Imago Dei

By Seth Drown, Upper School Dean

If we hope to educate our students, it helps to understand who they are, and one of the most important things Scripture teaches us about ourselves as human beings is that we are made in the “image” of God (imago Dei in Latin).

At our January faculty in-service meeting, we spent some time discussing what it means to think about our students as image-bearers with help from two recent articles in The Journal of the Society for Classical Learning (you can read them at this link).

There Are No Ordinary Persons

The first article by Russ Gregg reminded us of C. S. Lewis’ profound idea from The Weight of Glory that there are no “ordinary persons.” As Lewis puts it,

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.”

Lewis does not, of course, mean that we are literally “gods and goddesses” but that we are “immortals” in the sense that we will live forever either in a corrupted or a glorified state. Because of sin, we are fallen immortals, yet we still bear, however faintly, the image of our Creator.

Whatever else it might mean to be made in God’s image, at the very least, it means we were created in a special relationship with Him as His “children” (see Genesis 5:3 where the same “image” language is used of Adam and his son, Seth). Through our sin, of course, we have lost the gift of glorified, eternal life in Him, but through his eternally-begotten Son’s work on our behalf, we can receive “the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Rom. 8:15). So while we are not God (in fact thinking we are God is the root of all our problems), God does, in and through Christ, intend for us to become “partakers of the divine nature” and to be “conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29), and that is no small thing. Teaching image bearers is serious business.

God, in and through Christ, intends for us to become “partakers of the divine nature” and to be “conformed to the image of His Son (Rom 8:29)… Teaching image bearers is serious business.

Learning To See Strength In Weakness

The second article by Peter Baur reminded us of the power of encouraging words to inspire our students and of the necessity of learning to see strengths in our students that they might not see in themselves because those strengths are often hidden in what, at the moment, are most apparent as a weaknesses. He gives the example of a student (whom he calls “Tom”) whose most obvious trait was his “full-out, obnoxious energy,” which caused Tom to be seen by his teachers and fellow students primarily as an “unrelenting interruption, a distraction to getting through my lesson.” In fact, it was as if the student’s name wasn’t Tom, it was “sit down and be quiet.”

After remembering some encouraging words once spoken to him as a young man, Baur started to change how he saw Tom. He started to see that despite Tom’s tendency to interrupt and distract, he was still a “glorious, eternal image-bearer,” and he began to see a potential strength in Tom’s energy that he hadn’t noticed before–if it could be harnessed for good and Tom could learn to use it correctly. More importantly, Tom needed to know that someone could see that there was more to him than his flaws (while at the same time not pretending those flaws didn’t exist). After sharing with Tom the potential he saw in him, Baur says his relationship with Tom changed:

“His name was Tom now, or closer to it, with ENERGY and a future, and I got to participate in his life as more than just his great corrector . . . . Though he still wore me out, and I still needed to ask him to sit down and be quiet, we were operating on a different playing field. I became part of a bigger story of Tom’s life, participating in restoration, redemption, healing, and giving a fellow image-bearer a sense of God’s glory in him.”

What a powerful example of both the incredible privilege and important opportunity we have in shepherding the hearts of young image-bearers! It is a responsibility that we can only accept by relying on the grace, strength, and wisdom of God. If I were to summarize our take-away goals from in-service, it would be a renewed commitment to the following:

  • To treat our students with the dignity befitting those who bear the image of God.
  • To keep in mind that true education goes far beyond college or career preparation. It is preparation for eternity.
  • To commit, as educators of image-bearers, to try to see our students as God sees them. To see in them (even sometimes in their weaknesses!) glimpses of God’s glory and to speak words of encouragement to them even as we hold them to a high standard.

May God help us as we seek to honor Him and His image in our students!

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