I love everything about photography. Pictures tell stories and spark imaginations. Images invite us to wonder, celebrate, mourn, and remember. They provide glimpses of life, history, and potential without saying a single word.
During my senior year in college, I signed up for a beginner-level photography class with aspirations of learning how to capture wonderful storytelling images. This was back in the days of F-stops, shutter speeds, light meters, manual focus, and actual film we had to develop ourselves. There’s something fascinating about seeing an image appear where, moments before, there was nothing but blank space, reflecting the creative work of the photographer.
Webster defines an image as “a physical likeness or representation of a person, animal, or thing, photographed, painted, sculptured, or otherwise made visible.”
Images are all around us. Ultrasounds tell stories of new life. X-rays might tell stories of a fearless adventure gone awry. The reflection in the mirror might speak to a sleepless night or a life well-lived.
Through the mystery of DNA, we bear the image of the people who biologically created us. Our noses, our feet, the quirky way our hair grows are all instances of us bearing the image, or the likeness of our parents. We are the physical representation of them made visible. But we bear the image of more than our biological parents. We bear the image of our ultimate Creator.
In the first chapters of Genesis, we have the account of God creating the heavens and the earth, the light, the sky, the water and dry ground, the sun, the moon, the stars, and all of the creatures of the sea, the land, and the air.
Then, on the sixth day, he does something simply extraordinary.
“Then God said ‘let us make man in our image, in our likeness …’ So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them. Male and female he created them” (Gen 1:26a, 27).
You, me, and all the rest of mankind are image bearers of God. God took himself and, as if we were film, imprinted his image on and in us. We are, according to Webster, a “physical likeness or representation” of God. Being made in God’s image means that we share, though imperfectly and finitely, in God’s nature. God’s character is also our character.
In my comfortable Christian life, I sometimes forget that bearing God’s image is not reserved for believers alone. This can be a hard truth to swallow. It means everyone, the people we like the people we don’t like, our allies and enemies. Our next door neighbors and the super rude clerk at the store are all image bearers of God. It gets even harder when we consider people who do bad things. They are created in God’s image too. How can that be?
We live in a sin-ridden world that mars the image of God. It seeks to imprint a different image on us than the one we were created to bear. We see violence, abuse, addiction, anger, selfishness, pride, shame, and guilt as the primary story, and we forget that underneath all of that is an image of our Creator, waiting, needing to be developed. An image that has a story to tell of love, justice, redemption, and forgiveness.
Faith in Jesus as our Savior is like entering the developer. As we spend time soaking in his presence, our image begins to change. The inherent characteristics of our Creator emerge. The more time we spend with Jesus, the more we look like him.
I confess I don’t always extend hard and difficult people the courtesy and respect they deserve simply because they are made in the image of God. My thoughts, actions, and words belittle those who hurt me, hurt others, or further betray the faith I ascribe to. I am quick to judge and condemn the failures of other to represent God without evaluating the story I tell myself as an image bearer of Christ. Do people see in me what I want to see in them? Do people see in me what they can become?
Understanding that everyone is created to be God’s image can help us see people differently. God’s characteristics are there. They may be hidden, buried deep in sin, but they are there. The yearning to be in fellowship with the Creator is inside every person. His image desires to be developed.
The responsibility we have as people who have been and are being developed by Jesus is to reflect him to the rest of the world. I believe that if the story our image is telling speaks to the work of Christ in our lives, then others will want to come and be developed too.
The next time I’m tempted to react toward someone in a manner that does not reflect well on Christ, I’ll endeavor to take a deep breath, see my adversary as the image of God, and offer them the image of love that just might draw them toward Jesus.
Photograph © Soragrit Wongsa, used with permission