I heard of a missionary worker in Asia who observed a beggar girl in the street.
Later that night, the temperature dropped. The worker, lying warmly beneath her blankets, began to imagine the girl she had seen in the day. She knew that the girl was likely in extreme discomfort from the cold. Eventually, she could stand it no more. She got out of bed, made her way back into the town in the middle of the night, miraculously found the girl and gave her a blanket.
This story captures how our theology of people is infinitely important. I believe the worker’s actions were motivated by deeply-held beliefs about the human person. This foundation drove her to compassion and then to action. Her convenience, sleep, time and blanket had to be forfeited for the child’s relief. She would not have done this without the right theological beliefs that this beggar was precious to God and created in his image.
Our theology — our study and conclusions about the nature of God and his relation to the world — shapes our worldview and that shapes our actions. Collectively, these become the foundation of our culture, the lens through which we see the world. As Christians, our relationships and behaviours are lived out of values that are shaped by our theology, whether reflected upon or not, whether articulated or not. While we may not be aware of our values, people around us are.
It is common to hear non-believers describe an unpleasant experience with a supposed Christian, then say they do not want to be Christian. They assume the true nature of God is reflected in a follower of God. They don’t simply look at the action; they draw conclusions about the Christian’s theology.
Whether we like or not, our theology slips out in our actions and reactions. We all agree that human beings are created in God’s image and are valued by him to the point of him dying on the cross. But does this belief impact how we relate to someone on a bus, in a shop, or a co-worker in the office?
I have been reflecting together with the SIM International leadership team on these issues. We desire that our leadership behaviour, and thus our culture, be continually shaped by the truth of scripture and our theology of people.
As we seek to invest in teams and care for each person so they are flourishing, it is imperative to address the soil and the environment of SIM, the organisational culture in which we grow.
For this reason, we have articulated a few items as foundations of a theological reflection on people:
- People are created by God in his image with the purpose that we might glorify him.
- People are made to live in fellowship with God and in community with one another.
- The first man and woman were pronounced by God to be very good, but through their sin, all people are now fallen.
- Though fallen, all people are created with dignity and are loved by him.
- People are created to work and serve and have creative capacity.
- People are in one of two states, justified or unjustified, and will be judged with eternal consequences.
- People are diverse and unique, yet equal as divine image bearers.
It is much easier to give our time, convenience and possessions if we love and feel compassion for the person who stands to be transformed, like the child in the cold night. But what about when we have been deceived, taken advantage of, or treated badly?
Are we influenced by stereotypes and rumours about people, even people in the church, that make us uncomfortable towards them? Do such stereotypes or misinformation erode our theological conviction about God’s unfading interest in them? Does it create a barrier to living in community with them, the very barrier we are called to cross? People are precious, but people are also fallen.
The Bible tells us that while we were yet sinners, God considered us precious enough for Jesus to come to earth to save us. How much more could we share our imperfect lives with others — people every bit as precious as us — in God-honouring relationships? The core belief behind the relationship is Christ in us, the Hope of glory!
God said to us through the apostle Peter, the same thing he said to Israel in the wilderness: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. (1 Peter 2:9).
As we view one another through God’s eyes — not the lens of possessions, education, nationality or ethnicity — let us affirm the dignity God has accorded each one. What is the cold night that people are experiencing all around you?
What deep theological conviction will raise you from your warmth to seek out someone who desperately needs your time and love, who is just as worthy of the warmth you have been given? Let us call one another what God has called us — precious though fallen.
By Joshua Bogunjoko, SIM International Director