In a post last week we discussed how seeing every person as made in God’s image helps motivate us to love those who are different than us. We were thinking primarily on evangelism, on loving the lost whose preferences and priorities seem like barriers to us. In those situations, seeing the image of God in the tatted up biker or the suited-up choir boy compels us to find common ground and share the hope of Christ. It’s hard. It stretches us. But then isn’t comforting to know that if God saves those people, he’ll change them so they get rid of all those weird differences? They might even begin to look a bit like you. Because everybody who is saved and becoming mature (like you) is bound to begin to think and act more like you, right?
Ouch. It hurts to air my secret thoughts that baldly. But if I’m honest I often work from this hidden assumption: the more people mature, the more they look like me. (Don’t leave me hanging here! Admit it, you do too.) For some reason, though, my church and my family and my relational world are constantly full of people so different than me! Boy do they have a lot of maturing to do.
Thankfully there’s more of God’s truth functioning in my heart than that. I know diversity is a good thing, something God has designed. But I need a theological foundation for that belief, because it is hard to escape the sinful tendency to think all godly people look and think alike. Here’s where the doctrine of the image of God comes in. It’s not only for evangelism or theology tests. It needs to be part of the way we view our spouses, our kids, our church family, and every close Christian relationship we have. In salvation, God is remaking people in his image – not yours, and not mine. That means differences are by God’s design. No single human being can come anywhere close to reflecting the fullness of the infinite God. The more your spouse, child, or fellow Christian becomes like Christ, the less they’ll look like you.
A personal story here. I’m the oldest of five kids, raised in a Christian household with godly parents and siblings. I became a pastor one year after college. My sister after me got married and started a family. This seemed like the start of the normal American Christian path. Then something happened. The remaining brothers and sisters started seeking the Lord for their own futures, and started saying crazy things about what God was showing them that didn’t at all sound like my plan for their futures. I wanted to sputter like a broken motorboat engine, “But, but, but, but….that’s not what this was supposed to look like!” My siblings, however – and God – ignored my engine noises and proceeded down paths leading a lot of places I hadn’t expected. And gradually God has reminded me that this is okay, because he’s remaking my siblings in his image, not mine.
Can you relate? That’s the challenge: are we content to help people become like God, even if that means becoming less like us? Parents with teens, can you let go of your dreams for your child’s future (athletics, ministry, taking over the family business, whatever) and allow God to mold them in his image? Wives and husbands, can you let go of your plans to finally make your spouse “see things your way,” and instead thank God for putting you with a person who differs from you? Pastors, are you fighting the temptation to make a church of clones and instead simply be an assistant to the master Sculptor as he refashions your people according to his own designs? And church members, is it enough to you that God is at work in your pastor or in your fellow believers – even if that means they upset the equilibrium of sameness in your church?
Diversity stretches. It breaks down walls, walls that need breaking. No Christian can reach their potential in Christ confined by the limits of man-made uniformity. Our recreation in God’s image, when it is complete, will one day shout the glory of God to the entire cosmos (see Eph. 3:10). And you know what? That is worth a little stretching and wall-breaking in the present.
Image by Easter Island Traveling