Why Christians Should Focus on Character (part 1)
I landed on the importance of character during my time with Marketplace Chaplains. My job included promoting our services to potential clients. It wasn't an easy task. Many business owners and CEOs had no idea how chaplain services worked. Some thought they'd be like counselors, sitting in a room where employees could come to talk. Some felt they'd be like preachers, speaking to employees who came to listen. Others felt they'd be like evangelists, persuading (or pressuring) employees to repent and get saved. Given all the preconceived notions, I needed a one-liner to clear away misconceptions and land on something that made sense. So when asked, "What do chaplains do?" My best response was, "We're in the character-building business. We start with your company's core values and encourage your employees to live them out, not just at work, but in their everyday lives."
I doubled down on character building in all my chaplain work. When training chaplains or their managers, I'd try to persuade them to see that a company's core values have biblical equivalents that provide a segue into talking about the Bible or faith in Christ. When talking to employees, I'd start to build a relationship with them by affirming them when they were demonstrating a core value or encouraging them to do so when they weren't. I really thought I was on to something! But I began asking myself if I had become so fascinated with character building that I'd drifted from a biblical understanding of it. I needed to dig into that more to be certain I was standing on solid biblical ground.
I started my investigation at the first instance where people are mentioned in the Bible. Genesis 1:26-27 reads:
Then God said, "Let 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." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
There's something unique about humans because they're made in the image of God. But what? There are a couple of options for interpreting what "image" means and the word that follows it, "likeness." My studies led me to dismiss the idea that image and likeness referred to God making people that physically looked like Him. There's no way people with all their variations can look like God. I also had to dismiss the idea that image and likeness refer to a human's ability to think and reason like God. Not all humans possess these abilities, assuming you start with a fertilized egg or a human's capacity in certain end-of-life conditions. I also had to dismiss people's moral reasoning abilities since it's clear from Genesis that the first humans were created in God's image and likeness before they knew the difference between good and evil. They gained that knowledge only after eating from the tree. The last explanation was the best (it always is if you're studying what scholars have to say). Being made in the image of God means that people were created as God's representatives on earth. Just as an image represents the real thing, we are representative of the one and only God. One of the ways we fulfill that representation is in His likeness, creating and recreating. That's why God immediately gave these first humans (and us by default) dominion over all creation. They were to be "fruitful and multiply," using the resources of the land to benefit themselves and the others that would follow them.
Bearing the image of God is unique to being human. Image bearing isn't dependent on whether one has all their body parts or whether they can logically or morally reason. Because we're human, we bear God's image. We represent God on earth. And being made in His likeness informs us as to why God put Adam and Eve to work right away, commanding them to care for creation as God's representative. Bearing God's image helps us to reconsider the value of our work. Whenever we use creation to benefit people in any capacity, we serve as God's representatives, glorifying Him while advancing the potential for others to do the same. All work is holy when thought of this way, especially when done with others. When people work together to produce benefits for other image bearers, they reveal the image of God.
My study on being made in God's image didn't help much in understanding character from a biblical perspective, except seeing something in it related to benefiting others. But I like where it took me when thinking about the sacred nature of work. Regardless of how dull or mundane the job is, when people work in ways that reflect good stewardship of resources with a desire to help others, they're bearing the image of God. Coming to that conclusion helped explain why I saw beauty whenever I witnessed individuals or teams working intelligently on behalf of others. It was because I saw in them the image of God. That's a fact worth holding on to, but I still had work to do in my biblical study related to character