**Companion Resources Newsletter**
edited by Paul D. Leichty
Volume 6, No. 10 October 2004
This month, I preached a sermon at my church. Even though I am ordained minister, I don’t preach much these days, and I particularly don’t preach often on topics unrelated to my work in disabilities and music. However, this particular Sunday, the topic was relationships and the focus was on the image of God in the book of Genesis in the Bible.
Well, I found out that the topic was related–so much so that it becomes the springboard for my comments this month.
As a progressive Western culture, much of our thinking about the value of each individual person is shaped by the Judeo-Christian tradition. A major part of that tradition is the notion that human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. Unfortunately, the Western mind has tended to try to explain the image of God in terms of that other pillar of Western culture, Greek philosophy.
However, it is much better to let the ancient Hebrew mindset and particularly Genesis itself explain the concept in its own terms. The more I studied the first two chapters of Genesis, the more I was struck by the fact that the creation story is essentially the story of the establishment of relationships.
There are three essential relationships that define what it means for human beings to be in the image of God:
1. Human beings and animals: Being in the image of God means that God puts human beings in charge of the rest of creation. Genesis calls it having “dominion” and this is symbolized by Adam naming the other animals.
2. Human beings with each other: Among the animals is no “helper” or “partner” fit for humanity. Adam (the original word means simply “humanity”) must become “man” (male human being) and “woman” (female human being) expressing the image of God in their partnership with one another. In this relationship is no hierarchy, no dominion, no naming by Adam, but rather “…this one shall be called [by God] Woman…”
3. Human beings and God: Since God is the creator of human beings and the rest of the natural world, that world operates according to the laws or principles set forth at creation. Human beings are to exercise dominion over all of creation–except for each other, where partnership is the norm. At the same time, human beings in the image of God are given choices like God and therefore freedom to accept or reject God and the natural laws ordained by God. However, rejection of God (giving in to evil) also brings consequences which can serve as reminders that human beings are to be subject to God.
The partnership relationship in #2 above is the basis for marriage, first of all, and for the nurture of a new generation through that marriage relationship. But partnerships expand to fill out a whole community of persons who each reflect something of the image of God as they share their gifts, their time, and themselves with each other in relationship.
Humanity’s rejection of God and this way of God disturbs and distorts the image of God.
1. Dominion becomes exploitation and pollution of the environment.
2. Partnerships become power struggles.
3. Using freedom to reject the laws of God unleashes powerful consequences.
Someone shared a very sobering statistic the other day from the field of disabilities that illustrates the damage to the image of God. I checked several sources who gave much the same story. Because of advances in pre-natal testing, it is no longer necessary (as in years gone by) to send a child with Down Syndrome to a special institution for the “retarded.” Instead, that exile happens in the womb. Nearly 90% of the babies with Down Syndrome are aborted.
We will never get to know these 90%; thus, we will miss out in knowing some piece, some additional aspect of the image of God. As people struggle to get ahead in the world, power prevails over partnership. A child with a disability simply gets in the way and so we exploit our power over the environment (in the form of medical technology) to snuff out this particular expression of God’s image. We choose death over life.
None of this is meant to minimize the struggle involved in caring for a child with a disability. But even here, the distortion of the image of God occurs in that we assume that struggle is to be borne disproportionately by the mother vs. the father, by the parents vs. the extended family, and by the family vs. the community.
That is why the re-establishment of partnerships (I’ve often called it companionship) and the building of those partnerships in a renewed community is so important. It is in those relationships that the image of God again becomes clear and people find healing and hope in the midst of that struggle of life.
We need each other, not just to care for those who require extra attention, but we need those persons themselves with all of their weakness and disabilities. They are the ones who can remind us that we all need each other and we need God. They remind us that each person has something to contribute to another as we become partners in caring instead of power brokers in exploitation.
May you experience both the struggle and the joy as we work together to build community!
Paul D. Leichty
Phone/Fax: 1-877-214-9838 (toll free)
“People using Technology building Community”