Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Imago Dei Part 1

"God created humanity in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." Genesis 1:27

This passage serves as the backbone for the doctrine Imago Dei, (The Image of God.)

Human beings are made out of all the same stuff as everything else (Genesis 2:19). All life is comprised of variously complex rearrangements of all the same materials. God makes things with essentially a Taco Bell mentality; Same ingredients, in multiple arrangements, with slightly different results and many different names. As a result, people and chickens and salamanders are all incredibly similar when you break them down. 

Yet, uniquely, we humans carry a divine spark that nothing else does. Something of our essence mirrors God's. We "look like" the invisible God. Men and women, no matter their socio-economic standing, their pedigree, education or ability to agree or disagree with the doctrine, are united both in their common origin and their uncommon privilege of bearing the essence of the Eternal. As the prophet Ron Burgundy might be heard to say, "I don't know how to put this, but [we're] kind of a big deal."

Every time I treat someone badly, am unjust or inequitable or rude or condescending or selfish; I'm not just being mean. In effect, I'm stepping out of divine likeness. I'm creating a divide and a hierarchy of values and merit, therefore rendering the Imago Dei unseeable while bringing an animalistic pecking order into the fore. My withholding of love, for whatever reason, breaks me away from what I am, and how life was designed to work. I fracture and shatter Imago Dei. 

This is, perhaps, why all religions have within their tenants at least hints about the right treatment of people. The ethic of reciprocity pops up in dozens of belief systems, even in the midst of other doctrines and beliefs that make the religions seems nothing alike. Sure, treating people with kindness is a good social construct and makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. The thing is, most humans don't stop there. It's generally agreed and celebrated that attitudes of self-sacrifice (something that's a little harder to explain from a survival-of-the-fittest perspective) is THE beautiful ideal. Doing unto others, EVEN IF the other doesn't do for you, is paramount. Rather than "me-first", it's mostly agreed that "you-first" is of higher value. 

Around the world, humanity's heroes are those who go beyond "nice", but give themselves for people, setting things right for others, even those who can't/won't repay. Something about this others-centered behavior reminds us we aren't just salamanders fighting to survive. It reminds us that there is hope beyond our tensions and relational breakdowns on every level. It reminds us that something in us is ultimately, kind of a big deal.

We treat each other badly, but wish we could do better. Perhaps the reason is, no matter your religion or lack, is that you inherently are like your God and have a natural longing to see humanity function optimally. All of us carry an "ought to" deep within ourselves. The way things should be, or a general sense that we could do better as a species. Sure, we have very different (and often counterintuitive) ideas of how this would be obtained, but the end goals are strikingly similar. Perhaps this is an innate sense of Imago Dei begging to see all people ultimately wrapped in love, each one peaceably giving their self to the other, with no one higher or lower or left out or rejected. All making the Invisible Creator visible in our own actions and attitudes. Perhaps it's echoes of Genesis 1:27 reverberating in the collective conscious we've forgotten we have.

In my estimate, sin is sin not just because it's "broken rules", but because sinful, selfish mistreatment of other people makes God harder to find in the matrix of human interaction.

Today, I'm striving (again) to be at peace with people in every thought, word and action.  I want to see the Invisible, and I suspect we all do. So I am going to have to fight all the pesky inclinations to treat people as somehow less valuable than myself as I search for Him. I'd hate to find out I've been hiding God from myself.

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