Imago Dei

My social media has been filled over the past two weeks with images of protests around our nation and in many parts of the world, people holding signs or chanting “Black Lives Matter!” “I Can’t Breathe!” and “Get Off Our Necks!” Many posts have sought to summon our consciences to action—blacked-out screens, observed silence of eight minutes and forty-six seconds, donations to organizations committed to eliminating racism in the public and private arenas, or to challenge those perceived to be sitting on the sidelines to set aside their privilege and join the fight for justice. On the other side (there usually is an “other side” in our polarized culture), people are decrying the wanton violence and destruction of property. Some are pointing out the hypocrisy of local governments allowing large protests and funerals when churches are not allowed to meet and most funerals have been limited to a few family members. And some even go as far as disparaging the character of the man who has become the face of the protests—George Floyd.

As is so painfully obvious, we have been struggling with racial equality and racism since the founding of our nation. It is generational and it is endemic. Yet, most will argue that this is the result of socialization, that we are not born racist, but rather taught to be racist. This implies that just as we learned to be racist, so we can unlearn it. Merriam-Webster defines racism as: “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” The important word in this definition is “belief.” In other words, racism, then, is merely a cognitive problem. Change the thinking and the problem is solved. 

Here is a question: If we are born pure, without prejudice, where do children come up with the idea that a kid with freckles, a funny name, or a physical abnormality should be singled out for teasing? Did some adult teach them that? Or when toddlers are playing and one grabs a toy from another resulting in tears, was he taught that he was superior and therefore deserved to have that toy? 

Racism as it is understood today is only learned in the sense that the inherent sense of superiority continues to be nurtured. If you replace “race” with “ethnicity” or “socioeconomic status,” you will find the same holds true. We have an inherent bias that must be overcome. And whether we are white, black, or brown, whether rich or poor, educated or less educated, or of an ethnic majority or minority, that inherent trait is in all of us. It didn’t come from some outside influence; rather, we brought it into the world with us. Since the Fall, it has cursed us all, and the results are seen down through the ages—from Cain to Chauvin and the millennia in between. Human history is a narrative of prejudice and atrocity toward other human beings who are considered to be different.

As a result, the evidence is irrefutable: we are all members of one race—the human race. And the Scriptures reveal two inherent qualities of this race—we are created in the image of God (Imago Dei)  and loved by him.  And, the other: as a result of the Fall, we are naturally bent toward rebellion against the will of God, which is to love him and to love each other as we do ourselves. Thus, the prejudices that naturally result from our sinful nature cannot be merely unlearned by education or behavior modification. No, the root of the problem needs to be addressed—sin. And the only One who can fix that problem is Jesus; and because he loves each and every one of us, he has promised to do just that, if only we will let him. 

And there, my friends, lies the problem. From Eve and Adam on, we humans have sought to go our own way, to solve our own problems. We think we know how to fix things that are wrong. Just ask almost anyone about the problem of racism, and you will quickly receive an answer. Or the political system. Or the education system. Our multitude of opinions on practically anything and everything are based on this underlying attitude: “I know best.” That’s why we are so opinionated and social media has just amplified that. 

So, here we are again, in the middle of societal upheaval happening in the midst of a pandemic, and almost everyone has a solution, or at least what is not the solution.  Do this, not that. Or don’t do that, but instead do this. So many people believe the solutions are within our reach; we just have to try harder and more people need to get with the program.

As I wrote more than a week ago, we are a mess, we the human race. No matter how many books we read or protests we attend, or posts we make, or strategies we develop, it will never be enough to change hearts. That is far beyond our abilities. The fact is, God must move over our land, and we need to petition him to do it. 

“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people,  if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (II Chronicles 7:13-14)

Perhaps, our desperation will reach the point where we will humble ourselves, surrender our wills, and turn to the One who can, and wants to, change hearts and transform lives back to what he had in mind in the beginning–Imago Dei. He truly is our only hope.

© Jim Musser 2020 All Scripture references are from the New International Version, 2011.

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