“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis1:27
Trigger Warning: This post deals with accounts of sexual assault and may be triggering to some people.
A few days ago, Buzzfeed, a popular viral content sharing website, posted an article about Grace Brown and her photography project, Project Unbreakable. In this project, Brown photographs women who have been sexually assaulted quoting their attackers on poster board. Brown hopes to help women heal from sexual assault by empowering them to take back the power from the words their attacker used against them.
You are more than welcome to click the link above and read up on the article. The quotes are nauseating and repulsive, and they also give us a better understanding of why the Imago Dei is so important to Christianity.
I took several classes over the summer including social problems, middle-eastern history, and ethics. It was awful. By the end of the semester, I told several of my professors that they needed to lighten up a bit and include some more optimism in their lectures. I suppose in a social problems class that’s not always easy to do. Maybe they should have offered a social solutions class?
But, I digress.
I really enjoyed my ethics class. Sometimes, we have a tendency not to really think about an ethical issue. Someone tells us their opinion, it makes some initial sense, and then we go on about our lives. My ethics teacher time and time again refused to “give us the answer” and encouraged us to really think our arguments through. Unfortunately, I found that by the end of the class the majority of my classmates had taken a utilitarian approach to ethics.
What does this mean? Essentially, the morally right thing is the thing that brings the most happiness to the most people. Unfortunately, utilitarianism leads the advocate into some interesting conundrums. What do we do with the elderly who can no longer care for themselves? What about the mentally disabled/ill who cannot function independently? At what point does a person have value and worth? Or is a person’s worth linked to their usefulness to society?
We live lives where objectification has become such a norm. Turn on almost any channel on television, and you’ll see advertisers highlighting and sexualizing body parts as people or companies posting on their social media pages making a bad rape joke. We put people into camps so that we can label them as the right-wing nut jobs or the left-wing tree huggers without actually engaging them as individuals.
A large portion of the modesty and purity debate is whether a woman who is sexually promiscuous, dresses provocatively (as defined by her culture) , and/or is no longer a virgin has worth anymore. Does society cast her as used, trashy, etc — all attributes that describe the usefulness of objects?
Use Up Your Usefulness
This also plays out in other countries where female infanticide runs rampant. India and China both have a social problem where mothers are killing their newborn female daughters because of a perceived higher value associated with male children and not with female children.
With prenatal genetic testing, Parents who perceive their children to be broken (e.g. diagnosed with cerebral palsy, down syndrome, paraplegia, etc.) have the choice to abort the baby early on. But what about the ethics of it all? At what point does a disability dictate no value?
At what point does a person use up their usefulness and should just be sent away, given to someone else to fix, or put to death?
The Imago Dei
We return to the picture of the woman whose attacker told her she was nothing, to the woman whose peers told her she was used and trashy, whose media told her it was her fault, and whose society told her she no longer has value. What is she to do?
Early, early in scripture during the creation narrative, God declares that he has created man/woman in His image. That the intrinsic value that God has for just being God has been transferred to His people. That men and women have value for solely being who they are, children of the Almighty.
The Imago Dei laughs in the face of utilitarianism. It rebukes the lies that a person has no value and declares their ultimate intrinsic value. It tells a battered, sexually assaulted woman that she is not defined by her rape and that she is wholly valued. It tells the man who struggles to be successful and find approval among his peers that God gives him value for just being who he is. It tells the little girl whose parents didn’t want her because of her gender that God made her, knit her together, and He alone gives her value. It tells all that Jesus didn’t die for you because you were useful; He died for you because you are a child of God.
Most importantly, it tells us as Christians to love our fellow men and women. It tells us not to view them as enemies or obstacles. It tells us to listen, to love, and to fellowship with them.
The Imago Dei isn’t some old doctrine that doesn’t mean anything. It speaks to us strongly in our current culture and should be the primary driving force behind all social justice.