Postscript: Serving the imago Dei in others

[As a postscript to my previous series on the doctrine of the imago Dei, I would like to share a bit of a personal story which will hopefully illustrate the importance of considering the implications of this important doctrine.]

Serving the impoverished imago Dei in others enriches us. And we are often reminded of the difference between the trivialities of chocolate truffles and the tragedies of homeless children.

I was walking to work just a few weeks ago and this time finally had a chance to introduce myself to “Tom.” Tom is a very gentle and kind but homeless soul. He sits on a 1-foot by 3-feet piece of cardboard; doesn’t bother passersby; and I suppose simply waits for someone to extent their greetings to him. I offered him some of my bread; he politely declined. More important, however, I asked him for something: I asked for his name. For a human name dignifies the human person. I have established a relationship, what I hope becomes an eventual friendship. Being in a relationship with another person—both human and divine—is enriched and dignified by the knowing of the name of the person with whom we are in relationship. God gave his name to Moses (Ex. 3); we give names to our children; we even name our pets—because the affection and connection we have for and with them. And, of course, the knowing of names is only the beginning of the relationship. We go beyond this step and get to know the narratives of the other.

Serving the impoverished imago Dei in others enriches us. We are reminded of the difference between the trivialities of chocolate truffles and the tragedies of homeless children. The next time I saw Tom I offered him some bread; he politely refused, saying that “it doesn’t agree with me.” I asked him what he would prefer, and he smiled and answered “pies.” A couple of days later, before I had a chance to buy any pies from the store, I ran into Tom (almost quite literally on my evening run), and greeted him saying that I hadn’t forgotten about the pie, and that I intended to bring one soon. That night my wife and I went to the local grocery store and bought some good ol’ British pot pies. The next morning, I warmed one up in the oven, hoping and praying that I would see Tom on my way to work. Sure enough, I did. I handed him the pie which he took with great gratitude; peered into the container; smiled; and said: “I’ll save it to warm me up later. But first, I’ll use it to warm up my legs!” and proceeded to place it on his lap.

We then began talking a bit about how he got to where he did; his story: he caught his wife in bed with his best man. He sold everything he had, and three years later he ended up on the streets. Once I left Tom, continuing on my path to work, I couldn’t lift my head more than a slight angle. “How could a man with such a sad story smile so often as he does? Why are there so many homeless people who live such a sad life?” The (rather lengthily illustrated) point I’m making is this: As I continued on, while praying for Tom, about five minutes later I put my earphones back on only to hear an all too lighthearted song by Kina Grannis. (Don’t judge me for listening to Kina Grannis.) I couldn’t then listen to this far-too-nice-and-naïve song. I stopped my music player and just prayed: “God please speak powerfully into Tom’s soul.” New songs, new fashions, new movies, and new trends are all fine and good, and are gifts of a culture-loving God: but we must remind ourselves often of the dramatic difference between trivialities and tragedies, and the way that Christians ought to navigate between them. The imago dei in the impoverished other serves as a powerful reminder.

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