The Image of God and the Poor

The first chapter in the book of Genesis contains a description of how God created the universe and all things in it.  Genesis 1:26-27 speaks specifically of the creation of man and his purpose:

26Let 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.  27So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”[1]

This passage has caused much debate as to what does it mean to be created in the image of God.  According to W. Grudem, the word for image (tselem) and likeness (demût) in Hebrew “…refer to something that is similar but not identical to the thing it represents or is an ‘image’ of,”[2] in other words, it does not mean that we “look” like God.  It simply means that we have attributes of God given to us by Him at creation.  Because we were created in His image, we have worth and a purpose.  A concept that is entirely foreign to the poor and needy.

The poor in the majority world see themselves as devoid of any worth.  They usually have no education, no marketable skills, and no hope; they seek solace in drugs and/or alcohol as a means to cope with their hopelessness.  In the 1990s the World Bank[3] compiled a series of books containing quotes from the poor and needy around the world.  One of those interviewed expressed that “For a poor person everything is terrible – illness, humiliation, shame.  We are cripples; we are afraid of everything; we depend on everyone. No one needs us.  We are like garbage that everyone wants to get rid of.”[4]

As followers of Christ, we are to reach out to them and teach them that because God loves all of His creation (Psalms 145:9, 17), He loves them.  We must teach them what it means to be created in the image of God, that God created them to have dominion over all of creation, therefore they are valuable to Him and He wants them to fulfill the purpose for which they were placed on this earth.  Their value is not found in what they produce or achieve, but in the image they bear.  How do we do this and why does it matter?

The best way to do this is through the local church.  We must go to the slums, to the ghettos, lowly places on this earth and plant Bible believing churches; churches that will follow through with the mission of God to reach the lost and minister to them in word and deed.  These churches won’t stop at evangelistic activities; they will follow through with the new believer discipling them to be the hands and feet of Jesus.  These churches will seek to minister not only to the spiritual but also to whatever the emotional and physical needs of the community may be.  Why?  Because when lives are transformed by the power of the Gospel and the love of Christ people see themselves in the image of God, they realize they are of value to Him and He has a purpose and perfect plan for them.  They are reconciled to God and to society; they can then see themselves as productive, meaningful members of society and seek to tell others how to find the same peace.


[1] ESV

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 442-443.

[3] World Bank is an institution that seeks to alleviate poverty.

[4] As quoted in Deepa Narayan with Raj Patel, Kai Schafft, Anne Rademacher, Sarah Kock-Schulte, Voices of the Poor: Can Anyone Hear Us? (New York: Oxford Univ. Press for the World Bank, 2000), 65.

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About Bárbara

I am a Christ follower, wife, mother, missionary, and Online Instructor for LU Online teaching Introduction to Missions. My family and I serve at Living Bread Ministries; planting churches among the desperately poor in South America. I have an MA in Intercultural Studies from LBTS. My passion is to see the Lord Jesus worshiped among the poor and needy and to see lives transformed by the power of the Gospel.
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