In a crowded, dimly lit ballroom, I sit and stare into a stranger's eyes without saying a word. This is not how I expected to spend my afternoon at the APCE conference, and yet this simple, strange activity was one of the most meaningful parts of my time in Little Rock.
Lisa Sharon Harper led this plenary session, speaking on the text of Genesis 1:26: “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground’” (NIV). Harper reminded us how revolutionary it is that all of humanity carries the image of God.
As she examined what this means for our daily life, she asked: “What if when our policies lead us to govern in ways that crush, erase, diminish, twist, exploit, or exclude any people or people group from the call to exercise dominion? What if when we do that we’re also crushing, controlling, exploiting, twisting, beating down, and erasing the image of God on earth?”
As she said those words, images of people we have crushed with our policies were displayed on large screens around the room. While hearing the ways we destroy the image of God, we looked into the faces of those image-bearers being destroyed.
Harper then moved to the New Testament, explaining that “Jesus beats all the ways that the image of God is crushed on this earth.” This is the message of hope that she offered us as she drew her talk to a close: “Jesus has come to set free the image of God on earth.”
Inviting us to ponder this, she had us turn to our neighbors and look into their eyes without talking. Then we were to look past their eyes to see the image of God. We closed by telling one another, “I see the image of God in you.”
As I turned and looked awkwardly into the eyes of someone I didn’t know (for longer than I was comfortable with), and then looked past their eyes to see the image of God, I realized how negligent I’d been in seeing and setting free the image of God in all humanity.
In the weeks since, I’ve wondered what my day would look like were I to intentionally acknowledge the image of God in the face of everyone I encounter. How would my response to my kids’ tantrums or demands differ if I looked at their faces and remembered to see the image of God? How would my interactions with my spouse or friends or acquaintances differ?
How would my engagement with politics differ if I intentionally stared into the faces of those I disagree with and recognized the image of God there? Would my understanding of Jesus’ call in Matthew 25 to care for the least of these change if I looked at immigrants, refugees, prisoners, people without homes—really stared into their eyes for a minute without talking—and then looked past their eyes to see the image of God there?
If Christ came to set free the image of God, and the image of God is present in all of humanity, then we are called to recognize the image of God in all of humanity. We don’t get to pick and choose where and in whom we’ll see God’s image. We are called to look into the faces of all of humanity and see the image of God there.
In this second week of Lent, perhaps instead of, or in addition to, giving something up, we should add a practice to our daily lives. See the image of God in those you agree with, those with whom you disagree, those you love, those you dislike, those who bring you great joy, and those who bring you complete despair.
How would our world look different if we spent our days recognizing and setting free the image of God in all humanity?