The image of God: reason for kindness

Hi everyone. It was the weekend – but not anymore. It all blurs into one at the moment. So following on from last week’s post on compassion and kindness – and in the light of heightened levels of anxiety, anger and frustration I think many of us have been experiencing in the last while – I have a question for myself and you too (if you like): why should we be kind to others?

The obvious answer (and I’m sure many of you were quick off the mark with this one – like a pastor’s kid in Sunday School) is because it is the righteous and loving thing to do: it’s what God would want from us, it’s His standard and His expectation and His demand. This is quite obviously correct. But there is another layer here that I think needs to be explored. We need to be kind to each other to a degree greater than we are called to be kind to animals or the environment, say. And I am, not for one moment, suggesting that we should be less kind to animals or the environment – on the contrary, I think these are areas that require a lot more improvement. All our actions and all our thoughts should be considered, gracious, compassionate and generous (not that any of us are quite – or even remotely – there, yet). This is the standard we should aim for, the higher calling, the prize we strive for. But when it comes to people, there is an inherent need to take it up a notch. Why is this?

It may be because there is something deeply and inherently valuable in humans – something that transcends mere notions of life and existence. Yes. The short answer is an easy one. We have been created, imbued, designed, intended and instilled with something which sets us far apart and above all other aspects of the universe we live in: the very image of God.

So God created human beings in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)

I cannot overstate how critically important this verse is in establishing a correct worldview for our relationships and interactions with one another. It elevates our significance and worth to the heavens: we carry something in our very beings which is more valuable than we could ever imagine. We all (every one of us) bear the image of the one God: the everlasting, all-powerful, omniscient God. This means that every human life, every person, is astonishingly precious.

Now, there is a fair bit of debate over what the ‘image’ of God is exactly. Is it His creativity, His authority, His capacity for independent reason and choice? It’s quite probably all these things and more. I don’t want to chase that rabbit right now. But whatever it is, it is remarkably and incomparably valuable and important.

This is a remarkably important concept. It gives us value and dignity – irrespective of our circumstances, ability, gender or ethnicity. It means that we can confidently believe that there is not another person on this planet that is more valuable than we are: we carry a rare treasure inside us. Human life is significant. I am significant. You are significant.

Moreover, this truth is the great leveler amongst us. It is of such significance and value that everything else about us is almost immaterial – and every one of us has it in equal measure! In the light of this one great attribute, the amount of money you have, or how many degrees you have, or how attractive you are, or how many employees you oversee pales into infinitesimal nothingness. The reply to every boast of human endeavour, success or popularity is easily and overpoweringly “but I too carry the very image of God.” We cannot allow ourselves to measure human value on anything else – this would be pettiness and would be ignoring the awesome truth: a truth that means that we are all equally and tremendously important and valuable.

This truth, then, demands that we treat ourselves and one another with the utmost respect, no matter who the ‘other’ may be. Indeed, this one truth is the singular and overwhelming rebuttal to any notion or idea that I can treat anyone poorly because they are different to me. It is the final and winning argument against slavery, racism, sexism and tribalism. It is why husbands should never treat their wives as anything less than equals and also why we should honour and care for the elderly and those that are less able. It is a powerful moderating concept to the man-made economic systems of which we are a part (think income inequality and the strata of success and power which some systems create, think of the way other systems strip individuals of their individual identity and value) and to the wide-spread rise in nationalism that we are seeing around the world. It urges us to help the immigrant, reach out to the poor, and work against systems of discrimination and oppression. It even demands that we take care in the way we treat prisoners or those that we feel have got themselves into a mess of their own accord.

Jesus went so far as to teach that we should in fact go out of our way to respond proactively to those that are most different to us. We need to actively counter our prejudices, choosing to be neighbours to those who we would naturally be least likely to connect with – ensuring that we respect them and honour them as co-bearers of the image of God. It was the Samaritan who chose to be a neighbour to the beaten Jewish man in Jesus’ parable (Luke 10:25-37). Samaritans had a different religion, were ethnically different and were despised. Who then should we go out of our way to be a neighbour to?

As we battle the challenges of this time – COVID-19 and the changes it has wrought, racial tensions, political tribalism, hyper-cynicism, fear of the unknown, economic depression, and so on – let us never forget that every human is intrinsically valuable beyond measure. Every life lost is a tragedy. Every moment of oppression or discrimination is an abomination. I know that I need this truth to shape my thoughts and attitude towards those around me. I know that I have to get to grips with the nuances of how this plays out in my circumstances. It is my choice. I hope that I have the courage to serve and honour others and afford them the dignity they deserve – as I know Jesus did.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

‘til next weekend.

Phil

Compassion during a crisis

Hi everyone. Its the weekend again. I’ve been thinking about how we, as Christians (little Christs, as it were), can best respond to the circumstances we’re in at the moment with dreaded viruses prowling around outside the door. And, I don’t think I’m overstating it here, these are extraordinary times for many of us.

Now, I’m sure there are lots of right answers here and, other than ‘love God and love your neighbour,’ I don’t know if anyone can pick out one response as being the most important or the most correct. So let me pick one today: compassion.

Peter (a chap not known for his mildness or reluctance) writes to encourage Christians facing suffering and persecution in 1 Peter. He says:

Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing. (1 Peter 3:8-9 NLT)

I love this passage. Of course, I didn’t always realise how hard it would be to remain united and ‘tenderhearted’ towards others when everyone is under pressure … and particularly when that pressure is a little more than moderate. Mildness, gentleness, kindness – these things don’t come easily when I’m feeling frustrated, insecure, threatened or stressed. You should see me glare at people who stray too close to us when I’m out with the kids. I currently bear grudges against joggers, dog walkers and care-free young couples (or maybe I’m just jealous). I have also noted an increasing tendency in myself to be suspicious of others’ motivations and cynicism taints my every thought. It’s particularly bad when it comes to social media or the news.

But even in the heat of this, Christ’s response would be compassion. When his cousin, John the Baptist was brutally and flippantly executed, Jesus was deeply affected. He tried to find some solitude but the crowds followed him. I think I would have lost my mind but Jesus (and I find this astounding) responded with compassion! He spoke to the crowds, healed the sick and then went on to provide them all (and there were thousands of people) with a miraculous meal. They didn’t consider him when he was hurting but he found the love and strength to consider them. Gosh. That’s a hard act to follow … but He is our example.

As I face new degrees of change – considering sending my kids back to school, spending more time out and about, going back to the shops and exploring ways of doing church again, I’m going to be trusting the Lord that he will help me overlay everything with compassion and kindness. I’m also going to try and refrain from making snap judgements when people comment on social media or when the government or other authorities make decisions: respond with humility and kindness before cynicism.

Here are a few things I’m trying:

  • pray regularly for all those around me and for the whole world, crying out to God for mercy in our suffering
  • try and remember that I don’t really understand what someone else is going through before I judge them for not considering me the way I would like
  • try not to solve people’s problems for them, just listen and be gracious
  • be actively kind whenever I can – Jesus gave his harassers attention and food, what can I do?

Of course, we have to be compassionate and kind towards ourselves as well. We can’t care for others if we are not caring for ourselves. I’m still learning how to do this.

Let me know your thoughts on these things and on the passage from 1 Peter. Your feedback is welcome.

‘til next weekend.

Phil

Christ Light Letters – A new blog

So it’s the weekend and we thought we’d impose a new blog on you. It’s important to keep in touch when we can’t actually meet up face-to-face. We’re going to try some of our posts in video format too … which is a whole lot more risky. I’ll keep the vids to under three minutes and I’ll try to post something every week (no promises). Let’s see how that goes. (Shrugs shoulders).

So, obviously, there are a lot of opinions out there right now. I don’t want to add more unnecessary noise to the cacophony and I certainly don’t want anyone to think that my opinion counts for very much in the big scheme of things. It doesn’t. As always, we need to rely on the Scriptures for our perspectives and our insights. However, I don’t want this to be a sermon either – I’m going to try and keep these posts short and to the point and I don’t think that I’m good enough a preacher to deal with any scripture with brevity and still do it any real justice. So I’m just going to try and share some of my thoughts each week. I want to try and get us thinking and talking about things that matter. But I’ll also try to point you to relevant Scriptures and Biblical concepts for you to look into and understand for yourselves. It’s always best for us to be like the noble Bereans who didn’t take Paul at face value but searched the Scriptures to verify what he was saying (Acts 17:11). So I hope to prompt some thinking but, hopefully, the thinking will be shaped by the truth.

I’ll never pretend like I know all the answers or can’t make mistakes. If there is something which you read on this blog with which you disagree or would like to discuss, feel free to get in touch. I promise to acknowledge it when I get something wrong or realise that I’ve communicated something poorly.

I hope I can encourage and inspire a little … and maybe even make you smile occasionally.

On that note, check out our instagram profile, #legochurchplanter has made a small come back due to popular demand. 🙂

’til next weekend.

Phil