Sometimes we dehumanize people by speaking, thinking, or imagining about them in generalizations, by covering their true identity with generic labels and terms that are impersonal, cold, and less meaningful. For example, you can refer to your brother as “someone that I know” or your best friend as “this one guy.”
We often do this when we want to create separation or disassociate from others — often in order to protect ourselves, make ourselves look better, or attack others. Thus, we refer to our spouse as “this person I know” when we’re agreeing with a coworker about people who hold an opposing political belief we disagree with, or offhandedly use the phrase “this guy I know” about our dad when talking about annoying habits that we can’t stand.
We see Peter do the same thing in the Bible, referring to Jesus — his savior, closest friend, companion, teacher, and leader — as simply “him” when being accused of knowing Jesus right before the crucifixion.
Luke 22: 56-57: Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.”
I don’t know “him.”
One word: him.
No harm done, right? It’s just a simple pronoun.
We do the same thing all of the time.
Him, her, she, he, them, those people, etc.
As innocent as this practice may seem, the ideas behind them are more cynical, and it becomes much more serious for Christians when we use terms, thoughts, and ideas as a way to disconnect people from God.
When we promote, defend, and talk about our political, social, and theological beliefs it’s impossible not to use pronouns, but it’s essential for believers to really take time to identify the people we often flippantly talk about.
Reflect, meditate, pray, and imagine the people we discuss, think about, and interact with. Repeat over and over and over again.
We must do this because our society has taught us to become experts at turning people into faceless entities — without worth, value, and even existence. We use thoughts, ideas, concepts, arguments, and words that not only dehumanize others, but also subtly hide and cover up their Divine worth and origin.
The Bible tells us an important truth that we often forget: God created not just us — but everyone!
And although this seems like an obvious truth about the Christian faith, the world us is constantly telling us otherwise.
Genesis 1:27 (NIV) states: So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them
God declares in Isaiah (45:12): It is I who made the earth, and created man upon it I stretched out the heavens with My hands And I ordained all their host
The simple fact that God created and loves everyone can have radically profound implications on our opinions of others when we start replacing idea of “people” with “individuals made in the image of God.”
Suddenly, saying “I can’t stand those people!” has a different meaning when we declare “I can’t stand individuals made in the image of God.”
“I hate him!” is less weighty than “I hate that individual made in the image of God!”
Our derogatory expressions, remarks, opinions, thoughts, and ideas start sounding absurd.
But do we really believe it? Do Christians seriously consider everyone made by God — Divinely created in God’s image?
No. Or else we wouldn’t be so quick to wreak havoc, pain, torture, greed, violence, and war against “others” — humans created and loved by God.
This is why photos and images are usually so powerful: they personalize and attach a face onto something — a moment, occurrence, or historic event. It becomes real, human, Divine.
This paradigm shift — of actually believing that people are Divinely created by God — changes everything.
Do you believe in helping the poor? Or do you believe in helping individuals created and loved by God?
Do you believe in the death penalty of convicts? Or do you believe in the death penalty of individuals created and loved by God?
Do you believe in waging war against enemies? Or do you believe in waging war against individual created and loved by God?
Do you despise Republicans or Democrats? Or do you despise individuals created and loved by God?
Coworkers: Individuals created and loved by God.
Strangers: Individuals created and loved by God.
Neighbors: Individuals created and loved by God.
Immigrants: Individuals created and loved by God.
Relatives: Individuals created and loved by God.
Conservatives and Liberals: Individuals created and loved by God.
Criminals and Terrorists: Individuals created and loved by God.
One of the main tactics of Satan would be to deny all of this, to rank people’s worth according to various classifications and data, and to value some while simultaneously devaluing others.
This is what makes following Christ so revolutionary — because we’ve been hardwired by our culture and environment to not recognize others as being created and loved by God.
Jesus says (John 13:35, NASB): By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
Additionally, Jesus states that one of the greatest and most important commandments is to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31)
This isn’t a conditional suggestion. It doesn’t mean that we should just love our enemies as long as they don’t harm or hurt us. It doesn’t mean that we should just love the poor as long as we can afford to meet our own needs first. It doesn’t mean that we should just love others only when it’s convenient, easy, or rational.
In fact, most of the time, following Jesus’s instruction to love others — requiring us to realize that everyone is created and loved by God — is radically irrational. It will be hard, awkward, and unfavorable to our own selfish interests.
But by truly seeing others as being made and loved by God, we can become more Christ-like — willing to serve, sacrifice, love, and even lay down our lives for the sake of others.
Stephen Mattson blogs at stephenjmattson.com. He's contributed for Relevant Magazine, Redletterchristians.org , and studied Youth Ministry at the Moody Bible Institute. He is now on staff at the University of Northwestern – St. Paul, Minn. Follow him on Twitter @mikta.
Image: Victor Tongdee / Shutterstock.com