Forgetting the Imago Dei

May 12, 2021 9:00:00 AM / by Jason Brian Santos

2020 was a year of reckoning that led many of us who are white to heed what people of color have been saying for many years: that racism is a persistent and deadly problem and that it will not be solved until white people learn, grow, and change. To that end, Sparkhouse has decided to run a series of blog posts throughout the late spring and early summer in which people of color write about racism and racial justice as they relate to ministry. We hope you will join us on this learning journey and contemplate what actions you, as a ministry leader, can take to further the cause of racial justice in your church and your community.

There is no denying that we are going through serious growing pains when it comes to issues of race and racism in the United States today. If I were to be honest, I've often felt overwhelmed trying to wade through the tidal wave of resources addressing the issue and figure out how to think about race in general, let alone how to respond from a biblical perspective to racism (and in 400 words or less). There is no denying that racism is real and that we've got a lot of work to do as Christians and as a society, but where do we begin?

I'd like to offer a starting place from scripture that might help orient us to why racism, for Christians, is ultimately a theological issue. From my perspective, there is one biblical concept that must be at the forefront of our thinking around the topic—the Imago Dei. For those not familiar with the phrase, the "Imago Dei" is Latin for the "Image of God." If we turn to Genesis 1:26, we find the end of the sixth day of creation, during which God created humans and imbued us with something significantly different from the other creatures. It says, "Let us make humankind in our image, in our likeness." God set us apart from the creatures of the earth, sea, and sky by giving us their image and likeness.

For centuries, theologians have debated about what the difference is between the image and the likeness of God, but by and large, most have agreed that the Imago Dei deals with our mental capacities. We are creatures that think rationally, self-reflect, create, have a will, and are able to be in relationship with one another. The likeness of God points toward our state of purity and righteousness before God.

For many theologians, in the Fall (when we were booted out of the garden), we became sinful and lost our righteousness. Consequently, we no longer bore the likeness of God. God's image in us was distorted too. In a way, we lost the fullness of our created capacities. Adam and Eve lost their sense of rationality, their will was weakened, and they no longer related to one another in pure love and from a spirit of self-giving. Unfortunately, this sense of "othering" permeated human history and is at the core of all forms of prejudice and the -isms we're addressing today.

God created us in a relationship that was meant to foster love for others and the creation that surrounds us. The Fall corrupted God's image in us and turned our gaze toward ourselves—Incurvatus in se. But Christ's death and resurrection changed all of that. God restored their image in us—ALL of us. As bearers of God's image, we are called to love our neighbor and serve one another in all that we do.

At its core, racism is a person holding their ethnicity, skin color, or culture over and against someone else. It's forgetting that the Imago Dei still exists in all of humanity. It's forgetting that God redeemed and restored the Imago Dei in those who don't look, think, or act like us, and that we are called to love them. With all of this forgetting, maybe it's time to remember that every human being was created in the Image of God. And perhaps when we start seeing God's image in others, we'll start loving others like it's in us too.

Topics: race, justice, imago dei

Jason Brian Santos

Written by Jason Brian Santos

Rev. Jason Brian Santos, Ph.D. is the pastor of Community Presbyterian Church, a small mountain congregation located in Lake City, CO. He’s an ordained teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and for the last five years he served as the national director for Christian Formation for the PC(USA). He holds a Ph.D. in practical theology from Princeton Theological Seminary, where he also earned his Masters of Divinity. He is the author of A Community Called Taizé (IVP, 2008). He currently resides in an almost 150-year-old historic church manse in Lake City, with his wife, Shannon, and his two sons, Judah and Silas (aka Tutu). In his spare time, he plays and designs board games.


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