The Educator and the Image of God

Part 1: Worldviews and Teachers
Part 2: Appropriated Worldviews, Appropriated Philosophies of Education
Part 3: Clear Philosophies Create Clear Discourses
Part 4: Towards a Christian Philosophy of Education

In the previous post, I mentioned four doctrines that are integral in forming a Christian philosophy of education. They were the doctrines of the image of God, love, original sin, and work. 

As I’ve been putting more thought into it, I decided to switch up the order into something that feels more natural. The reworked order: image of God, original sin, love, and work.

We are all made in the image of God and while we have been deeply damaged by original sin and our personal sins, the image we have been made in remains intact, undamaged. These two doctrines explain the human situation and have profound implications for how we are to love one another and to go about our work.

On to the Image of God

Identifying the image of God is no small task because the Bible does not give a clear definition. This vagueness has led to all sorts of problems such as associating the image of God with physical or mental traits. Historically, when this has happened, people have claimed that those who are physically different (skin color) or disabled in some manner have less of God’s image, which naturally leads to the inference that the disabled have less intrinsic value. This has led to worse treatment of these groups.

Thankfully, the Bible does not support such views. Before original sin, Adam and Eve were created in the image of God.

“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)

And after original sin, we are still made in the image of God. While sin has damaged us, it has not damaged the image of God we were made in, we still made in His likeness whether we are Christian or not (Kilner, 2015).

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” (Psalms 139:13-14)

“But no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people made in the likeness of God.” (James 3:8-9) 

So, even though all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), we are still made in God’s image. This means that we are still held to His standards. As John Kilner says in the introduction to his book, Dignity and Destiny: Humanity in the Image of God, “This connection with God is the basis of human dignity. This reflection of God is the beauty of human destiny. All of humanity participates in human dignity.”

So, we are connected with God because He has made us in His own image. But we need to begin to bring this down to earth. What does this mean practically? What does this mean for teachers in particular?

The Bible points us in a direction, but it takes some effort to follow. While humans are made in the image of God, Jesus is the exact imprint of God’s nature. While we represent Him, Christ is (Hebrews 1:3) God. And throughout the Bible, God calls us to conform to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29).

Rubber, Meet Road

This is where theology hits the ground. We are to be conformed to the image of Jesus. The implications of this are many.

As teachers, we need to be cognizant of the fact that all our students are made in the image of God regardless of their ethnicity, mental abilities, physical abilities, sexuality, religion, and disposition. As such, we should treat our students in the above categories with the dignity and respect they deserve. 

In part, this should involve a lot of reading: books, articles, blog posts, etc. This will help you gain familiarity with longstanding and contemporary issues. It should also involve conversations with your students. During passing periods, get to know your students. This shouldn’t simply be done in order to be a better teacher, it should be done because you love* and value your students. Ask questions and encourage them to ask questions about your own life.

*Don’t get the heebie-jeebies about the word love, it’s a good thing. I will explain more in a later post.

Image and Ethnicity

Broadly speaking, you share many traits and experiences with those of your own ethnicity, you also have many unique traits and experiences that set you apart from others in your ethnicity. It is no different for any of your students. As you are reading, talking, and learning more, do not forget this fact. Do not reduce your students to a generalization or stereotype.

To do this, we must realize that while ethnicity provides a broad context, this is imprecise and lacks many details. The only way to see these details is to see and value our students as individuals who are each made in the image of God, worthy of love, with histories and cultures that God deeply cares about.

Image and Abilities

Mental and physical abilities are not spread equally amongst people. Your high-ability students and your low-ability students are of equal worth because everyone in history has the same intrinsic value due to the fact that we are all made in the image of God.

This equal value does not imply equal treatment. For an obvious example, you would not teach a first grader the same way you would teach a twelfth grader. Likewise, you would not teach a mentally challenged student in the same way you would teach a student with average abilities, even if you want them to learn the same material to the same standard. Treat students as individuals.

When we are dealing with students of different abilities, we must be careful to not reduce our expectations or standards. Low expectations are a scourge on education that must be eliminated. What we should do is identify where a student is, look to the standard we want them to achieve, and then plan out the steps and support they’ll need to get there. If a student is already at or beyond the standard, then great! Identify a further goal post and help them get there. Helping both the high- and low-ability students well takes experience and wisdom. We can cultivate the wisdom we need with a well-developed doctrine of love and work.

Image and Sexuality

This may be the most hot-button issue in this blog post. But the starting point is the same. All of your students are made in the image of God.

So, treat your LGBT students with the dignity and respect that they deserve. This needn’t mean full agreement. But it absolutely does mean being sensitive and taking their views seriously. It also means working to learn about that group’s history and your LGBT students’ backgrounds. All of this must be done with love—God commands it.

When you learn that your students have faced social and familial ostracization, sympathize with them. Enter into their suffering by being there emotionally.

Image and Religion

What one believes about God is extremely important. It’s literally a matter of heaven or hell. The stakes are high, but our emotions shouldn’t be (though our emotions should be involved). Your students are made in the image of God. This is not contingent on whether or not they believe in Him. Interact with love.

Ask how your non-Christian students celebrate religious holidays. This isn’t the time for an apologetics lesson, it’s a time to listen with care. Acknowledge and appreciate shared values. Prioritize the relationship, value the student over being right.

Image and Disposition

The most common challenge teachers face will be difficult students. Like before, we must remember that these students are still made in the image of God, even when they make our teaching lives miserable. Therefore they are still worthy of respect when they talk back, disrupt their classmates’ learning, or disrespect you or their classmates.

This is not to say that you let those problems slide. After all, letting sin slide is unhelpful at best. But it is to say that even when our students put us in a difficult situation that requires discipline, we must treat them with love and respect.

An Implication of God’s Image

As should now be clear, being made in God’s image requires us to love others. In my next post, I will explore how the doctrine of love applies to teaching.

Part 1: Worldviews and Teachers
Part 2: Appropriated Worldviews, Appropriated Philosophies of Education
Part 3: Clear Philosophies Create Clear Discourses
Part 4: Towards a Christian Philosophy of Education

References

Kilner, J. F. (2015). Dignity and destiny: Humanity in the image of God. Grand Rapids,
MI: Eerdmans Pub. Company.

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