People matter. But how they matter to you makes all the difference in the world. Humans were made in the image of God. Though that image has been marred by sin, and part of the redemptive work of Christ is to restore that image, humans are the crown of creation that is intended to bear God’s image. Human beings are valuable. Redeemed or not. As an individual. As a community. So much that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). If we truly understand this, it will entirely re-work how we live. As we begin to see each person as valuable, as made to bear God’s image, it will change our perceptions and how we interact with others and our view of a world full of diversity. We cannot reduce people (and therefore devalue them) in any way by how we view them or by drawing lines of separation. A few ways we do this are as follows. The people around you are not just there to meet your needs. We need our primarily consumeristic view of others changed (both on a local and worldwide level). If we see each person as valuable and as intended image bearers of God, it removes lines drawn by race. If we see each person as valuable and as intended image bearers of God, it removes lines drawn by nationality. In Him there is no race, nationality, social or gender lines (Galatians 3:28). And, if we see each person as valuable and as intended image bearers of God, it removes lines drawn by religious pride (Luke 18:9-14). The Kingdom of God removes all these lines, though the line of saved and unsaved remains, even that line is caused to be viewed in a different way. For those not in Him yet, the Church, the Body is Christ, is a welcoming community hoping for the redemption of everyone – all the while understanding how we are still being fixed ourselves. Where the diversity is from a root of sin, it must be dealt with (ie poverty, etc). That is part of the work of the Kingdom. We must remove our line-drawn glasses and work to remove these lines in our world. It is working towards the Kingdom, on earth as it is in Heaven and as it will be when the Kingdom is consummated. When we allow the lines to define how we view others, the Kingdom is not our first priority no matter what religious jargon we use to define ourselves. The Kingdom of God is diverse, yet unified. We do not lose what makes us diverse, but diversity is celebrated and not divisive. The Kingdom is not concerned with making everyone the same, it’s concerned with the redemption of an individual and the living of abundant life while being put into the wider Body of Christ (which can be done by anyone, anywhere, in any time period, under any government).
People are very calloused to things when it does not touch their personal sphere. We are certainly very calloused when things happen to those who are different than us, or even opposed to us. To see each person as valuable will cause us to ask big questions regarding things like social justice, war, immigration, nationalism and so on. There are no easy answers to any of these questions. I certainly have not figured it all out. But I do believe that we will be changed in some way no matter where we stand on any issue because the Kingdom changes all of us. If not, we have then made the Kingdom our kingdom, not His.
In no particular order here are a few random quotes, among many others, that I have come across in reading over the last couple of years that have spurred the un-finished thoughts above further:
Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar “Clearly the Christian must throw himself into the cogs of this pitiless machinery and, as the pastoral constitution tirelessly insists, urge the human proportions (which he has discerned in Jesus Christ) against the twofold disproportions of excessive power (in affluence and imperialism) and powerlessness (poverty).”
Indonesian Author Pramoedya Ananta Toer, though not a Christian, writes this wisdom from his own experiences in All That is Gone, “War is war; it’s the same everywhere, with people torturing and killing one another, generally behind the shield of lofty motives…There came to me my life’s first revelation: That life is actually very simple, but that man like a wind in the dry season filling the air with debris turns simplicity into chaos. It is this self-induced chaos that causes men to kill one another.”
GK Chesterton in Orthodoxy, “Morality did not begin by one man saying to another, ‘I will not hit you if you do not hit me’; there is no trace of such a transaction. There is a trace of both men having said, ‘We must not hit each other in the holy place.’ They gained their morality by guarding their religion.” And later in that book, “Before any cosmic act of reform we must have a cosmic oath of allegience. A man must be interested in life, then he could be disinterested in his views of it.”
Eugene Peterson writes in The Jesus Way, critiquing the Church for using Jesus in a consumeristic way and in a round about way critiques consumeristic attitudes in general, “…the temptation is to reduce people, ourselves and others, to self-defined needs or culture-defined needs, which always, in the long run, end up being sin-defined needs – and use Jesus to do it. The American economy is defined primarily in terms of meeting needs…And for all of our ability to meet needs, we have an astonishing capacity for not noticing the needs of those we don’t like or who will overly inconvenience us. Jesus was active in meeting needs all his life and he means for us to be similarly active, but the way he lived was not reduced to, although it always included, meeting needs.”
Author Donald Miller in Blue Like Jazz, “I was tired of Biblical ethic being used as a tool to judge people rather than heal them.”
My prayer is that my view of others is shaped by the Kingdom. And how it changes me and the questions it raises are welcome- no matter how much it shakes my world-view, no matter how troubling it seems, no matter how radical it is. May He become greater, I become less.