Imago Dei

Poverty, Equality and the Trinity

by Cláudio Carvalhaes
Terri Scott

Growing up in the streets of São Paulo, Brazil, as a shoe shining boy, I wasn’t aware that society didn’t have a place of inclusion for me. I felt it was normal to live my life with meager means and that society was arranged “normally” around social classes end economic differences. This given was sustained by both the fact that this injustice was never challenged and also the fact that in my church I was like anybody else and had access to everything. There seemed to be no distinction in my access to God and to the spiritual gifts of God.

When I was born, my little Independent Presbyterian Church of Cambuci took care of me and my family. My first toy, Bible, books, clothes and even food came from the people of that little church. They also provided me with opportunities to travel and helped with my education. By being a member of that little church, I felt included, cared for and deeply loved. I learned so much in that church! One of the most important things I learned was that I was made in the image of God. And if I was made in the image of God, it must be that everyone was made in the image of God.

As an adult, this lesson has been fundamental. Now when I think about poverty, health systems and economics, I think from the perspective that I am, and we all are with no exception, made of the Imago Dei, the image of God. This understanding is both liberative and disruptive. It disturbs our whole way of being in the world, with how we live and what is demanded on us.

When we experience God’s love and join the church of Jesus Christ, the Christian faith gives us lenses to see the world, to establish our human relations and organize society. This new way of living, of making sense of the world, is marked by our continuous becoming of the image of God. The unfolding of God’s love in us is the foundation of how we must define our humanity and establish the ways in which we relate to one another.

In theological terms, we say that Godself is a trinity, (Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, or Father, Son, Holy Spirit, etc.). By that we mean that God is one and three, singular and plural. God lives in a web of relations moving in and through oneness and multiplicity. The uniqueness of God can only be understood in the polysemy of God’s possibilities. That is, God’s existence co-exists with the many possibilities of God. This understanding of God does not preclude God’s singularity but it affirms that it can only be attested by its multiplicity. In other words, the plurality of God’s possibilities is strictly bounded to the distinctiveness of God in each of the three person of the trinity.

This complexity of the trinity of God makes us complex as well. If we are the image of God in its singularity and multiplicity, we are also singular and many. That means that in being Imago Dei, God’s image, we must affirm that we are unique in this world. But our uniqueness can only be affirmed, attested and find its distinction in the multiplicity of our relations.

Thus, in the Trinitarian Christian view, the God who says “I am” also says “We are.” That Trinitarian correlation influences our own sense of being in the world. Mirroring God’s image, each one of us must be able to say I am due to our singularity, and at the same time say We are since we can only exist in relation to somebody else and the whole creation. In other words, our individual I am can only be understood if we don’t lose sight of the plurality of our humanity, the We are that clarifies, defines and gives sustenance and even possibility to our individual I am. The very DNA of our humanness is deeply marked by a relational factor, making us gregarious beings, not only in a need to relate with other human beings, every creature on earth, the universes and so on, but also in deep necessity to relate with it all in order to live. In society, the rule is the same. If we don’t care for one another, we all die. The Christian faith is a broad claim that we are all made of the Imago Dei, this collective way of understanding our life.

Jesus said, “Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:19-20). That means that we must live in an equal and relational society and treat each other equally. In a very practical way, we are each other’s keepers! An Imago Dei world means that homeless people will be invited into our churches as dignified citizens of God’s kingdom. The poor will receive precedence in treatment and care so they will gain their lives back, and each one of us will share what we have. That means just wages, health care, education, and freedom from violence for all, including those who cannot afford the basics of life.

As Christians we cannot let our children grow up thinking that social disparities are just part of the social landscape, as if this is a natural way of living. Instead, we Christians, bearers of a gospel that says that we are all made in the Imago Dei, must proclaim that justice and the possibilities of life are for all. We must say that if some people have more and some people have less, we will not let this happen! From our pulpits and Eucharistic tables and altars we will break the bread and say, “No one will go hungry today!” From our baptismal fonts we will shout: “Water is for all, for free!” We will be God’s agents in the world, God’s sign of grace proclaiming that God is restituting God’s image in our societies and in the world.

As I learned from my local church we are all the imago Dei and that means that we all need one another and we all must live in dignity, as God lives in just relations within the Trinity. The image of God that demands that we live together, demands us not only to live but to live in health, in peace and in justice. The church can and must be the agent of an Imago Dei world. I am here today because of the church and this church gave me a mission and for this mission I will fight: one shining shoe at a time!

This article was awarded the 2014 Award of Excellence for Theological Reflection: Short Format by Associated Church Press.

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