I have been really helped by reflecting on the image of God lately. Every human being, male or female, healthy or unhealthy, infant or elderly, bears God's image (Gen. 1:26-27). This has profound implications for how we live. It means that our life has value. It means our gifts and abilities mean something. It means that our very lives tell a story about who God is and what he is like. But it also has implications for our human relationships. We don't murder someone because he or she bears the image of God (Ex. 20:13). We don't abuse someone because he or she bears the image of God.
We also don't use our words to hurt him or her because that person bears the image of God.
Did you catch that? That's often the hardest to pinpoint in our own lives and also the easiest to forget.
In the heat of the moment it is easy to forget who we are talking to or about. A friend hurts our feelings and all we want to do is vent to another friend about how terribly she has treated us. We want vindication. We want our hurt feelings to be mended. We want someone, anyone, to see that we were wronged. What we really want, is for that friend to pay for what she did. So we talk about her. We malign her character with our wounded pride and heart.
Or maybe you hit things head on. I get that. I'm not one to be afraid of a fight. Your family member says something that bothers you. Maybe he hurts your feelings, too. Or maybe he just misunderstood what you were trying to say, so you push back. But your harmless quip turns into a full blown attack. Next thing you know you are spewing memories of pain from months ago, rather than focusing on the conflict at hand.
Besides the need for serious conflict resolution, what has each person forgotten in each scenario?
There is a person at the other end of their rhetoric.
Our feelings tell us that our wants, pain, and frustration must be realized in the confrontation or humiliation of the one who wronged us. But our feelings aren't ultimate. Of course, conflict must be resolved. Of course, relationships need to be mended. But always in the context of Jesus' words that we must do to others as we would have done to us (Luke 6:31).
Why does Jesus say it in that way? Because not only does he understand our own inherent need to protect ourselves (which in turn allows us to understand the command), but also because he understands our standing as image bearers. We treat others the same way we would treat our very bodies and souls because we all bear the image of our Creator.
Our words have lasting implications. We can all probably pinpoint, to our shame, a memory where our speech has failed us and painfully failed another. Our speech never falls into an empty void, but always addresses a person. A person created in the image of God.
This is the first post in an occasional series on speech. I address why I started this series here.