Imago Dei

A theological reflection on Anti-Slavery Day.

This Tuesday was EU Anti-Slavery Day. Modern-day slavery, often referred to as human trafficking, is the fastest growing crime in the world, affecting millions (the last official estimate was 45 million) of people. It is driven by greed for power and money and takes advantage of so many forms of human vulnerability. And it is enabled by tireless consumption, by weak legislation, by corrupt structures, by blind eyes.

Human trafficking is the daylight robbery of the intrinsic worth of humanity. Thirsty for money, it trades people as it trades drugs or weapons….over, and over, and over again. A bag of cocaine is sold once: a person, dozens of times a day for a number of years. People have become objects.

This should matter to us. A fundamental part of our Christian faith is the belief that people have God-given worth that is infinite, innate, ineffaceable.

Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness’ … So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:26

This passage introduces a key theory of human dignity: in its unique parallelism of the words ‘image’ and ‘likeness’, we find the declaration that we carry God’s image – we are His image-bearers, and that we are connected to him in our likeness. This means that we have transcendent value that goes beyond our circumstance, our performance, our status. It cannot be erased or compromised. It is an essential part of who we are.

This word ‘image’ reappears In the New Testament, when Jesus refers to paying taxes to Caesar. He could have been suggesting here that the coins should be given to Caesar because they belonged to him (his image was on them). And as we are made in the image of God and his image is on us, we belong to Him – we are not to be owned by or made the property of anyone, we are not objects to be bought or sold.

Human trafficking should enrage us because it flies in the face of the value we believe each person has been given by God as it robs people of their freedom and their choice. It reduces them to a price tag. It tears their very being apart.

So the value of the 45 million people entrapped in modern-day slavery, who carry God’s image and belong to him only, must be protected and upheld. And we are called to be a part of that.

 If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness. Isaiah 58:10

The darkness is great. But we, as image-bearers ourselves who are free, are not powerless. Oh, friend, we are not powerless.

If human trafficking is the degrading of the value we believe is found in every person, then our response is to re-inject that sense of value back into the world: treat people with dignity. Listen to their stories. Create safe spaces. Respect difference and remember equality. Protect, uphold, celebrate the worth of the people around you.

This is practical work, too: looking out for gaps in our response to trafficking, and bringing creative solutions to it. Or asking why human trafficking flourishes, and addressing things like poverty, lack of education, racism or sexism.  Opening our eyes to what is around us and reporting the signs of trafficking we see. Telling others do to the same, or lobbying for legislative change. Putting our money where our mouths are, and cutting exploitation in supply chains.

The darkness is great, but it is cracking. And as we stand for the worth of God’s own image-bearers, we watch the light stream through the cracks: light that looks like truth and courage and freedom.  It is time for us to stare the darkness straight in the eyeballs, to put on courage, and to fight to uphold the worth of those whom God has called ‘mine’.

This post was originally written for Friday Night Theology.

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