It’s a Wednesday morning in November 2018, and I’m standing in the front row of chapel at Greenville University. The worship team begins to sing, “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord. Open the eyes of my heart. I want to see You.”
Ironically, I close my eyes while fervently asking the Lord to reveal Himself to me. Admittedly, there are mornings where I am not so sincere while offering up my worship to the Lord in song. However, this morning I really mean it. I want to see Him: the King of Kings, the Lord Almighty, the Righteous One, the Great I Am. Then we repeat the refrain: “Open the eyes of my heart. I want to see you.”
And then the strangest thing happens. Somewhere from deep within me, I hear a voice telling me to open my eyes and if I do that, then I will see Him!
I opened my eyes, knowing that my view would consist of mainly 18- to 22-year-olds, many from southern Illinois, some from East St. Louis, and others from California, Arizona, Texas, Florida, Mexico, Vietnam, Ecuador, China, Venezuela, Croatia, Ghana and many other places that I have probably never visited. Many of these students are Christians, but not all. Many of them were worshipping there with me, but not all. I imagine that some were probably trying to complete a homework assignment; others were probably checking Facebook or Instagram. Yet it seemed that God was telling me that if I wanted to see His face, then I needed to open my eyes and look at their faces.
A long time ago, I came to understand that I have been created in the image of God. This revelation brought so much freedom and a true sense of my identity in Christ. It is so wonderful to know that I have been adopted into the family of our good, good Father and that there is nothing I could possibly do to make Him love me more. This revelation changed me and how I saw myself. However, seeing others in the image of God doesn’t just change me; it changes everything. The sometimes hard-to-swallow truth is that every person – every person – bears the image of God. This includes those who look like me and those who don’t, those who talk like me and those who don’t, those who live like me and those who don’t.
Genesis 1:27 clearly tells us that “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
In other words, there has never been anyone born who was not created by God in the image of God. Indeed, there are many people who are obviously His image-bearers. I can think of some of my own mentors, pastors, and so forth. It doesn’t take a lot of faith, on my part, to see them as carrying the presence of God and bearing His image. But how can it be that every single person is created in His image?
When the psalmist declared, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:13–14a), he was not only speaking about himself but about all of mankind — every single one of us.
The challenge, of course, is that there are many who are “alienated from God and [are] enemies in [their] minds because of [their] evil behavior,” as Paul puts it in Colossians 1:21. Yet this does not negate the fact that they – like you and me – were created in God’s image! I also was alienated from God, living for myself. Yet thankfully, according to Paul, there is a “But now” — “But now” I have been reconciled to God (v.22).
In one of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, he goes on to say that we now have been given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18). As image-bearers of God who have been reconciled, our task is now to bring the good news, the hope of the gospel, to those image-bearers who remain alienated from Christ. If we see them merely as sinners, then chances are that we will simply judge them rather than reach out to them in love. And if we truly understand the Scriptures, we must be able to see Christ in each one of them. Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it like this: “As long as there are people, Christ will walk the earth as your neighbor, as the one through whom God calls you, speaks to you, makes demands on you” (fmchr.ch/dbonhoeffer).
James reminds us that: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness” (James 3:9). So how can we bless, rather than curse, those image-bearers who don’t yet know this great God of unconditional love and mercy? Here are a few suggestions:
By giving dignity to the elderly, to widows and orphans, thus honoring the image of God in them; by rescuing those who have been trafficked, demonstrating our belief that they are fearfully and wonderfully made; by working toward racial unity and reconciliation, concurring there is neither male nor female, Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free because we are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28); by offering hospitality to the stranger, the immigrant and the refugee, ministering to their needs as if ministering to Christ himself (Matthew 25:31-46); or on a smaller scale, by smiling at the person next to you at the checkout, or by inviting that lonely student or neighbor for Sunday lunch.
All of this makes me wonder how our community might change if we truly believed that everyone was created in the image of God. C.S. Lewis wrote, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit” (fmchr.ch/cslewis). In other words, next to God, people are the holiest beings on earth simply because they have been created in the image of God.
By the time I had sung “open the eyes of my heart” for the third or fourth time on that Wednesday morning in chapel, I started to understand more clearly the truth expressed by Jean Valjean in the musical “Les Misérables”: “To love another person is to see the face of God.” Seeing the face of God in those around you will not just change you, but rather it will change everything.
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).
Kathie Filby is a Free Methodist elder in the Gateway Conference where she serves as a conference evangelist. She also serves as the first lady of Greenville University.4