Christian Worldview and Apologetics: The Image of God (And Why It Matters)

Donnie’s weathered face matched the condition of his trailer. His four-fingered hand pushed back scraggly hair as he constantly adjusted his posture to counter numbing back pain. He had spent most of his life working the Carolina tobacco fields with a 4th-grade education and an occasional struggle with drugs that led him to a casual exposure to church, marriage, parenting and divorce. A work injury left him a with a broken body and a meager disability check. In that moment, my eyes beheld a shattered person, but this image reflected only the outside of the man. To most eyes, Donnie was not desirable, useful or productive. To society at large, he was a burden to be avoided — but to Jesus, he was someone to seek, find and redeem. His value stemmed from being made in God’s image.

Peter Link

Peter J. Link Jr.

Each person we encounter, even those who anger and afflict us, are valuable because they are made to reflect who God is and what He did. However, life in this fallen world amidst our own fallen hearts mars and blurs this image, making it hard to see. Even at my first glance, Donnie and I looked very different, but we carried the same sin problem and the same gospel hope. Being created in God’s image should compel us not only to show mercy to others but also to trust that the Redeemer’s cross is the right and only solution for all situations, even in our most desperate moments. However, on that day, I could only see Donnie as someone who reflected God’s image through the gospel prism of the Scriptures, the working of God’s Spirit and the giving of my time to him.

As such, I invited him to join us for Bible study, which I fear was more about my desire to teach the Bible to someone — indeed, anyone — rather than for what it should have been: to love someone by word and deed. I had devoted myself to a task of “doing” my ministry rather than to loving God and others. My idol needed to be put away, as did Donnie’s, so that God might do His ministry in us together. God’s care for me involved me caring for my brother. To help him with his idols, I needed to address my own. While Donnie struggled with money, his car, his home and his son, I struggled with my motives and limits as I tried to help, encourage and rebuke. His weaknesses exposed mine, and together our weaknesses revealed the One who sustained, shaped, rebuked and encouraged us: Jesus. Even as Donnie faced recurring bouts with cancer, God’s goodness offered painful portraits into the perfection that awaits us as believers. I could see Christ’s joy in Donnie’s cancer-stricken face.

God sees men in an eternal perspective that surpasses more than our few days on this earth. The eternal God answers our sins with the cross and the perfect reality of what we as believers will be like in the end. Knowing that each man is made in God’s image must compel us to believe that man’s Maker is also his Redeemer; the gospel saves all who will receive it. As I prayed in Donnie’s living room, and as I prayed beside his hospice bed, we both depended on God. On most days, I failed this calling, but our odd pairing became a flawed witness to God’s perfect image. In the midst of my discomfort, I found joy, peace and love from God, through Donnie. God shaped our stories with irony that leapt off Scripture’s pages; God sought me in the very difficulties that I sought to avoid.

The Bible gives us its doctrine to shape how we live; right teaching aims for right practice. Man being made in God’s image, therefore, is not designed to be a passing thought. It must continually propel our hearts to wonder at the mystery of broken jars of clay reflecting the perfect God so that God may find those wandering in this world through us. They may believe, they may not. No matter their responses, each one is made in God’s image and requires our testimony to their Maker. God places this joyful burden on us because we only give evidence that we are God’s people when we are actually walking with God ourselves. The true value of man does not stem from strength, intellect, invention, productivity or profit. These notions echo men’s idols, but God calls the church to echo Him. Donnie succumbed to cancer, but God brought him safely home. The idols of this world plague his heart no more; he is complete. Donnie now perfectly reflects His Savior’s image. He sees what we long to see: the perfect image of God.

— Peter J. Link Jr. is assistant professor of Christian studies at Charleston Southern University.