I quickly posted a link to Leonard Pitts Jr.’s recent piece. Thinking through the implications of human cruelty related to the sad story of Megan I considered how impossible it is to determine the limits for another. In other words, I suspected some may be a bit self-righteous and think the words were written to Megan to be harsh but not “that harsh.”
The story illustrates the necessity to hold our words captive in deference to another. Or, practice what my mother often told we boys, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” I am reading my new friend Jim Palmer’s second book, Wide Open Spaces. My intention was to “blog review” review his book later this week after I had finished reading the book. But, something caught my attention as the Pitts’ article intersected Jim’s book in my mind.
Jim challenges us to think of others as made in the image of God. He suggests this helps us past off-putting appearances and opens us up to encounter another human being with the love of Jesus. One particular illustration follows,
To the guy ahead of me in line, the cashier may have been nothing more than a disheveled, overweight, ill-tempered woman who Tivo’s General Hospital and has questionable taste in eye shadow. To me, I looked past her frayed appearance and harsh demeanor and saw that she was never going to be any more perfect than she already was. She was created in the image of God, who is prefect love and absolute goodness; whatever imperfections she displayed had been forgiven in Christ and she was now the apple of God’s eye. So as I stood before her at the register, that’s the person I related to, not the disheveled and ill-tempered one. (p.16-17)
The shift in the relationship came in Jim’s framing of the “other” person. Looking past appearance and considering the long days cashier’s spend on their feet abiding incessantly demanding people who tire even the best of us, Jim saw her as a person made in the image of God. Engaging relationships from this vantage point lessens the demand for meeting another in order to extract something from the “other” and instead find common ground. We all can be disheveled and ill-tempered.
We cannot then determine the threshold for another when it comes to levels of cruelty nor should we even attempt them. Instead, we must consider others made in the image of God whether “awkward 13 year olds experiencing adolescence” or “disheveled, ill-tempered cashiers.” We may turn “sad” on its head if we can engage “others” as fellow human beings made in the image of God.