The IGC mercy study group has been reading through Tim Keller’s Generous Justice. And we’ve been asking ourselves, how can we be a church that loves the poor? One of the resources Christianity gives us is the doctrine of the Imago Dei, man created in the image of God. Genesis tells us, “God created man in his own image,” so that every person, no matter their circumstance or condition, deserves dignity and respect. This was a radical concept in the ancient world, where tribalism, genocide and slavery were simply accepted.
The modern world no longer tolerates such atrocities, holding to the idea of universal human rights. But we often don’t realize that the Western idea of human rights arose out of the Christian teaching on the Imago Dei, the inherent value of every human being made in the image of the Creator God. As we move into a post-Christian world, the very idea of human rights stands on tenuous ground. Many secular philosophers argue that all people deserve dignity because of certain capacities – self-consciousness, the ability to reason, to make moral choices. But who is to say which capacities qualify and in what measure? What if a person has greatly diminished capacities – like someone born with cerebral palsy or severe autism? Is he still deserving of human rights? What about a fetus or someone in terminal illness?
This brings me back to the question: how can we be a church that loves the poor? When we see that every person, no matter their economic circumstance or their job skill-sets or their sociability, bears the image of God, will we love the weak and needy. For Jesus said, “whatever you did for the least, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)