“So God created man in his own image” Genesis 1:27
A few weeks ago, I spent some quality time with my six-year-old nephew and seven-year-old niece. We explored a museum, fed lettuce to giraffes, played a few games, and read lots of books. Like most children (and even most adults), they have definite opinions on what they like to eat and often voiced their disgust about certain types of food or cuisine. My sister, in trying to teach her children that not every opinion needs to be stated, has a family saying, “Don’t yuck my yum!” The motto came in handy when my niece and nephew commented on the smell of Indian food. I quietly reminded them, “Don’t yuck my yum!” However, it backfired on me when I told them that I didn’t like baked beans and my niece said, “Hey, that’s my yum!”
The concept of being created in God’s image is an old one, found in the very beginning of the Bible. But, until recently, I hadn’t fully comprehended the implications of what it meant. I understand that, as humans, we all have intrinsic value in the sight of God. What I didn’t understand was that all of us bear His image. Yes, we are individuals with different personalities, likes, interests, talents, styles, and tastes. But these differences should not separate us! Instead, these differences reflect different aspects of God and His innate creativity. For example, some lean toward the extrovert side of the scale, while others lean toward the introvert side. Both extroverts and introverts reflect the image of God and neither way of operating in the world is better than the other. Like the pieces of a puzzle, God made each of us different so that we could work together in community, allowing our differences to complement each other, create something beautiful, and illuminate God’s glory!
Mother Teresa once said, “If everyone could see the image of God in his neighbor, do you think we would still need tanks and generals?” I am not using this quote to engage in a discussion on the validity of the military, but if I extrapolate it out and apply it to my little corner of the world, I ask, “If I could see the image of God in my neighbors, would I be so quick to judge or label them?” The answer to this simple question changes my world in several ways.
First, I need to align my definition of “neighbor” with Jesus’ definition in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The good neighbor reached out to someone who would have rejected him under normal circumstances. Too often, my neighbors are people with whom I share similar histories. It is easy to drop off a meal to a friend, but harder to reach out to someone who is not in my current circle. But isn’t this exactly what God expects me to do? He doesn’t encourage us to love our family and friends, He charges us to love our neighbors, those who are different from us.
Next, if I see them as an image-bearer of God, I am less inclined to see their differences as difficulties or obstacles for me to overcome. Even more so, I need to activate my curiosity in getting to know my neighbor, hearing their stories, and learning to understand their differences. These differences are shaped by their life, and, more importantly, their experiences need to be validated by God through me. As I become more curious and express genuine interest in their lives, I will be able to establish a relationship with them and love them the way Jesus loves them!
Finally, when I see others as image-bearers, it widens my view of God’s kingdom. When used to bring glory to God, our different talents and giftings can be more effective for the kingdom of God! For example, for years I thumbed my nose down at graphic novels. I considered them sub-literature. But a few podcasts that I love have extolled the virtues of a few well-written graphic novels. It has caused me to change my opinion and be more open-minded. Although I personally connect with the writings of C.S. Lewis and Ann Voskamp, others might connect better with a Christian graphic novelist. God can be reflected in any kind of writing, and I need to validate that and be willing to surrender my opinions and learn something new.
My sister is using the simple catchy phrase “Don’t yuck my yum!” to help her children be more polite. In a world that has become increasingly divisive, applying this phrase in my life is helping me to work at maintaining peace. I am choosing not to engage in polarizing opinions and choosing to listen to the heart of others who may have different opinions. I am looking at differences as an opportunity to learn and cultivate discussions. I am choosing to see my neighbors as image-bearers of God!