God in the prostitutes, beggars, mentally ill and poor way more than I see God in the church. Blasphemous? perhaps. But these people have taught me more about God’s love, God’s grace and beauty than any Christian minister or teacher that I have ever known. And when I see Christ in them, I can’t simply walk by and ignore them without saying hello and asking them how their day is going. I can’t criticize them or treat them poorly. And when I see one of these beautiful people being mistreated, i feel it – like someone kicked me in the gut.

I do forget that the people around me are made in the image of God. And I do treat people as if they are less than that. And I do at times elevate myself to being more than made in the image of God.

But when I remember and see God in my neighbour – whoever that may be – things are different and love is the only approach. Kindness dominates. And nothing less will do.

May we seek to see others, as well as ourselves, as made in the image of God – nothing more, nothing less.

  1. November 28, 2012 at 11:16 pm

    I like your phrase “God-bearer”. Thanks for writing what is stirring inside of you for others to read so they can let your words stir things inside of them.

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