The Imago Question

August 19, 2021 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments

Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement

This is part 2 of a multi-part series reviewing Thaddeus J. Williams’ book, Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask About Social Justice. This book is published at a critical time when many in our nation, including Christians, wrestle with the concept of justice. Williams starts with the clear biblical command that Christians must “do justice” (Micah 6:8) and “seek justice” (Isaiah 1:17). Not everything labeled “justice,” however, is necessarily biblical justice. Therefore, Williams poses twelve questions to help Christians discern true, biblical justice, while calling us to do true justice. I commend this book if you want to dig deeper and be more faithful in seeking justice. 

The second question Williams poses is the “Imago Question.” He asks, “Does our vision of social justice acknowledge the image of God in everyone, regardless of size, shade, sex, or status?” (p. 21). He raises this question against the backdrop of a naturalist worldview. A naturalist seeks to make sense of the universe, including issues of justice, with reference to other things inside the created universe. In this naturalist culture we live, the tendency is to reduce people to their bodies or ideologies. Williams gives some examples, “We don’t see a human being so much as we see social justice snowflakes to our left and neo-Nazi fascists to our right. Or we see and treat people on the basis of their skin color or gender or whom they want to sleep with” (p.23). 

The danger of approaching the issue of justice from a naturalist perspective, reducing “people to inside-the-box [of creation] categories,” is that we will miss the fact that “every human being is a divine image-bearer” (p. 24). Reducing people to categories and either ignoring or missing that they are image-bearers actually is dehumanizing. Williams concludes: 

“This brings us full circle to our definition of justice. What is due to a ‘human being’ – which I take as shorthand for an unfathomably precious image-bearer of God? It seems like not being defrauded, raped, brutalized, exploited, or murdered is a reasonable place to start. That’s why truth-telling, sexual boundaries, and treating people the way you want to be treated are all justice issues. They are all essential to treating human beings like the unfathomably precious image-bearers of God we are” (p. 24). 

This question about the image of God ties to the first question about taking seriously the Godness of God. If we truly love God and seek to glorify him in all we do, then we will certainly respect and honor those who are made in his image. We fight against, and call out as sinful, discrimination, racism, oppression, exploitation, abuse, and more, not because of someone’s skin color or social status or sexual orientation, but because every single human being is an image-bearer. 

I agree with Williams. If we are to pursue true biblical, God-honoring justice, we cannot allow a naturalist worldview to define the categories of justice. Instead of categorizing people and treating them based upon the categories assigned, let us treat every single human as an image-bearer of God.


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