Suicide & the Imago Dei

As I type this week’s Notes, I can see Mother Nature’s belated April Fool’s Joke melting away as the temps rise. There is something about Spring that refreshes a soul, knowing that even a surprising snow shower will be gone in just a day or two.

But sometimes, while winter outside dissipates, the winter of the soul just won’t let go.

Depression is far more common than many people want to admit. Humans throughout the world and history have fought through the “dark night of the soul” more times than they would care to admit. And sometimes, people lose the fight, giving into the darkness by taking their own life.

I believe the doctrine of the Imago Dei, which we’ve been looking at through this series, speaks into this issue. This Imago Dei theological concept claims that if you are human, you bear the image of God, which gives you inestimable worth. Therefore, to take your life is to deny the tremendous worth God has bestowed upon you through your creation as a human and through your redemption through the cross.

The Gospel & Depression
Each Sunday at Riverwood, we study the Bible. And the central theme of the Bible is the gospel. Riverwood’s working definition of the gospel is the ongoing story of God redeeming broken & imperfect people & restoring them into the complete & perfect image of Christ through the life, death, & resurrection of Jesus.

As I’ve said before, the gospel doesn’t let you think too highly of yourself because it announces you are more sinful than you realize. But at the same time, the gospel doesn’t let you think too low of yourself, because it declares you are far more loved than you could ever imagine.

Last week, I was at a conference where the speaker showed a photo of a fairly plain white bowl. A married couple had found the bowl at a garage sale, bought if for $3, and used it to put candy in on their coffee table. But on a whim, they took the bowl to an Antique-Roadshow-like event, and discovered their bowl is one of only two left in the world from the Ming Dynasty, which enabled it to be sold for $2.2 million dollars.

Too often, we treat ourselves like a $3 candy bowl. And when we are feeling depressed, we act as if we aren’t even worthy of holding candy, so we hide ourselves in the closet. But because of Jesus, you are worth millions! In fact, you were worth the life & blood of Jesus, the sinless Son of God.

When you begin to see yourself the way God sees you, as an image bearer worth the life of Jesus, it can help change the depressive & suicidal thoughts you might be wrestling with.

How to Overcome Suicidal Thoughts
Now, let us admit together: depression is like a sickness that has come upon our brains. The brain can be affected by seasons, circumstances, and chemistry. But let us also realize depression is also spiritual.

If you think about it, all sickness (in a sense) is spiritual. Sickness and disease came as a result of Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden. This means all sickness, including mental illness, are not part of God’s perfect design. It is the result of sin affecting creation.

But the gospel and the Imago Dei speaks hope into this. The gospel says the difficulties of this life are not all there is. There is hope. There is always hope! God can take broken and depressed moments and seasons, and restore individuals (even you) into the image of Jesus which is full of love and joy and peace and all the fruit of the Spirit.

So if you are struggling with depression and/or considering suicide, let me encourage you to do 4 things:

  • Open up to someone.
    • Do not bear this alone! Depression is like darkness. Opening up begins the process of allowing light in.
  • Seek Jesus.
    • Some people who wrestle with depression try to “medicate” the pain with alcohol, drugs, entertainment, or a variety of things. Galatians 5 tells us the works of the flesh may appear to offer joy and life, but they only lead to more pain. Instead of turning to worldly things,
  • Connect with others in your church family.
    • At Riverwood, we would be honored to walk through this with you. You aren’t alone. One of the worst things you could do is to disconnect from worshipping with others or keep Jesus-followers out of your life. So lean on your Growth Group or get in one.
  • Take care of yourself.
    • Sometimes, simple things like being disciplined about:
      • getting good sleep,
      • exercising,
      • not watching too much TV or surfing social media too long,
      • and eating wisely can be a big help.

And if you aren’t struggling with depression…

  • First thank God for the grace to enjoy life!
  • Second, reach out to someone, especially if God puts them on your mind/heart. You never know what is going on with someone. So reach out to them. You just might be the one God uses to help restore them into the complete and perfect image of Jesus. So love like Jesus loved. Reach out to those around you. And remind them of their great worth in the eyes of God!

#MeToo & the Imago Dei

As I type this week’s Notes, it is sunny outside and temps aren’t sub-zero, which makes it seems like everything is just right in the world.

However, if you lost a loved one this past week, or have family in Nebraska recovering from flooding, or were blindsided by bad news at work or school, the sun and warmer temps probably aren’t quite enough to make everything “just right.”

During the past two years, quite a few women (& some men) began sharing publicly that they didn’t feel “just right,” even when the sun was shining. Stories and allegations started coming out of Hollywood and other industries about men who had used their power to manipulate women (and men) into sexual situations. As these high profile stories came public, they reminded people all around the country and world about their own painful moments of sexual abuse and harassment. And as they shared their stories online, they began using the hashtag #MeToo.

#MeToo Statistics
I remember the flood of #MeToo hashtags on various social media platforms in the fall of 2017. The overwhelming number of people (mostly women) sharing their horrifying stories matched the statistics:

  • 1 in 5 women have been raped.
  • An additional 13% of women say they have been coerced into having sex.
  • 1 in 6 men have experienced sexual violence.
  • Of those raped, over 50% of men and over 90% of women knew their rapist.
  • And 81% of women and 43% of men claim to have been victims of sexual harassment.

As I share these horrible statistics, let me acknowledge a couple of things:

First, this isn’t a “women-only” issue. While women have, by far, been the biggest victims of sexual abuse or harassment, some men have received the same sort of treatment, whether from other men or even women. During the height of the #MeToo movement, there were men who shared their own stories of rape, coercion, or harassment. In fact, just this week, a man alleged on Twitter he was drugged, raped, and robbed by a popular female music artist a few years ago. And to back up his story, video of the female artist admitting to this sort of behavior went viral across multiple media platforms.

Second, we need to acknowledge that as the #MeToo movement spread, some of the stories ended up being fabricated. Most likely, these individuals lied in order to gain some of the sympathy being spread, or share in the spotlight. Or some simply wanted to hurt the reputation of another. (This is very unfortunate.)

But just because a few people lied and tragically disgraced the name of someone else, we shouldn’t push the entire issue to the side and ignore it. For every person who lied, there are very likely two or three other people who couldn’t bring themselves to share their story. And studies have shown the LARGE majority of stories that were shared are true.

The Imago Dei Difference
So let us ask the question we’ve been looking at during this series: “How does the Imago Dei affect the way we view this issue?”

As we’ve defined previously, the doctrine of the Imago Dei tells us every human bears the image of God. Although that image has been broken by sin, the image remains and means every human has incredible worth. That image is like a “brand” upon people, saying they belong to God.

And because every human ultimately belongs to God, they are not to be used simply for sexual gratification, especially against their will.

This means rape, coercion, and even physical or verbal harassment is a sin against God and the person being violated. If people perfectly viewed those around them as bearers of the Imago Dei, there would be no #MeToo movement.

Porn & the #MeToo Movement
Now, I realize that for some people reading this article (or this entire series), my thoughts are way too conservative, while for others these thoughts are way too liberal. I realize I am wading in very controversial waters, which is why I asked for grace, understanding, and an open mind in my first post in this series.

But since we are already in these contentious waters, let me give a “hot take.” (But please, continue to give me grace!)

I personally believe our pornography epidemic is contributing to the factors that led to the #MeToo movement (and I’m not alone in this belief). Within some corners of the porn world, filmmakers and photographers perpetuate the myth that all women desire sex, and love it when a man aggressively pursues them, demanding sexual favors of some sort. I believe repeated exposure to this worldview leads men to simply view women as body parts that exist for their own sexual pleasure. This belief system causes men (or women) to not value and respect others as image bearers, but rather something to be used for gratification, and in the process breaks relationships, society, and hearts.

If you are struggling with porn usage (and statistics would indicate that many of us in the Riverwood family probably are), you need to know your usage of pornographic material actually devalues the people you are watching for your own arousal (even if it is making them money). To uphold the Imago Dei, you need to stop.

But you most likely can’t stop on your own. So here’s what I advise you to do:

  • Find one Jesus-follower of the same sex to whom you can confess.
  • Invite that person to help hold you accountable.
  • Be completely open and honest with this person.
  • Begin a Bible study or read a book with that person that will help you fight this battle.
  • Install accountability and/or blocking software on your devices (such as Covenant Eyes or X3Watch).
  • Preach the gospel to yourself daily, reminding yourself that Jesus is more than enough, your sin is forgiven, and you do not have to devalue fellow image bearers by using their body parts to bring you pleasure.

Lastly, don’t lose hope! Just because your battle may have been going on for years, you can through Christ defeat this. (Really!)

But don’t resign yourself to an addiction, or fall into the culture’s thinking that it’s “no big deal.” Let us not unknowingly contribute to the #MeToo movement and the pain caused to so many women and men because the Imago Dei was not honored within them.

Poverty & the Imago Dei

According to the calendar, I should be wishing you a Happy Spring. So let’s “spring” right to this week’s content as we continue our series on The Imago Dei, this time diving into the subject of poverty. (If you’ve missed previous editions of this series, you can always catch up here.)

Let me say from the outset, poverty is more than just financial. For instance, someone could be monetarily wealthy, yet live in relational poverty, while another person might have inherited millions, yet live in daily emotional poverty.

However, for our purposes (and to keep this article brief), we are going to tackle the subject of financial poverty, and how the Imago Dei changes our approach to the financially poor.

Blessed are the Poor

Our modern day American society isn’t much different from many other cultures, whether modern or ancient, when it comes to opinions about wealthy and non-wealthy individuals. Throughout time, humans have judged their fellow humans who have an abundance of wealth as being better, smarter, and more worthy of attention than their less-wealthy compatriots.

I once heard a story about Tiger Woods, the famous golfer, eating at a restaurant years ago when he was at the height of his success. The manager of the restaurant was so honored to have such a famous and successful golfer in his establishment that he told Mr. Woods his meal was on the house.

But if you think about it, as a multi-millionaire, Tiger probably could have not only bought his own meal, but the meal of everyone in the restaurant, and not felt a financial pinch at all. Yet, the owner gave the meal for free to the richest guy in the room.

Like us Americans, ancient Jews fell into this same thought-trap. They believed if a person had tremendous wealth, it was because God had richly blessed that man, and therefore was more important than the poor person begging on the street (who God clearly didn’t bless). This is why they would give the most prominent seats to rich people at important events or kowtow to their every whim or desire while treating the poor person like scum.

But this common cultural thought stood in stark contrast to the teaching of Jesus. Regularly, Jesus taught that the poor were not only equal with the rich, they were actually blessed! You see, Jesus knew a rich person was encumbered with the things of earth, and therefore couldn’t fully give their heart to God and things above(see Matthew 19:16-30for an example). This meant the poor person, in Jesus’ eyes, had a greater capacity to fully appreciate the true riches of God.

Perhaps that is why God told His people in Proverbs 22:22-23

“Do not rob the poor, because he is poor,
or crush the afflicted at the gate,
for the Lord will plead their cause
and rob of life those who rob them.” (ESV)

The poor are close to the heart of God because they bear His image. He delights in them. And He finds honor in providing for them because they are more dependent upon Him than a rich person. That is why He will often “plead their cause” and come to their defense.

But there’s something else we need to realize. Because of sin, God knows we are ALL spirituallypoor. Earthly treasure will fade away, whether in this life or when we pass to the next, so what we need isn’t a raise at work, but spiritual eyes to see where our true poverty lies. We are in deep, deep debt to God because of our sin, but He not only paid our debts and forgave us our sin, He then blesses us with every spiritual blessing under heaven!

Which is why God commands the “rich” to not focus only on the acquisition of earthly wealth, but rather use earthly wealth to help others. It’s far more important to be rich in good works than rich in dollar bills.

This is one reason we invite you, as part of the Riverwood family, to serve at the monthly Food Bank. All of those who come to receive food each month would be considered in the eyes of our society as poor. What a beautiful opportunity we have on the second Tuesday of each month to interact with those that are benefit from the food bank. We have an opportunity to remind ourselves that we are complete equals with everyone else in the eyes of God because His image is in them, and God wants nothing more than to restore His broken image in each of us to look more like Jesus.

So whether you see yourself as poor, or view others around you as poor, may you see the value every person has as an image bearer, regardless of the size of their house, car, or bank account.

Pro-Life & The Imago Dei

by Erin Bird

In case you didn’t remember or know, we are in the middle of a series here on the blog on the topic of the Imago Dei. This ancient Christian doctrine teaches that God created humans in His image. And it is my personal belief that this theological idea that God’s image is within humans can guide us in our thinking on many contemporary issues. So far we’ve seen how the Imago Dei helps us think about race and immigration. Today, I want to look at the topic called “pro-life.”

Pro-Life or Pro-Baby

Most times, when someone uses the term “pro-life,” they actually mean “pro-baby” or “pro-birth.” Some people call this “anti-abortion.”

But if humans are endowed with the image of God (even though the image has been distorted because of sin), then all of life is precious. This is why when I use the term “pro-life” it means “pro-human,” not just pro-birth. In other words, pro-life is to be for all of life from womb to tomb.

So to talk about this issue, let me share a few thoughts concerning the beginnings of human life, and then I will move on to issues relating to the end of human life.

Life’s Beginnings

Many pro-choice advocates argue that the fetus growing in the uterus is simply a clump of cells. But the DNA of those cells is human. And that human fetus grows incredibly fast.

This is why I personally believe a “fetus” is actually a human, and his or her life began when a sperm entered the egg, creating a new unique being. And this rapid growth shows the fetus is alive, and if it is a human life, it bears the image of God, making it worthy of love, care, and respect.

But when a baby is born, that love, care, and respect shouldn’t end. For the entire life of a person, they need to know they matter to God, and that knowledge should be experienced through God’s people. This is why adoption and foster care and programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters are so beautiful and impactful, because they show the gospel lived out in a radical way.

Life’s Endings

Just as we should be as passionate about life for little ones after they are born, the same comes to the end of a person’s life. We should still love, care, and respect those who are coming to the end of their life. We do what we can to make them comfortable, but we also do what we can to fight for their life. These individuals are not to be discarded to some senior citizen center or hospital to be ignored by family and neighbors. They should be loved to the end because they still bear the Imago Dei.

This is why being a doctor or nurse or care provider is such a noble calling. Jesus took time to heal and minister to people’s physical needs. And those in care careers are modeling just a bit what Jesus did, showing the tremendous value humans have in God’s eyes.

One More Thing

This is a woefully inadequate covering of this topic, but hopefully it gives you a glimpse at how this important doctrine can guide us on these controversial topics. But before I let you go, let me say one thing:

If a woman has chosen to have her unborn baby aborted, or a neighbor has essentially abandoned his dying elderly mother, we need to do what we can to give these people grace while still holding on to truth. We are not the Judge of these individuals, and what they need more than anything is to know that God loves them despite their choices. Because if they discover how much God loves and forgives them, it will lead them to want to love future children, or to go visit and serve a dying mother.

Because even those who have abandoned fellow image bearers are still bearers of the Imago Dei themselves. And for us to not forgive them essentially means we have committed the same sin they have.

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