The Image of God and the Present Culture War


In a recent New York Times Op-Ed, David Brooks wrote about the culture war that we have heard so much about during this election cycle.  In the piece, he argues that our focus is in the wrong direction.

“The larger culture itself needs to be revived in four distinct ways: We need to be more communal in an age that’s overly individualistic; we need to be more morally minded in an age that’s overly utilitarian; we need to be more spiritually literate in an age that’s overly materialistic; and we need to be more emotionally intelligent in an age that is overly cognitive.”

Brooks argues that we have lost the sense of the value of the individual and that we just use people, that they are utilitarian.

“If public life were truly infused with the sense that people have souls, we would educate young people to have vocations and not just careers. We would comfortably tell them that sex is a fusion of loving souls and not just a physical act. We’d celebrate marriage as a covenantal bond. We’d understand that citizenship is a covenant, too, and we have a duty to feel connected to those who disagree with us.”

As I read this what I hear him saying is that we have lost what I call the image of the Divine Spark that is inside each human being.

Shortly after reading this I read a verse from the Psalms that has stuck with me, and I keep rolling it over and over again in my mind.  For several days I have been meditating on verse eight from the twenty-sixth Psalm: “Lord, I love the house in which you dwell and the place where your glory abides.” I cannot get this passage out of my mind.

When the Psalmist wrote these words, the place where God was dwelling was the Temple.  The understanding of the time was the God was dwelling in the Temple that this is the place where God lived.  The Holy of Holies contained the Ark of Covenant, which contained the tablets of Moses and God’s Law handed down to him.  The Temple was a magnificent place, and its beauty was not matched anywhere in the world.

The Christian understanding of where God dwells is much different.  God, the one who created all that we see, cannot be contained to a physical place but is present everywhere and in all of the creation.  When we look at creation, we see God, and when we look at another human being, we are looking into the very face of God.  That’s right; each person is created in the image and likeness of the creator.

Much of our twenty-first century political life requires us to put people into categories, homeless, addict, prisoner, criminal, illegal immigrant, gay, straight etc. when we do this we forget that each is a human, created in the image and likeness of God, first and everything else is secondary and used for a purpose.

The world we live in tells us that we find value in objects and that our value can be found in the number of objects that we have.  Our success is based on the fact that we have a lot of money and a lot of stuff, the big car, the big house and all of the trappings that go along with all of that.  There are even Christian ministers that claim that if we follow God’s will, and send them lots of money, we will find riches on earth.  I have searched my Bible and cannot find that sense of worth anywhere.

We are taught that we are to be all we can be, be the best we can be, no matter what the cost.  It does not matter who we have to take advantage of or who we have to step on as long as we make it.  We are a society of individuals and not a collection of human beings.  How often have heard that we spend too much of our tax dollars on the lazy poor, but I do not often hear complaints about the money we spend on war or the war machine.  We want what is best for us, as individuals, rather than what is good for society as a whole.

Human beings have been reduced to things to objects that are bought and sold to the highest bidder and therefore people have become disposable in our society like everything else.  We are treating human beings the same way we treat the rest of creation, what can I get out of it and when I get what I want I will simply throw it away.  We have removed the Divine Spark from humanity for if we have not done that, then we would not be able to treat our fellow human being the way we do.

We look at the illegal immigrant see what they cost us and the law that has been broken.  We do not consider that person as someone who had fled an impossible situation, an individual who has risked their life to come the “land of milk and honey” to make a better life for themselves and their family.  We do not take the time to listen to their story and where they have come from.  We simply look upon them as a criminal and dismiss the fact that they are human.

The Christian story of creation comes from the Book of Genesis.  In that story, we read of God creating humanity from the dust of the ground, “Let us created humanity in our image, according to our likeness.”  We also read that God breathed His breath into the very nostrils of humanity thus we have inside each of us the very breath of God.  How someone professing to be Christian look at another human being and see them as an object is beyond me.

The time I have spent meditating on the verse from Psalm twenty-six has instilled in me that the place where God has chosen to dwell is inside each human that was created in that very image, and that is the place where God’s glory abides.  I can no longer look at another human and see them as an appendage but as a person that is struggling to get through life just as I am.

I see a human with the divine spark in them who happens to be homeless, who happens to be an addict, who happens to be Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or no religion at all.  I see human beings with all sorts of flaws, some of the same ones I see in myself.  They are not objects to be used for political purposes, used by all sides of the political spectrum, but as human beings that have been given dignity and we are commanded by the person we claim to follow, Jesus Christ, to love.

There is a lot of noise coming from the Christian right about how America was founded as a Christian nation.  I disagree with sentiment, and I surely have not seen evidence of a Christian nation based on policies and practices of that same Christian right.  Each human being has inherent dignity that needs to be honored and respected.  When we are ready to do that, when we are willing to give all of the humanity the dignity and respect they deserve as the living embodiment of God then we might be able to claim that we are living as Christians.

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