In the very beginning, before there was Islam or Christianity or even Judaism, the Bible tells us that strange opening story about humanity being made in the image of God. This is an incredible, terrifying way to begin a holy book. Rivers of ink have been spilt attempting to plumb the meaning of this phrase: “made in the image of God.”How do we unpack such a potent description of humanity’s meaning and purpose? The God who refuses to be represented by idols of stone, metal, or wood chooses to be expressed through you, me, and us. We are the image of God.
We barely get one chapter into the Bible and we are drawn up short by this profound idea. Even without the rest of the Bible, there are shocking ethical implications in this brief statement. What if every person I meet is made in the image of God, no matter who they are, where they are from, or how they choose to live? What would that mean?
If I went to Washington, D.C. and defaced the statue of Abraham Lincoln, people would see that act as meaning something about what I think about Lincoln’s legacy or about Lincoln himself. What happens if I deface the image of God? What happens if I look into the face of the person in front of me and I fear, hate, neglect, ignore, or reject that person? If that person is the image of God, then I am wounding, dishonoring, and rejecting the God represented by that image.
Where does this leave us in a world on the move? What are we supposed to say when the conversation surrounding immigration turns toward wars, walls, and exclusion? These are tough questions, but the Church must find different answers because we tell a different story. If every family that is bombed, every child that starves to death, and every fleeing person who drowns in the Mediterranean is made in the image of God, then it is very difficult for me to call myself a follower of this God while answering the needs in the world with wars, walls, and exclusion. I am a missionary, so I am biased, but I believe the Church must find other options. “Whatever you did for one of the least of these….”
ACT: Karl Barth, one of the most prolific and influential theologians of the 20th century, said, “A preacher should preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” There’s a lot of wisdom in that thinking. Take time this week to reacquaint yourself with the creation of humanity and then read a news article on immigration. Reflect or journal on the insights you gained from reading the two together.