Asking the Lord to change your perspective on the essential value of a person can change how you look at each person you meet on planet Earth, from now until the day you die. My former doctoral program professor, Duane Elmer, tells how back in the mid-1990s, he and his wife spent some late nights on the streets of Chicago, learning how to minister to people. One night, walking with an experienced street minister, Elmer noticed a woman at the next corner:
She was scantily clad. I turned to him and said in a voice the lady would not hear, “Is she a prostitute?” He paused; I remember thinking, Why the pause? It’s obvious. Then he said firmly, “No! That’s not a prostitute. That’s a person . . . in prostitution.” His profound statement affects me to this day. When I saw this woman, I saw a prostitute. When Mark saw her, he saw a human being. (from page 64 in Duane Elmer’s book, “Cross-Cultural Servanthood”)
Our tendency to categorize people is a natural one, and doing so isn’t wrong—so long as the first category in which we place people is human, created in the image of God. I like to invent mental “triggers” to help me remember important things. Not too long ago I came up with a trigger word to help me value all people: the acronym DIBs, short for “divine image-bearers.” We all know what the word dibs means: It signifies a prior claim. I have decided to intentionally use this acronym as a mental trigger whenever I see someone—in my mind I try to say, “He’s (or she’s) got dibs!” In other words, he or she has a prior claim to value simply by bearing the image of God. This mental trigger has helped me immensely, especially when encountering people who could easily otherwise become part of the scenery, such as cashiers, servers, and store clerks. Thinking in terms of DIBs is also very helpful when I first meet someone to whom I’m tempted to attribute negative traits.
How quickly we make decisions about the worth of people we meet! Based on a visual scan, we can categorize a person in mere seconds, deciding whether we want to get to know him or her or even speak to him or her at all. I’m frightened by realizing that I can decide whether a person I meet is “worthy of a relationship with me” based on so little information. Such a decision is a form of prejudice. Indeed, prejudice means “pre-judging”—making a judgment without the benefit of all the facts. If we are not careful, prejudice will become our natural, daily mode of operation with people. We must intentionally reprogram our minds with the truth of Genesis 1:27: Every person I meet is created in the image of God. And if Genesis 1:27 is true, then I am seeing the image of God in every person I meet in my life—even nonbelievers and adherents of other religions. Potentially, I can learn something about God from every person I meet. If this simple concept were put into practice by many people, it would literally change the world!
Reflection: Find a way to mentally remind yourself that every person you meet today has DIBs! Think about what you might learn about God from every person you meet today.
“So God created man in his own image . . .” Genesis 1:27