Human Dignity: Not Only Believing in It, but Embodying It
Growing up in the church I always loved hearing the different stories in the Bible, from the Exodus out of Egypt to the tale of Esther and all the way to Jesus and his life on Earth. But, one thing always confused me. I never understood why people treated each other so badly. Why would any person be rejected? Why do people hate each other? God’s love for humanity is so clear throughout all of Scripture, so doesn’t that mean that everyone should love each other too?
Now that I am in college I’ve come to see how complex it can be to treat everyone equally. Many barriers are societal, but most of them come from within. As Christians living in a world already full of hate, it’s important to remember what God has to say about human dignity.
The dignity of all people—founded on the Biblical truth that we are created in God’s image—should compel Christians into action, to do all we can to fight for justice and freedom. This seems like a weighty issue, but it can be distilled into two foundational truths: we were all created in the image of God, and we serve a God who seeks justice.
Created in the image of God
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
-Genesis 1: 26-28
The creation account confirms that human dignity is not arbitrary, it is based on the truth that God himself created us. We are worthy and dignified because all of us were made in the likeness of God. Whether rich or poor, regardless of race, religion, background, the Lord created human beings all equal and all worthy, and they should be treated accordingly. I don’t believe that our problem is believing this truth, but instead fully embracing it and displaying it in our lives.
While listening to a sermon from High Point Church on human dignity, I was struck by an interesting truth revealed through an analogy, the story of the Prince and the Pauper. It is easy for us to understand why the poor pauper would want to switch lives with the prince—in order to attain the dignity that any human deserves—but why would the prince want to switch with the pauper? The pastor explained that it is because the prince has to hold the weight of everyone else’s dignity on his back. The pressure is too much and he wants the freedom that comes with being poor.
If we are being honest with ourselves, even as Christians, we want to experience human dignity for ourselves, but just like the prince, we do not want to have the dignity of others on our backs. Our human nature makes us desire to be treated with dignity. But, in our sinful state, we choose not to treat everyone else with the dignity they deserve; even passively, we choose not to fight for the freedom all deserve. We want to receive the benefits, yet we try to escape the responsibilities.
None of us can achieve this perfectly, but we are shown the prime example to follow in the Bible. Jesus stands for the dignity of all people, and gladly gives his dignity up for the freedom of others.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Jesus showed compassion to all looked down upon in society, he treated them with the dignity they deserved. He even made a point to “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers.” Jesus didn’t abandon the helpless and poor, but instead ensured their safety and salvation. Following Jesus’ example will lead us to embrace both the dignity we long for and the dignity we were created to receive.
But What Does This Look Like?
Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
Matthew highlights the specific steps we must take to live out the truth of human dignity: we serve the Lord by serving the “least of these” and standing up for them. This means that we honor the dignity of others by loving our neighbor as ourselves; and in doing so, we honor the Lord, in whose image they were made. We must fight against our human nature to treat others differently or view them in different lights. God’s own honor is at stake.
In our day, there is a scientifically narrow understanding of human beings and how they deserve to be treated. Many people are no longer treated with dignity and live in oppression and bondage, but Christians must always be guided by the truth that we serve a God who seeks justice for all of his people.
Most of the time, the Bible uses the word “justice” to refer to restorative justice, in which those who are unrightfully hurt or wronged are restored and given back what was taken from them. Psalm 72 reveals this,
Give the king your justice, O God,
And your righteousness to the royal son!
May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice!
Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people
and the hills in righteousness!
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the children of the needy,
and crush the oppressor.
There are so many people in our world that are not given the dignity they deserve, many are being treated as if they weren’t even human. There are millions of people in bondage who can’t attain freedom on their own. Millions. Over 40 million humans are at risk and not safe, trapped in modern day human slavery, not living in the freedom and dignity that they deserve.
Knowing that we serve a God that seeks justice, and knowing that all humans deserve to be treated with dignity and worth, we must collectively fight for freedom and life. While not everyone will be called to directly engage in this fight, everyone still has a crucial role to play.
All of us ought to pray, advocate, and care for those around us. We must choose not to live in ignorant bliss, and acknowledge that people everyday are being treated inhumanely. Prayer is a weapon that we possess that can help make leaps and bounds for the freedom fight. We must pray for those both physically and spiritually in bondage, pray for their protection and that they come to know God, and pray that the Lord softens the hearts of the oppressors. Most importantly, we must do our best to live life with a Christ-like attitude showing dignity to all we come in contact with and loving our neighbor. We must treat everyone we come in contact with, with respect and to serve them in the same way as noted in Matthew 25 above.
We are dignified because we are made in the likeness of God, but we only truly and fully embody our dignity when we step out of the societal constructs and into the mindset of Christ. We should not only understand our own worth outlined in the truths of the Bible, but should also embrace our duty to keep the dignity of all others at the forefront of our mind, love our neighbors, and seek justice for the oppressed.