In their book ‘Untamed’, Hirsch and Hirsch (great husband and wife team!) describe two contrasting perspectives to which Christians might, in their missional practice, subscribe. Now, we are not talking about what those Christians might say is true theologically but what their practices betray about their beliefs.
The two sets of assumptions are that:
- everyone is first and foremost a sinner, and the image of God ‘all but obliterated’; or
- everyone is first and foremost created in the image of God, but also fallen and capable of great evil.
Hirsch and Hirsch suggest that either of these two operating paradigms can impact significantly how we engage in mission. With the first, we are more likely to view people in a ‘dark and cynical light’ and ‘miss the gift that lies under the mess of sin’. With the second, we will ‘see beyond the sin and brokenness to a being that was made to reflect God’.
Sometimes it can be hard to see the image of God in people. Especially perhaps in those who seem to be purely evil in the way that we might assume Hitler to have been.
In fact, and assuming you don’t know anyone quite like Hitler, even with people who are less obviously tainted by sinful nature, I wonder whether it is easier simply to see the falleness. I think it is my default position; I see falleness perhaps more readily than I see the traces of God’s creative intention. And maybe that means that I do see the brokenness before I see the beauty, and that the messy legacy and consequence of sin sometimes feels more real than the DNA of God in a person. Sometimes a person’s life seems too broken to be fixed even…
But this reflection from Hirsch and Hirsch has played on my mind a bit this week. What if, instead of seeing the brokenness which is staring us in the face, you and I chose to see the image which has been hidden by sin? What if we saw a non-Christian and saw the beauty inherent in that human being, a beauty which is marred and twisted but which is nevertheless there to be restored?
I don’t know about you but I find this perspective somewhat more hopeful. When we bring hope to a broken world, we are not trying to create the image of God where it never was before. We are trying to call the image of God out of people in whom it has already been embedded, a part of their being more basic to them than even their DNA. We do not start from scratch; we call out of hiding that beauty which is more real than all of the brokenness piled on top of it.
So let’s make this personal now. Who are the non-Christians in our relational networks? Are we almost transfixed by the size of their need and the messiness of sin which all but obliterates the image…or do we see first and foremost the ‘holy in them’ – their dignity as image-bearers of the High God? And how might our perception of them affect the way we engage them with the gospel?
This one might be worth thinking about this week. You never know, it might just change how we share Christ…