25 May #122 – The Importance of Imago Dei
ESSENCE: Understanding Imago Dei is central to changing the heart of an organization to align with Biblical beliefs, values and priorities. Understanding that every human being is created in the image of God has important implications for work and business. It is through understanding Imago Dei that we recognize every person is more “fully human” when engaged in meaningful work that unleashes their God-given creativity and productivity in a culture of Shalom built on Biblical principles of relationships, community and human dignity. Sadly, business as usual drives us away from experiencing the flourishing and joy of Imago Dei and away from the humanity God created us to enjoy. The fruit of leading faithfully through business a better way–the fruit of Integriosity®–is to bring people closer to the humanity God intended through Imago Dei by bringing work closer to the blessing God intended.
There are a few of our earlier posts that we keep linking to over and over because they are so central to understanding leading faithfully through business a better way. One of those is what we have written about Imago Dei.
The idea that all humans are created in the image of a creative, productive and relational God is central to knowing WHO WE ARE and WHO OTHERS ARE. It is central to understanding the Golden Rule (treat others as you would like to be treated) and the second great commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves, both of which are central to changing the heart of an organization.
We think it is worth taking a post to revisit Imago Dei.
Lessons from Creation: Who We Are
We have devoted many posts to exploring the idea of a BIGGER GOSPEL (four parts instead of just two)–one that starts with Creation and goes all the way to God’s restoration plan for His Kingdom on earth (with the Fall and Redemption through Jesus sandwiched in the middle), It is impossible to understand God’s purpose for work or business without looking at Genesis!
Who we are is summed up in one Latin phrase with huge implications–Imago Dei–“Image of God”. Unlike every other element and creature of God’s creation, God created humans in God’s image:
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.(Genesis 1:27)
Understanding that every human being is created in the image of God has important implications for work and business. What are the characteristics of God–the characteristics of every human–that we learn from Creation?
• Creative and Productive. God is creative and productive, and he derives fulfillment and joy from his creation. He created the heavens and the earth and everything in it, sat back and declared the finished product “very good”. But God also enjoyed the process of creation, taking the time to appreciate each stage as “good”.
Imago Dei means creativity and productivity are central to OUR humanity. People are more “fully human” when engaged in meaningful work that unleashes their God-given creativity and productivity.
Imago Dei also means that we need to be able to derive joy and fulfillment from the process and fruit of our efforts.
• Sacred. God cares about all of creation, including material things, because He made it. But humans are special–we are the only things created in God’s image. We believe that makes every single human sacred.
• Relational. God is a relational being. Genesis 1:26 says “Let us make man in OUR image, after OUR likeness.” And then in Genesis 2:18, after creating Adam, God said “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”
That means WE are relational beings, and it also means God cares about relationships. If relationships are core to who we are, then they need to be core to how we work and core to the priorities of any organization of humans.
Lessons from Creation: Who Others Are
Without going back to Creation, we also can’t understand Who Other People Are.
• It is through understanding Imago Dei that we recognize every person was created with special gifts that can be used to glorify God.
• It is through understanding Imago Dei that we recognize every person is sacred and deserves to be treated with the SAME dignity and respect as an image-bearer of God (not more for the CEO and less for the receptionist).
• It is through understanding Imago Dei that we recognize every person was created for, and deeply desires, healthy relationships, including at work.
• It is through understanding Imago Dei that we recognize every person is more “fully human” when engaged in meaningful work that unleashes their God-given creativity and productivity in a culture of Shalom built on Biblical principles of relationships, community and human dignity.
If I am going to become human, I must move in the direction of the divine design in me. (Dr. Skip Moen)
Imago Dei and Business as Usual
Sadly, business as usual drives us away from experiencing the flourishing and joy of Imago Dei. It drives us away from the humanity God created us to enjoy. In our early posts, we explained ways in which business as usual and work as usual actually undermine key aspects of our intended humanness–working against God’s design for work and for us.
• Identity: Business as usual and work as usual contribute to our work coming to define “who” we are, rather than being a place to express “who” we are (post #020-Work As Usual–An Idol and Identity). How someone sees their primary identity will also impact which “kingdom” they prioritize building–theirs or God’s.
• Purpose: Business as usual is driven by Profit as Purpose (post #013-Business as Usual–Profit as Purpose), which leads to work as usual being driven by money and power (post #021-Work as Usual–Money and Power).
• Dignity: Business as usual‘s focus on Profit as Purpose necessarily devalues human dignity because it reduces people to tools of production (post #017-“Profit” Problems), contributing to work as usual becoming a burden rather than a blessing (post #022-Work as Usual–Burden).
• Connection: The Scarcity and Self-Interest assumptions that underlie business as usual do not prioritize community (post #018-“Scarcity”, “Self-Interest” and the Real Problems) and undermine relationships and connection at work (post #23-Work as Usual–Unhealthy Relationships)
Business as usual creates work cultures and environments that, more often than not, leave people feeling disengaged and disconnected from an activity meant to bring fulfillment and flourishing. In post #008 (Workplaces Are Broken), we suggested that only 10% of workers are effectively mobilized–experiencing an essential part of their humanity through their work–their expression of creativity and productivity. The remaining 90% are experiencing varying levels of dehumanization–not living out Imago Dei.
Imago Dei and Business A Better Way
The fruit of leading faithfully through business a better way–the fruit of Integriosity–is to bring people closer to the humanity God intended through Imago Dei by bringing work closer to the blessing God intended. Indeed, we believe humanizing people is one of the three bigger WHY’s of business.
God created work as a good thing and created people to work. People are more “fully human”–more fully living out Imago Dei–when engaged in meaningful work that unleashes their God-given productivity and creativity in a culture of Shalom built on Biblical principles of relationships, community and human dignity. Let’s look at how an organization faithfully “doing right” through business a better way impacts the four aspects of being human:
• Identity: Work becomes a place for people to express “who” they are–a place to exercise their God-given productivity and creativity–rather than an all-consuming identity itself (post #087-Commitment to WHO Identity). It facilitates rather than undermines the ability of people to live out Imago Dei.
• Purpose: As an organization embraces the bigger WHY of serving people in a way that maximizes the flourishing of all people touched by the organization rather than Profit as Purpose, work takes on that bigger WHY. When people understand Imago Dei, they can reflect Imago Dei by exercising their God-given gifts through work to serve one another, which is also living out the commandments to love God and love one another.
• Dignity: As leaders of an organization understand Imago Dei, put profit in its proper place as a means rather an end, and embrace the organization’s role as a steward of God’s creation, they prioritize people and recognize that “caring for all God has made” must include respecting all humans God created and treating all stakeholders of the organization with dignity (owners, employees, vendors, customers, communities) (post #058-Respect and Sustainability–God’s Limits).
• Connection: As the purpose, values and culture of an organization are Re-Imagined to prioritize people and serving others in line with God’s design (#084-Culture and People), work relationships are restored (#098-Work Relationships) and people become engaged. A Re-Imagined Culture that prioritizes people and connection encourages healthy relationships among those people and leads to work being experienced by its people as a blessing of flourishing to be embraced rather than a burden to be minimized.
Without going back to Creation, we can’t understand Who We Are, and more importantly, we can’t understand Who Other People Are. It is only when we understand the implications of God creating humans in His image that we can begin to understand the meaning of being human, God’s purpose for work and business, the brokenness of business as usual, and the importance of leading faithfully through business a better way.
Dr. Skip Moen has some thought-provoking word on Imago Dei and our humanity:
If I am going to become human, I must move in the direction of the divine design in me. . . . I can move toward God’s design innately implanted in me, or I can move away from His design, forging a self-made creature fashioned by lesser purposes. I am equipped to manifest God’s design. He has insured that I lack nothing necessary for this project. . . . The systems of this world are designed to remove your humanity because they are designed to remove you from a relationship with your Creator.
PERSONAL NOTE (from PM): I was reflecting recently on the simplicity and complexity of the Golden Rule and the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. My reflection was prompted by an upcoming speaker for NCS New Canaan who uses the Golden Rule as the guiding principle for his life and for his very successful real estate business. A recognition of Imago Dei is necessary for both to be lived out in the fullest sense. I must understand WHO I AM and WHO OTHERS ARE as sacred reflections of a creative, productive and relational God.
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Photo Credit: Original photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash (photo cropped)