“So God created human beings in His own image. In the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.” Genesis 1:27
People, all people, have sacred worth. This is not contingent upon their actions, beliefs or practices; their place of birth, their social or economic status, their work or lack of it, their state of health or well-being, their political stance, or perceived power. It does not matter if they are in a coma, in prison, in utero, in a war zone, incoherent, or in opposition to our deeply held beliefs.
People, all people, have sacred worth because we are made in the image of God.
Why does this matter?
Because if I recognize your sacred worth – the image of God in you – then I will treat you as a human being, even if what you say or do is destructive to me, even if you don’t recognize my sacred worth.
Every single act that has led to genocide began with this step: you are not a person, you have no sacred worth, I do not recognize the image of God in you. Therefore, since you are not a person, I can ignore you and your basic human needs: I can withhold food, water, medicine, care and kindnesses that are in my power to give; I can smear your good name, destroy your reputation, make it impossible for you to live and work in peace; I can take your land, your children, rape your wife, destroy your home; I can attack you, torture you, wipe you off the planet and make it seem like a good thing, like a God-ordained thing – but it’s not.
“For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” Ezekiel 18:32
Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48
We don’t have God’s permission to hate anyone. Our battle is not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12) and our weapons are not worldly (2 Corinthians 10:4). We are commanded to love (John 13:34), to make every effort to live at peace with everyone and to be holy (Hebrews 12:14). No matter what the person in front of us believes or does, we are to honor the image of God in them and recognize their sacred worth.
Mother Teresa said, “I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus.” And, “If now we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten how to see God in one another. If each person saw God in his neighbor, do you think we would need guns and bombs?”
When we choose to recognize the image of God in others, even in the face of extreme evil, and love anyway, great revival results. Many turn to Jesus because now we look and sound just like Him. It is love that never fails, because God is love. “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” John 3:17
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly (for us). Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6-8
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.” 1 John 4:7-12