“God created humankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”* Much of the theological/political tumult caused by our fellow citizens in Arizona, one could say, comes right back to this passage. Is it a statement about the uniqueness of heterosexual marriage? Is it rallying cry for all offenses against human dignity? This striking phrase, historic in the annals of world literature, one that rightly belongs in the above-mentioned conversations, has nevertheless been reduced to a polemical instrument. As a piece in an our ideological puzzles, it has ceased to affect the way we live, and only come to shape the way we argue.
Perhaps, when we reflect on our day-to-day behavior and vision of the world we are quite willing to entertain Gospel paradigms such as “Do unto others…” or “Love thy neighbor…” or “Be a Good Samaritan.” These are radical statements about discipleship and ethics, ones we would be foolish to forget and wise to live by. But without added grounding I think these all have the potential not to fall short of virtue, but to fall short of conversion.
St. Augustine observes similarly when considering another weighty, oft-repeated Gospel dictum, namely: “Love your enemies.” He writes, “Love your enemies in such a way that you wish them to be brothers (sic); love your enemies in such a way that they are brought into your fellowship.”** Simply put: There is a point to Christ’s exhortation. If rightly practiced, it is not an end in itself, but effects a change in us. This call to love others (friends, family, or foes), then, is not an order to be followed but an invitation to conversion; it changes not only the things we do, but the way we perceive and respond to the daily things of life—to persons, settings, and situations alike.
But like all instances of conversion, rarely is our endpoint reached immediately. Before our enemies (and perhaps even our neighbors) can be grasped as lovable I find there are intermediary processes, gradual changes made to our dispositions—as though we were wading into a pool, rather than diving in. In this bridge period, I believe, Genesis 1 makes all the difference.
If we are serious in our belief that “God created humankind in his image; in the image of God he created them,” we are making a bold claim: not necessarily that all people are lovable, but that they are interesting. We all know how frankly unlovable God can be at times. However, God is nothing if not interesting. We believers search for God in books and communities—sometimes even in stale bread and sub-par wine. The atheist, as Rahner once quipped, keeps interest in God alive by declaring his or herself an atheist. Being uninterested in God (or not-God) is no easy task.
Thus, as we pursue a life of limitless love, let us remember that such a pursuit begins in simplicity. It begins with looking at a person and realizing they are worth our time, frustrating as that can be. Much like the Almighty, in whose image they were made, they are full of mystery and surprise. Much like the Son, who is their life and salvation, I suspect their dealings with humankind have not always been favorable or just. Much like the Spirit, who is the source of their life, they have been a blessing to someone else.***
The stories, traits, and idiosyncrasies which give credence to this claim of mine are not always easy to discern. People can be stubborn or drab, and often they are just shy, but if we hold fast in our hearts that all people are made in God’s image—that they are de facto interesting—perhaps we as Christians can begin to unveil the great and forgotten wonder that surrounds us in the lives of others.
**Epistles on 1 John I, 9
***$5 to the first person who calls me a modalist