I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well. - Psalms 139:14
As I methodically plow through my nightly skin care routine, I slow down, taking inventory of my facial features. My large brown eyes. My rounded “button nose” (as my sister lovingly calls it). My wide lips. My brown, brown skin. Each feature and shade, uniquely sculpted by my creative Maker.
Being Black is a blessing. Contributions from the African Diaspora have advanced our country and our world in the realms of science, technology, cuisine, art, culture, and so much more. That’s an understatement. I didn’t always feel this way as an anxious, insecure teenager, but these days, I have absolutely no doubt in my worth and esteem as a Black female in America. As I consider the plight of Black people in both the past and present, however, I cannot help but doubt if all God’s children view His amazing, melanated children as such. Caricaturization, exploitation, prejudice, and countless seizures of life threaten our very existence. Too often while watching the news, I must remind myself that it is abnormal to become desensitized to murder, and that we are not created to chronically grieve the devastating injustice of those who look like my brother, my father, my husband, my mother.
There is much I don’t understand. I know I’m not owed an explanation on this side of eternity (or truly ever) from the One who made the stars and sea.. But praise God for His enduring word, which sustained my ancestors with truth and comfort, even when others twisted its message for their subjugation. Praise God for his word; which has brought clarity and reassurance to what I know to be true. Here are the absolute truths I’ve mused over when I consider myself and other dark skinned children of God as made in His Image.
We are Imago Dei.
There is a clear distinction of intent when God created all the living creatures and when God created humans.
“And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds - livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.’ And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
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 creeping thing that creeps on the earth.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female He created them. And God blessed them…And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:24-28a, 31, ESV).
In this huge chunk of text, we can gather so much goodness. One, that God undoubtedly made his children, each of us, in all our unique shades and personalities, in His image. Imago Dei is Latin and translates in English to “Image of God” (Staff, 2022). The Lord in his infinite wisdom and creativity deliberately chose to bless humans with the ability to reflect characteristics of Himself. Our ability to rationalize, think creatively, possess moral, spiritual, and intellectual reasonings, our independently functioning minds, and so much more are intentional beyond what we can comprehend (Staff, 2022). As humans, we are blessed and esteemed by God as just a little below the angels (Psalms 8:5), a label not gifted to the other creatures of the world. And God knew this was a very good thing. Our diversity, then, is no accident. Despite our fallen world and its inclination for caste systems, systemic oppression, prejudice, and ranking humans through our own biases of importance, I can stand firm in my identity as a Black female, one made in the unfailing, unmistakeable, image of God.
Our God loves justice.
God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. - Hebrews 6:10 NIV
One question often asked by non-Christians and Christians alike is “If this God is so good, why does He allow _____ to happen?” . And through human reasoning, I think it’s an absolutely reasonable question. Specifically as it relates to the plight of Black people (the focus of this blog post, although we can discuss endless injustices and tragedies of countless ethnic groups), it is overwhelming and bewildering to try and fathom. Honestly, I do not know. I’m not naive, overly optimistic or ignorant to the tragedy of the world. I don’t know why many of these things occur. I don’t know if we’ll see justice for all wrongs on this side of eternity. I doubt all wrongs will be made right before Jesus comes again in victory. What I do know is this – for every fear, doubt, and skepticism I have expressed, the Lord has met me compassionately with a resounding assurance that He sees me, He loves me, and He will prevail. He speaks very freely and clearly in His word about how justice is not merely suggested by him but a demand. In fact, in Hebrews 11, lovingly nicknamed the “Hall of Faith”, many of the heroes of the bible are applauded for enforcing justice. Pursuing justice is indeed an act of faith! Because we know how strongly the Lord speaks about justice, we can bet that He is grieved when His children, made in His image, fail to live justly with one another. “This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor, the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place. – Jeremiah 22:3”. We can trust that God does not turn a blind eye to injustice because He loves it so much.
To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. - Proverbs 21:3 NIV
He is always fighting for us.
The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still. - Exodus 14:14 NIV
Have you ever been sleep deprived for days at a time? Could you imagine trying to complete all your routine tasks after not resting for over a week? I’m caught between a laugh and a shudder when I think about trying to function on too little sleep. Not so with our God. When it feels like nothing is happening or progress in the areas of justice is taking its sweet time, I find solace in remembering that a thousand years are like a day to Him (2 Peter 3:8), and that God does not grow weary in defending His children. Whereas much of the work in naming, defending, and educating required for racial reconciliation can leave me mentally and emotionally fatigued, the Lord never tires of working to reconcile us to Himself. .
He will not let your foot slip; he who watches you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. - Psalms 121: 3-4 NIV.
No matter how bleak the circumstances may look, I can trust that God is working on behalf of His people, especially the ones many have written off as inferior. Ultimate justice is coming, for our good and His glory. While it was hard to witness the same civil rights leaders who marched in the 1960’s march for the same cause in 2020, I know that change is coming not because countless people have dedicated their lives to eliminating systemic injustices and establishing an equitable, compassionate society, but because our God loves justice and He will never stop pursuing His people.
For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory. - Deuteronomy 20:4
Jesus is our perfect example of one who endured injustice, judgment, scorning, harassment, and abuse up until the day he died. For (Hebrews 12:2). He was crucified for all sins, including those of injustice. And we can rejoice knowing that He is coming again to restore everything that is broken. In the meantime, I can try my best to follow Christ’s example by pursuing justice for those the world has cast aside, and by resting soundly in my identity as a beloved, brown-skinned image bearer of God.
Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. - Colossians 3:10
There is much to be learned from the resilience and faithfulness of Black Christians. From the willingness to build unique, unbreakable relationships with the God of the bible even when oppressors twisted scripture to justify their abuse, to the faithfulness of peaceful protesters to pursue justice in a Christlike way (that is, to be bold, loving, and truthful), and even to today’s growing generation of people who have decided to embrace all of their Black features instead of masking them. The creativity, compassion, love of justice, strength, patience, faithfulness, and versatility of Black people reflects just a tiny, tiny fraction of our God’s heart. And when I reflect on being wonderfully and beautifully made by the hands of such a bewilderingly beautiful Creator, I can’t help but love the skin I’m in.
Staff, Christianity.com Editorial. “What Does ‘Imago Dei’ Mean? the Image of God in the Bible.” Christianity.com, Christianity.com, 21 Mar. 2022, https://www.christianity.com/wiki/bible/image-of-god-meaning-imago-dei-in-the-bible.html.
One thought on “Embracing Imago Dei in an (Often) Unjust World”
Raven, congratulations on a very thought-provoking article.
The creativity, compassion, love of justice, strength, patience, faithfulness, and versatility of Black people reflects just a tiny fraction of our God’s heart speaks volumes.
Loving the “Skin you’re in” definitely gives a person the strength they need to deal with life’s obstacles. With everything that is thrown at us, Loving the “Skin you’re in” is the only way to survive the craziness and chaos.