“Where are you from?” Someone asked me that the other day and I told them, “The booming metropolis of Vincennes, Indiana. I was born in Good Samaritan Hospital after a way-too-long labor that my mom says almost killed her.”
The person stood there for a second and then very politely asked about my parents. We went back and forth for a few minutes, but something struck me about the sheer normality of the conversation: when people want to know you, they usually ask questions about geography, your folks, your profession—the core aspects of a person that people think may define what we’re all about.
This can be really helpful sometimes. Where you come from can say a lot about you and what you care about. What you do for a living can be a helpful pointer to deeper things about you. But, as we know, this can go very dark very fast. Whenever we think that a person’s nationality, ethnicity, or some other category can sum them up in some simplistic way, we have veered off into some dangerous territory.
Many of our clients are victimized by this over-simplification. Some are from neighborhoods that have not had meaningful investment for over a generation and they recognize the preconceptions many people have about them; our immigrant neighbors from embattled countries in far-flung parts of the world are often seen as dangerous simply because of where they come from; many of our clients that have a criminal conviction in their past know the peculiar sting of being defined by some misguided moments that may have taken place over a decade ago.
All of these are ways that our brains try to make sense of what is the most important thing about a person. And many can be harmless—and many of them are dangerously prejudicial. Nevertheless, the fact remains that we want a shortcut, a device that we can use to make sense of the complexity of the human person. Here’s the problem: it doesn’t exist. Humans are beautifully dense creatures. We are nuanced and delightfully diamond-like.
And God has made us that way. In fact, when God describes us in the Bible, it is through comparison to himself—we are made “in his image,” after all (Gen. 1:27). But that image was marred through sin, and God knew that we could not restore that image ourselves.
Which leads us to, of course, Jesus himself. In Isaiah, God says, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine” (Is. 43:1). Jesus is the Redeemer, the one who lived and died and rose again so that we could be restored to intimacy with God and the original image.
In the Bible, the most important thing about a person is that they are redeemed by God—that they belong to him.
And this goes for the way we see others and the way we see ourselves. We may see ourselves through the lens of professional success or failure; through the lens of class or ethnicity; through the lens of background or geography—but God sees us as people who are made in his image, though in need of the redemption that is freely offered to all.
May you see other people as God sees them and not engage in the dangerous simplifying prejudice that is the hobgoblin of our age; and may you see yourself as God sees you, trusting that what he says about you is truer than the lies the world hurls at you and that you hurl at yourself.
Until justice and peace embrace,