Don’t you feel moved when a theatrical film portrays someone’s selfless acts toward another person? Or when we see a news report about an individual whose heroic actions saved another person from serious harm, even death? I think this touches each of us, but why is that? After all, we’re not the beneficiaries of those acts. Why should we even care?
Recently I watched a video of an Asian man engaged in random forms of kindness and felt the same uplifting emotions. His actions weren’t grandiose, and didn’t require a lot of effort, yet they made me think, “Why aren’t we all like this – and all the time?”
His acts were simple, really: Moving a withering plant under a stream of water cascading from an awning; assisting an imporverished woman push her cart across a street; sharing a meal with a stray dog at an outdoor café; leaving bananas at the apartment door of an elderly woman; giving some money to a mother and her young daughter as they sat on a sidewalk asking for help.
In several cases his generosity and caring led to positive outcomes – the dog became a trusted companion, and the little girl eventually started attending school so she could learn how to live a better life. But even if the outcomes had not been favorable, or even viewers saw no results at all, we still would have agreed his kindnesses were commendable. But why?
I think it’s because, as Genesis 1:26-27 declares, we’re made to bear the very image of God. “The God said, ‘Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness’…. So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.”
Studying the Scriptures, it’s clear this doesn’t mean physical or anatomical characteristics, but rather some of God’s divine attributes and virtues, such as love, mercy, compassion, kindness, joy, generosity, understanding, and selflessness. Granted, even in demonstrating such qualities we do so very imperfectly. Our intentions might be good, but our efforts at being others-centered often leave something to be desired. But the key is that we even attempt to do things for others, regardless of whether they’re noticed, or appreciated.
Those that deny God’s existence would explain these traits through a belief in evolution, that for no reason at all, humanity is always becoming “new and improved.” They would contend that honorable human qualities somehow emerged and “evolved” out of chaos and meaninglessness; somewhere along the line the notions of natural selection and survival of the fittest were mitigated by a desire to “do to others as you would have them do to you.”
Of course, that philosophy wasn’t espoused by Charles Darwin, some erudite philosopher, or a member of the scientific elite, but by Jesus Christ, as quoted in Matthew 7:12. Jesus added an edict equally revolutionary for His time when He said we’re to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39), recalling a principle introduced in the Old Testament: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:18).
This idea of bearing the image of God wasn’t discarded after the Old Testament’s span of thousands of years. In fact, it’s a promise transcending the New Testament, one that extends to each of His followers. But why would the invisible God choose to make mankind in His image? Besides the fact He wants us to be kind to one another? One reason is that when others see us – especially through actions and behavior as described above – they can see Him reflected in us. “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:12).
The concept of representing God to others was articulated by the apostle Paul when he wrote, “We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). As flawed as we are, the Lord wants us to serve as His spokespersons.
We’re also told that being made in God’s image isn’t just for this life. It’s a promise for all eternity. In one of his letters, the apostle John made this mind-boggling assertion: “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).