Poverty & the Imago Dei

According to the calendar, I should be wishing you a Happy Spring. So let’s “spring” right to this week’s content as we continue our series on The Imago Dei, this time diving into the subject of poverty. (If you’ve missed previous editions of this series, you can always catch up here.)

Let me say from the outset, poverty is more than just financial. For instance, someone could be monetarily wealthy, yet live in relational poverty, while another person might have inherited millions, yet live in daily emotional poverty.

However, for our purposes (and to keep this article brief), we are going to tackle the subject of financial poverty, and how the Imago Dei changes our approach to the financially poor.

Blessed are the Poor

Our modern day American society isn’t much different from many other cultures, whether modern or ancient, when it comes to opinions about wealthy and non-wealthy individuals. Throughout time, humans have judged their fellow humans who have an abundance of wealth as being better, smarter, and more worthy of attention than their less-wealthy compatriots.

I once heard a story about Tiger Woods, the famous golfer, eating at a restaurant years ago when he was at the height of his success. The manager of the restaurant was so honored to have such a famous and successful golfer in his establishment that he told Mr. Woods his meal was on the house.

But if you think about it, as a multi-millionaire, Tiger probably could have not only bought his own meal, but the meal of everyone in the restaurant, and not felt a financial pinch at all. Yet, the owner gave the meal for free to the richest guy in the room.

Like us Americans, ancient Jews fell into this same thought-trap. They believed if a person had tremendous wealth, it was because God had richly blessed that man, and therefore was more important than the poor person begging on the street (who God clearly didn’t bless). This is why they would give the most prominent seats to rich people at important events or kowtow to their every whim or desire while treating the poor person like scum.

poverty imago dei2 350x196 - Poverty & the Imago DeiBut this common cultural thought stood in stark contrast to the teaching of Jesus. Regularly, Jesus taught that the poor were not only equal with the rich, they were actually blessed! You see, Jesus knew a rich person was encumbered with the things of earth, and therefore couldn’t fully give their heart to God and things above(see Matthew 19:16-30for an example). This meant the poor person, in Jesus’ eyes, had a greater capacity to fully appreciate the true riches of God.

Perhaps that is why God told His people in Proverbs 22:22-23

“Do not rob the poor, because he is poor,
or crush the afflicted at the gate,
for the Lord will plead their cause
and rob of life those who rob them.” (ESV)

The poor are close to the heart of God because they bear His image. He delights in them. And He finds honor in providing for them because they are more dependent upon Him than a rich person. That is why He will often “plead their cause” and come to their defense.

But there’s something else we need to realize. Because of sin, God knows we are ALL spirituallypoor. Earthly treasure will fade away, whether in this life or when we pass to the next, so what we need isn’t a raise at work, but spiritual eyes to see where our true poverty lies. We are in deep, deep debt to God because of our sin, but He not only paid our debts and forgave us our sin, He then blesses us with every spiritual blessing under heaven!

Which is why God commands the “rich” to not focus only on the acquisition of earthly wealth, but rather use earthly wealth to help others. It’s far more important to be rich in good works than rich in dollar bills.

This is one reason we invite you, as part of the Riverwood family, to serve at the monthly Food Bank. All of those who come to receive food each month would be considered in the eyes of our society as poor. What a beautiful opportunity we have on the second Tuesday of each month to interact with those that are benefit from the food bank. We have an opportunity to remind ourselves that we are complete equals with everyone else in the eyes of God because His image is in them, and God wants nothing more than to restore His broken image in each of us to look more like Jesus.

So whether you see yourself as poor, or view others around you as poor, may you see the value every person has as an image bearer, regardless of the size of their house, car, or bank account.

Pro-Life & The Imago Dei

by Erin Bird

In case you didn’t remember or know, we are in the middle of a series here on the blog on the topic of the Imago Dei. This ancient Christian doctrine teaches that God created humans in His image. And it is my personal belief that this theological idea that God’s image is within humans can guide us in our thinking on many contemporary issues. So far we’ve seen how the Imago Dei helps us think about race and immigration. Today, I want to look at the topic called “pro-life.”

Pro-Life or Pro-Babyprolife imago dei blank 350x196 - Pro-Life & The Imago Dei

Most times, when someone uses the term “pro-life,” they actually mean “pro-baby” or “pro-birth.” Some people call this “anti-abortion.”

But if humans are endowed with the image of God (even though the image has been distorted because of sin), then all of life is precious. This is why when I use the term “pro-life” it means “pro-human,” not just pro-birth. In other words, pro-life is to be for all of life from womb to tomb.

So to talk about this issue, let me share a few thoughts concerning the beginnings of human life, and then I will move on to issues relating to the end of human life.

Life’s Beginnings

Many pro-choice advocates argue that the fetus growing in the uterus is simply a clump of cells. But the DNA of those cells is human. And that human fetus grows incredibly fast.

This is why I personally believe a “fetus” is actually a human, and his or her life began when a sperm entered the egg, creating a new unique being. And this rapid growth shows the fetus is alive, and if it is a human life, it bears the image of God, making it worthy of love, care, and respect.

But when a baby is born, that love, care, and respect shouldn’t end. For the entire life of a person, they need to know they matter to God, and that knowledge should be experienced through God’s people. This is why adoption and foster care and programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters are so beautiful and impactful, because they show the gospel lived out in a radical way.

Life’s Endings

Just as we should be as passionate about life for little ones after they are born, the same comes to the end of a person’s life. We should still love, care, and respect those who are coming to the end of their life. We do what we can to make them comfortable, but we also do what we can to fight for their life. These individuals are not to be discarded to some senior citizen center or hospital to be ignored by family and neighbors. They should be loved to the end because they still bear the Imago Dei.

This is why being a doctor or nurse or care provider is such a noble calling. Jesus took time to heal and minister to people’s physical needs. And those in care careers are modeling just a bit what Jesus did, showing the tremendous value humans have in God’s eyes.

One More Thing

This is a woefully inadequate covering of this topic, but hopefully it gives you a glimpse at how this important doctrine can guide us on these controversial topics. But before I let you go, let me say one thing:

If a woman has chosen to have her unborn baby aborted, or a neighbor has essentially abandoned his dying elderly mother, we need to do what we can to give these people grace while still holding on to truth. We are not the Judge of these individuals, and what they need more than anything is to know that God loves them despite their choices. Because if they discover how much God loves and forgives them, it will lead them to want to love future children, or to go visit and serve a dying mother.

Because even those who have abandoned fellow image bearers are still bearers of the Imago Dei themselves. And for us to not forgive them essentially means we have committed the same sin they have.

Immigration & the Imago Dei

by Erin Bird

To my fellow Iowans, I know you are starting to think we live in Narnia, but I promise you Winter will end. Just hang in there.

As you await Spring, I want to continue our series here on the blog on the topic of the Imago Dei. Last week, we looked at how the doctrine of the Imago Dei informs us on the issue of race. Well, this week, I want to go a step further and talk about how the Imago Dei can guide us on the hot topic of immigration.

For the Immigrant or Not

immigration imago dei2 350x196 - Immigration & the Imago DeiRight now in the U.S., immigration is being contentiously debated. On one side of the debate, President Trump is doing anything he can to build a wall on the Mexican border to keep illegal immigrants from coming into the country, even going so far as declaring it a national emergency. But many Senators and Representatives, even some within the same party as President Trump, are doing what they can to block Trump from achieving this goal through an emergency declaration.

When this debate arises within the populace, it seems if you are for immigrants, one end of the political spectrum will hate you, claiming you are going to ruin our country. But if you say you are against immigration, you will be accused of being a cold, heartless human being.

So do you just align with one side of the debate and let your relationships end if the other person doesn’t agree with you? Or do you give up your opinion so as not to make someone else mad?

I believe that before we rush to join a side in this debate, we need to go to the Scripture. How does the doctrine of the Imago Dei guide us on this issue?

The Immigrant with the Imago

We need to remember immigration isn’t simply a political matter, it’s a people matter. And those people, regardless of their ethnicity, bear the image of God.

Which right away tells us we, as fellow image-bearers, have to consider the immigrant with love and empathy. What we often fail to do in this debate is consider that in the majority of immigration cases, people are wanting to move into a different country because they are looking for an improvement in their living situation. Sometimes it is as simple as looking for work, but sometimes they are fleeing a dangerous situation in an attempt to save their life.

This means most immigrants are undergoing great stress, due to extreme poverty or war or ethnic “cleansing.” Can you imagine if your government turned against you, threatening your life or your children, simply because of your faith in Jesus or the color of your skin?

That’s why God told the ancient Israelites to show compassion to immigrants:

“Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”(Deuteronomy 10:16-19)

Even though God chose the Israelites to be His people, and He didn’t want them to conform to the heathen practices of the cultures around them, He still called for them to be kind and tenderhearted toward immigrants.

Open Borders and/or Open Hearts?

Now, does this kind approach toward immigrants mean we just open our nation’s borders, and let anyone and everyone flood in whenever they want? Probably not.

In order to truly care for immigrants and provide them with resources so they can become productive citizens of our country, some wisdom and organized efforts need to be put in place. But if you consider yourself a Jesus-follower, your first thought of immigrants shouldn’t be based in fear, but rather empathy. And if an immigrant family were to be placed in our area, I would hope we, as the Riverwood family, would be some of the first people these image-bearers meet so we can welcome them.

Race & the Imago Dei

by Erin Bird

Last week, I kicked off an email-only series on the topic of the Imago Dei, because I believe this ancient theological idea that God created humans to bear His image speaks into many contemporary issues. And today, I want to dive into the issue of race.

So let me just get this out of the way – I am the son of white, middle-aged, educated, midwestern parents. This means, my racial experience has been vastly different than someone born to poor immigrant parents in inner-city New York, or someone born to black wealthy parents in Kenya, or someone born to white parents living as minorities in a different nation and culture.

It also means that, although I lived in Venezuela for two years in the ’90s (where I was a recipient of racism a couple of times), and have visited other countries, and have even had friends of different races, I am far from an expert on racial issues, especially based on experience.

So what I share with you is more from a theological perspective than a personal one.

A Biblical View of Race

race and imago dei2 350x196 - Race & the Imago DeiHere is what I know from the Scripture: the book of Revelation gives us a sneak peak at the future, and we see that at the end of time, Heaven will be populated with people “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” (Revelation 7:9) This is because Jesus was slain on the cross, and “by [his] blood [he] ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Revelation 5:9)

This tells me Jesus has no racial favorites because no ethnicity is better than another. White skin is not superior to black skin. Asian lives are not more important than Hispanic lives. Jews are not more valuable to God than Gentiles.

If you study the Bible, you learn this idea of racial equality was a hard concept for many ancient Jews to realize. They thought that because God chose to create them from Abraham and select them as His people that it made them better than all the other races (and part of the reason other races thought they were better than the Jews). This is why you see racial discrimination being addressed in the book of Acts (like chapters 11& 15) or in Paul’s letters (like Galatians 2& 3). God wanted the Jewish people to realize they weren’t betterthan Gentiles, they were just called for a purpose. And their purpose was to be the people from whom God brought His Messiah, who was not just for the Jewish people, but was God’s gift to ALL people.

This is why white supremacy is not just misguided, it is sinful. Black lives DO matter because they matter to God. But I would also say the reverse if those of African descent were in the majority in our country with primary political power – black supremacy is also sinful, because white lives also matter. And so do Asian lives. And Hispanic lives. And Hindi lives. And Arabian lives. And on and on and on.

Riverwood and Race

Riverwood is a majority white church, because we live in a majority white area of Iowa. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have the opportunity to love those of a different race:

Jesus chose to come to earth in the body of a Jewish man, to be the perfect sacrifice for every ethnicity, tribe, tongue, language, and nation. And because of His willingly sacrifice as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, Heaven will explode with multicultural, multiracial worship. And so at Riverwood, we will do what we can to welcome, love, and disciple anyone regardless of the skin color they were born with or culture they grew up within.

Please realize I have only scratched the surface of what the theological concept of the Imago Dei says about race. But I look forward to the day when Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream comes true “when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character,” (which we hope will be shaped and molded by God’s Holy Spirit into the image of Jesus).

May you love those of different ethnicity because the same image that God placed in you lies within them too.