I’ve heard some people say (in word or words) “I don’t want to become a Christian, because I’m not interested in being against everybody—liberals, gays, new agers, atheists, feminists, or people from other religions.”
Sadly, for some Christians, it is about who you are against.
So, the question on the table is, if I become a Christian, do I have to hate people? When we answer this, we want to clarify first of all, that we’re actually for people. That is, we affirm the dignity, and even the beauty of the image of God in every human being. And though we’ve often done this poorly, it is nonetheless, the posture the Bible encourages.
For an intelligent discussion on this topic, make sure you have a book and a chapter. My book is Genesis and my chapter is 1.
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth’” (Gen. 1:26).
Scanning the rest of this chapter, we can’t find anything else in all of creation said to have the image and likeness of God. Because of this image, a certain supremacy has been conferred upon us that, without our trying, grants us dominion over everything else. This divine image means that in some sense, we look like God, far more than an oak tree or butterfly, or an eagle, or dolphin. Does likeness mean the overall human body plan? That’s hard to say, but for sure it doesn’t mean specifics related to skin color, height, weight, hair color, or nationality.
Far more likely, we are talking about something inward. Every human has a human spirit, and a human soul with a range of moral attributes, including love, goodness, kindness, compassion, etc. We have an ability to imagine and create, to be self-aware, as well as sympathize, and empathize. Far from hating people, we value this strange, wonderful potential in one another, recognize it, and are often deeply touched by it.
James lamented how “we bless our Lord and Father, and…we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so” (3:9-10).
What’s special about people that we shouldn’t curse them? The likeness of God. That is what gives human beings their essential value. We can therefore affirm the worth of any person, even the individuals who don’t model scriptural living.
For instance, consider things we routinely enjoy–food, music, art, literature, and technology. Christians aren’t the only ones who have made significant contributions to those areas. I grew up listening to the music of Elton John, and on the other end of the spectrum, the heavy metal band, Rush. Elton John is gay and the Rush front man, Geddy Lee, is an atheist. I’m not saying listen to all music without discretion, but how could their work touch me like it did, and still touch me even now that I’m an evangelical preacher? The answer is their creative ability to capture sentiments like joy, hope, and disappointment resonates with me. It is an image-to-image encounter.
The same thing happens when we see a movie made by non-Christian filmmakers, starring non-Christian actors. Some of these motion pictures can move us to the point of tears. We walk away from them feeling inspired, or having had an emotional catharsis. In any case, we often call such artistic efforts “Good,” because they’ve refreshed our appreciation for some aspect of God-created humanity, and the image underlying it.
On another note, do you know every time you go in for surgery, a Muslim has made a contribution to your procedure? A “10th-century Muslim surgeon Qasim al Zahrawi, described as the father of surgery, invented many surgical tools still used in modern medicine, including the scalpel, the surgical needle and surgical scissors. He also discovered catgut as a reliable material to administer internal stitches as it can be absorbed by the body, preventing the need for a second surgery to remove them.”¹ Before surgery, we don’t say, “What a minute, who invented this? Was it a born again Christian?” The proper response is, “Wow, thank you!” We can enthusiastically affirm the humanitarian drive in people without the need to establish their race or faith credentials.
Probably you have relatives, or friends, or casual acquaintances who in certain respects, live contrary to what the Bible says. But I’ll bet they’ve touched you many times with kindness and warmth. As Christians, we can appreciate those folks as genuine human beings, and we can respond with respect, affirmation, and where appropriate, admiration. Frequently I have to remind myself that I ought to learn from the example of kind folks around me who don’t share my faith.
And of course, people with whom you don’t agree can really get into your heart. My wife and I recently went on sabbatical, and the home we rented belonged to a lesbian couple. The point person in the marriage who worked with us was a sweet, delightful woman who knew I was a pastor. Perhaps she also suspected I hold to a biblical sexual ethic that that would make her uncomfortable. Yet she took to us with deep affection. And regardless of our personal convictions, we found ourselves loving her in return. On our part, this was not something contrary to Christian teaching, but consistent with it.
If we simply write someone off wholesale, we discard the image and likeness of God.
It is easy for us to say, “Love the sinner, but hate the sin,” yet end up hating both. Just as bad, we can end up loving both sinner and sin. Yes, it is sometimes hard to affirm the image of God that was bestowed upon us in Genesis 1, because it was buried under a stratum of sin in Genesis 3. But it is still partially there, waiting for redemption in Christ to come and cleanse and renew it. Our dogged insistence to see a human before anything else, should be standard procedure for a Christian.
Consider for instance, how tempting it is in today’s political environment, to instantly dehumanize someone. There are those who hate the president and those who hate those who hate the president. But no matter how anyone spins it, it’s all the same hate. For those of us hoping to share the gospel, that attitude is absolutely toxic to our efforts. We should strive not to be put off by the image people have adopted for themselves, but look for the one in which they were created–that which predates Hollywood, various agendas and identities, and even sin itself.
On a closing note, no matter how you embody the attitude of positive affirmation according to Genesis 1:26, there will always be someone who thinks it’s not enough.
They’ll say unless you fully agree with their lifestyle and everything they do, it means you hate them. You’ll see this juvenile mindset at work in children, who, when you limit them, will pitch a fit, and accuse you of hating them. Of course they will hate you back. In the adult forum, that’s when name calling starts–“phobic” this, and “phobic” that.
This is part of the suffering of the Gospel. Jesus said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mt. 5:11-12).
Don’t duck these moments. Accept them. That is when you demonstrate your commitment to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. That is when reward is assigned to you. Sometimes we’re so desperate to smooth things over with others that we tell them what they want to hear. God faulted those who did this even back in ancient times, when He said, “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14).
While you are trying so hard to be big, loving, and compassionate, beware of ending up a big, loving, compassionate, liar.
Here are a few pointers:
- Affirm, appreciate, and love people as the image of God.
- Never lead them to believe that sin is inconsequential.
- Be honest; have moral integrity and courage when asked about your stand on biblical issues.
- Include yourself as a sinner, who has issues of your own.
- Worry less about being on the wrong side of history, and more about being on the wrong side of eternity.
¹ Huffpost, “Muslim Contributions to Modern Society.”