This is the second post in our series on Biblical Justice. In the first post I made an observation: Justice is giving to all others what they deserve; or doing our duty to all other people. This begs the questions: what do I owe and to whom do I owe it? In this post we’ll begin answering these questions.
I ended the last post by noting that Paul says we have a duty to love other people (see Romans 13.8). Here, I’d like to look at the root of that claim. I believe it is based on two fundamental truths:
- Humans are created in God’s image
- Christ died for all people
I’ll explore both of these ideas in this and the following post.
Created in God’s Image
The Bible begins with an exploration of the creation of the world, and at its pinnacle, the creation of humans. In Genesis 1.27 we are told, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” This verse has a myriad of implications, but for our purposes, it is important because it communicates the idea that people have a special dignity, or value placed upon them simply by virtue of whom they resemble. If you have children, you’ll note with me that you love your kids more than anyone else’s; they are worth more to you than anyone else’s. This is in part because they have your DNA – they look like you, they act like you, they are your offspring. Even adopted children come to take on your family’s “DNA” over time, with the same values, attitudes, and desires as your family.
I traveled to Thailand several years ago and found out something interesting – it is illegal to damage Thai money (like ripping it or stepping on it). Not because it is government property, but because it has the image of the king on it. To disgrace something with his image is to assault the king himself! Similarly, when you degrade a human being you are degrading the very image of God. When you respect and honor a human being, you are respecting and honoring God’s image.
This concept flows throughout the Bible. For example, after the flood, we read in Genesis 9.6, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” In other words, if a person kills another, he is to be put to death because he has defiled God’s own image. That we are made in God’s image, therefore, endows us with dignity. Humans – regardless of sex, age, religion, race, sexual orientation, etc. – deserve dignity and respect because value has been bestowed upon them simply by virtue of their being descendants of Adam and Eve, and created in God’s image.
Now, let me take a minute to distinguish this concept from the form of secular humanism that pervades our culture. Books, movies, and media tell us, even if subtly, that people have value because we are rational, creative, autonomous beings. We celebrate humanity because humans have the capacity to think, create, innovate, and make free decisions. Unfortunately, this confuses the “fruit with the root.” Our ability to think and express ourselves creatively, to build and explore, to cooperate and to love, these are evidence of our value, they are not what make us valuable. Because we are created in God’s image, we have God’s characteristics in us, though to a lesser degree. We create, we love, we cooperate, we choose, we explore, we build, we do all this because God is a creator, a lover, a cooperator, an explorer, a builder, etc. He has made us like him, doing the things he does.
This is an important distinction, because if we base peoples’ value on their abilities, then as soon as they lose those abilities they no longer deserve our love. If people have value because they are creative and autonomous, then the unborn, infants, elderly with dementia, and mentally challenged cease to have value. But, if we say that people are valuable because they are made in God’s image, then they are valuable even if they have not developed the ability to be creative and autonomous or have lost that ability due to sickness or an accident. The homeless man who’s ability to think and be creative has been destroyed by years of drug use has no value in a secular, humanism construct – but he has tremendous value in the economy of God.