7 Stabilizing Principles in a Chaotic World, Part 2


Read the series.

Number 2: Image of God. Everyone is infinitely valuable. Treat him that way.

God not only runs the world; he created it. From scratch. (Google ex nihilo sometime. The official meaning is “from scratch.”) All of it. Everything is from his hand, originally.

But not everything is of equal value. He created light, and darkness, and water, and dirt, and plants, and animals. They’re all worth something, because he decided they’re worth creating.

But humans are different. In the creative process, the creator set them apart. He did so in many ways—by creating them last, climactically; by eagerly anticipating what he was about to do; by getting his hands dirty in the act of creating them. And most clearly, by speaking of them as specially gifted—they are, he said, “In our image, after our likeness” (Gen 1.26-27).

You’re in the image of very God. You’re not God, but you’re like him in some ways, and that makes you infinitely valuable.

Now, we’re all fine with that part. But here’s the thing—every other human is like that too. The people you like, sure; but the people you dislike as well. Even the people you hate.

When Noah left the ark after the flood, God established a system of human government, including capital punishment; he gave Noah, and by extension other humans, the right to kill murderers. This is the same God who later told Moses, “You must not kill!” (Ex 20.13). Is God unstable? Self-contradictory? Forgetful?

Of course not. God gave a reason why murderers could be killed while others must not be: the murder victim was in the image of God (Gen. 9.6).

Now, that’s really interesting. Sometimes murder victims get killed for no reason. But sometimes they don’t. Sometimes there’s a very good reason–or at least an incitation. My great-grandfather Olinger was murdered in Missouri, back in the 1800s, in a dispute with his neighbor over water rights. The details of the story haven’t been preserved for my current family members, but I’ve often wondered if he did something to provoke his neighbor, in word or deed. Sometimes that happens.

Sometimes murder victims, well, kinda have it coming.

But God says the murderer still gets executed, because that murder victim, distasteful and unlikable and rage-inducing as he may have been, was in God’s image.

Broken, sinful, perhaps—from all outward appearances—worthless. But also in the image of God.

The implications of that are far-reaching.

The homeless person is of unlimited value. Even if he’s homeless because of his own stupid inattention to personal responsibility.

The illegal immigrant is of unlimited value. Even though he’s broken the law.

The political enemy is of unlimited value. Even though he’s obviously an idiot. And eeeevvvviiiillll.

Now, suppose I pay a visit to the United Kingdom, and I see a bust of the Queen, and I spit on it. (All my British friends, please bear with me for a moment.)

I’m going to get a response. It might be just a cocked eyebrow. Or it might be a verbal rebuke from a passerby. Or, more likely, it just might be a visit from a bobby.

Why? It’s just a piece of rock!

Well, no, it isn’t. It’s a piece of rock that happens to look like the Queen, God save her, and spitting on the image of the Queen is going to get you in a lot of trouble, deservedly, from the Queen’s devoted subjects.

So when you treat God’s image with disrespect, what do you think is going to happen?

If you ignore the plight of the homeless, or the need of the illegal immigrant, or if you treat your political opponent with disrespect, these actions are not without consequence. The God of heaven sees, and he knows, and he cares, and boy, you’re in a heap of trouble.

Now, this all screams for a disclaimer, the one you’re eagerly waiting for. There are ways to address the needs of the homeless without forcing taxpayers to foot the bill, and without being wasteful or creating dependency. And illegal aliens have broken the law, and there are consequences for that. And your political opponent might well have no idea what he’s talking about; that has happened. I’m not saying that socialism or lawlessness or moral relativism are necessary consequences of the image of God in humans.

But I am saying that the image of God matters, and that at the interpersonal level, you need to treat everybody—everybody—with that kind of respect.

If you’ll see all those around you in that light, the way you feel about them will change. And so will the way you respond to them on social media.

Frankly, I doubt that the chaos of the current culture will go away just because your perspective has changed.

But it’s a start.

Dan Olinger Bio

Dr. Dan Olinger has taught at Bob Jones University since 2000, following 19 years as a writer, editor, and supervisor at BJU Press. He teaches courses in theology, New Testament, and Old Testament, with special interests in ecclesiology and the Pauline Epistles.