Respect the Image | Introduction: God, the Image, & the Gospel
Profound respect. Every human being is worthy of it by virtue of being made in the likeness of God whether they're your spouse, your dearest friend, your contentious coworker, or the person who looks, speaks, or thinks differently than you.
That is what Tim Shorey sets out to illustrate in his book Respect the Image. The glory of God is resident in every human being which is wrong to ignore no matter how unworthy someone may seem. The ugly truth is that our mouths and ears automatically veer towards disrespect, disdain, and disregard which seems to leave little hope for us. However, we have a very real and singular hope: Jesus died for every moment we've disrespected his image-bearer, and his forgiving and righteousness-applying grace enables us to begin respecting the image-bearing worth of others afresh.
It would be completely ineffective to white-knuckle our way into listening attentively, speaking thoughtfully upbuilding words to others, and bridling our fiery tongue with one person, much less with each and every person we might come across. As Shorey states, "Bad communication is a result of poorly applied theology, which leads to fractured families, racial tensions, class warfare, church splits, neighborhood war zones, and international crises. And good communication is a conscious application of what we know about God, what we know about humans, and what we know about the gospel—all of which leads to respect, healing, peace, and love." I pray that we want to experience change here. If we were to pursue humbly growing in this area, there's no doubt that a bed would be made for respect, healing, peace, and love to take up residence in our hearts.
One of the chiefly unique characteristics of the God of the Bible is that he speaks. Contrary to other gods and idols who cannot speak (Hab. 2:18-19), he spoke all creation into existence and that creation reverberates his speech as it constantly bears witness about him (Psalm 19:1-3). He has also spoken his divinely inspired Word through the authors of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21). Most importantly, he has spoken most comprehensively through his Son, Jesus Christ, who is the living Word and the clearest revelation of God himself to humanity (John 1:1-3, Heb. 1:1-4). God does not sit in his holy armchair passively watching the world turn. He is actively and intentionally communicating with men and women whether they hear him or not (Romans 1:18-20).
Not only is God constantly speaking to us, but he has made us to communicate as well. Part of what it means to be an image-bearer is to "look like God" by mimicking him in this way. That means we represent him every time we choose to speak or listen to someone (because he certainly listens as well! See Psalm 116:1). If we look at all of our conversations—greeting the store clerk, hashing out a disagreement with a friend, paying a bill over the phone— through this lens of representing God in our communication, suddenly "talking" or "having a conversation" begin to look like opportunities laden with the responsibility of honoring the image of God in others.
Humans Have Value
According to God's loving and sovereign plan, he infused every human being with value and worth (Psalm 8:5). Our worth as humans is not something that can be gained or lost, even in the face of the scourge of sin that came when Adam and Eve made the fatal choice to disobey God. Shorey is careful to note that "before we became sinners in Adam, we were created as living icons of God," who have been scarred and marred by sin but who continue to bear God's image. Salvation in Jesus Christ is the only thing that restores the image we bear to its picture-perfect luster. In the meantime, however, it's this bestowed value from God himself that warrants our relentless respect of every person no matter their track record, status, likeability, familiarity, appearance, culture, disposition, morality level, political leanings, religious background, education level, or age. All are worthy of speaking to graciously and listening to intently because God has placed his image within them.
Every mistreatment—whether Nazi genocide, to ethnic enslavement, to the racial slur, to the digital verbal attack, to the bitingly sarcastic joke, to a lack of listening due to selfish disinterest— springs from a lack of valuing the image of God in others. If we consider the destruction caused by devaluing human beings personally or politically, the importance of addressing our own hearts on the matter begins to rise. Shorey marks the root of the issue: "How much we value people determines how well we treat them." How can we move to a place where we begin valuing someone beyond what judgments our flesh wants to speak against them? By grappling with and praying for eyes to see the fact that every human being we will ever come across walks around with an invisible ID card that reads "Made In the True God's Image".
The Gospel Matters
The truth is that the way we treat others very rarely if at all speaks to the glory of God's image placed within every person. Failures abound when I think of the innumerable times my unbridled tongue (or judgmental heart) has treated someone as less-than what they truly are. What are we to do with such a mountain of sin and disrespect? "Woe is me!" says Isaiah. "Who will deliver me from this body of death?" says the Apostle Paul. "Have mercy on me a sinner!" says the publican. With contrite yet eager hearts, we are to take a trip to the cross of Christ where we see those very dishonorable and offensive words, those wickedly plugged ears of disregard, those devaluing thoughts die with him.
The only antidote for lives spent trekking in the ruts of old disrespectful habits and missing sightings of the image of God in others is a Savior who has done what we have failed to do. We'd be hard-pressed to improve on Shorey's explanation, "The obedient words and deeds of Jesus are a whiter-than-snow robe that covers our many sins, making us accepted and approved in the sight of God...We are saved by his perfect words—which means that we can approach our speech problem from a place of gospel security before God." What glorious relief and joy! Jesus, our righteousness, has saved us from the penalty of every careless word and empowers us to resist careless thoughts before they make their way out of our mouths. By his Spirit, he empowers us to unstop our ears and listen with compassionate interest and enables us to see true, undeniable value in strangers and friends alike.
If you are wondering how to make progress in personal racial reconciliation, if you long for clear lines of communication in your marriage, if you're perpetually annoyed at someone, there is a wealth of hope in what Christ is able to work in us. Shorey's words sum it up well, "The biblical doctrine of human value restores the glory of all of us—and also positions believers, in particular, to infuse a merciful, just, respectful, and loving quality into all our relationships before (and with) the watching world."
- What are ways that you may be prone to consistently disrespect those who do in fact bear God's image?
- How does Jesus provide an example of respecting God's image in others?
- Give us eyes to see and hearts that are committed to valuing every person we come across today.
- Help us to trust more fully in Christ's righteous life and his ability to transform us into resembling him in love, respect, and peace.
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