Have you ever wondered how the world can be so cruel? How we can watch tragedy after tragedy unfold before us? Do you stop and wonder how many more will happen before we just can’t take it anymore? In the past year I have uttered the phrase “What is wrong with people?” more often than I can remember. It occurs to me that the source and solution to this problem lies within each of us, if we are brave enough to admit it. What I’m referring to is the concept of worth. This idea of an intrinsic value of humanity that should be at the forefront of every decision we make. Yet, we ignore it. This truth is something we need to look at closely: We are made in God’s image. Every single human being that ever was, is or will be was created as a reflection of God’s nature. Simple, right? But we have to stop and think about what this means, because it is likely the most important aspect of how we should live out our faith.
If we are made in his image, then we are made with characteristics and capabilities that are God-like. We have capacity to love, to forgive, to nurture, to create. We have the ability to understand right and wrong, and to make autonomous decisions that affect more than just our lives in a vacuum. We are created to live in community, to live in relationships with others. These are amazing gifts that come with a responsibility: we have to use them. We’ve forgotten that we are made in his image. We’ve forgotten that we are instructed to love our neighbor as ourselves. We’ve ignored the call to use our intelligence and ponder these thoughts and ask the hard questions of ‘how do I need to change to reflect God’s grace, love and image?’. We’ve become consumed with the surface and simple: sitting back as we watch horrors and atrocities happen because we ask the wrong questions and ignore the small still voice asking us to live out our lives in the image of the one who made us.
Folks, it is time to take action. This is usually the part where readers nod along in enthusiastic agreement while thinking “yes, they need to do this!”. Let me be very clear: there is no “they”. There is only you and me. This is the problem that we are facing in our nation and around the world. Every problem is someone else’s to solve. Every crime is someone else’s fault. We rush to place blame because we think it absolves us of any action. We look for scapegoats because we cannot reconcile sin and brokenness with our own failures and shortcomings; instead of reflecting and repenting we turn into a mob with a mission. We cease to see our neighbors as people made in the image of God and we fail to act it out in our lives through compassion, forgiveness and love. We rally with like-minded friends and shut ourselves into echo chambers where we congratulate ourselves on how right we are. We have never been more wrong.
Is it any surprise that we can show compassion for a gorilla while calling for the death of an innocent child to ‘teach the mother a lesson’? We fail to see a mother’s humanity: her vulnerability, her fear, her ability to weigh decisions and execute them. We fail to see the boy’s value: a child, loved by family and friends, an innocent human being who doesn’t understand the weight of his decisions. We can’t accept the possibility that we could find ourselves in a similar situation, so we trample on the shred of dignity these parents have left to buoy our sense of control. Why? Because we fail to see mother and child as precious to God, made in His image.
Is it any wonder that we can lament the loss of unborn life while casting stones of hatred and judgment upon the mother who chose that path? When we fail to support the woman who is scared, alone, struggling and between a rock and a hard place, we deny her humanity. We can’t have it both ways.
We are no longer surprised when a rapist goes free with little more than a slap on the wrist and a shrug of the shoulders as commenters mutter, “Boys will be boys”. A woman’s value is intrinsic – her worth is indisputable. Yet it is cast aside in favor of selfish desires and poor judgement. Our society is raising generations of men that fail to recognize women as made in God’s image.
Numbness sets in as we learn of 49 gay club-goers, gunned down. For the LGBTQ community, division is present in their every day lives. In a place that was meant to foster community was where so many lost their lives. And as the horror plays out, calloused politicians use the horror as an “I told you so” moment for political gain. We’ve failed to remember that the gay, lesbian, transgender neighbor is made in God’s image. We’ve failed to acknowledge their humanity. We’ve stripped them of their dignity as we ignore the fact that the way they are has made them a target for violence.
#BlackLivesMatter is a movement because we have forgotten that the color of our skin was determined by God. We’ve forgotten that our image of Jesus is a fantasy and that the real Jesus would look more akin to the terrorists we hunt than the politicians we elect. We hold power and authority over the powerless to manipulate, to coerce, to embarrass, to control. We rob entire cultures of their worth.
These are just the headlines that grab our attention this week. Next week, next month – there will be something else.
It is madness. And it is not trivial. I cannot join the chorus of “All lives matter” because we are not embodying that truth. Of course all lives matter. But we have to start believing that at an individual level and acting on it. We have to start with the premise that all lives matter because. Black lives matter because they are made in God’s image. Blue lives matter because they are made in God’s image. The unborn matter. The gay life matters. Women matter. The marginalized, the oppressed, the poor. They all matter because they are made in God’s image. It is time we have the conversations about why each group matters and what we have in common, rather than what makes us different.
The conversations that are happening surrounding these tragedies are good, but they are incomplete. We talk about the victims – remembering who they were. We talk about the injustices – grieving what could have been and rising up in righteous anger against the perpetrators. We talk a lot, but we only skim the surface. We ask a lot of questions, but we can’t seem to find any answers. Why would someone have so much hate inside them that they murder 49 people? Why would a young man think that a woman exists only for his pleasure and brutalize her to fulfill a momentary desire? Why do we think its okay to publicly shame and humiliate a mother who loses a child to a wild animal?
We have to look deeper, connecting the dots between these atrocities. The core of each circumstance is a fundamental disagreement with God. The reason these tragedies occur is because we, as human beings, reject the notion that each individual is sacred, holy, worthy. We reject the idea that we are made in His image. Even in writing this sentence, I will be met with comments that tell me God has nothing to do with this; or better yet, if He did, He is not good and not worth trusting or following. I’ll say it again: these horrendous crimes against one another are committed because we fail to recognize God. We fail to see our fellow man as valuable. It is in the absence of God that sin exists.
It permeates every decision, every belief. It is the reason we can refuse to allow refugees into our country as they flee for their lives. It is the reason we will shake our heads over mass shootings while clinging tightly to our guns. It is the reason we leave the mentally ill to figure out their own path to health while lamenting their ability to obtain the weapons we refuse to give up. We’ll crucify them after they’ve committed a crime but we’ll stand idly by and watch them degrade into a condition that precipitates crime. We are just as guilty – our silence condemns us.
We have to back up and realize all of this violence, all of these attitudes stem from this one belief. We have to acknowledge that every human being – from murderer to victim – is made in the image of God. If we truly can see this, and believe it, it will change everything. From how we approach healthcare, immigration, and even how we sentence criminals. It changes how we respond to tragedies, and how we actively seek to prevent them.
It is time we put down the pitchforks and took up our crosses. We need to stop focusing on what ‘they’ need to do; we need to get that language out of our vocabulary. There is no ‘they’. Only me. Only you. What will you do? Start with loving your neighbor as yourself – we are both made in the image of God. Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. These aren’t merely pieces of advice, they are commands. If you are asking “What can I do?”, then start here. It starts with you and me.
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”