By Ferrell Foster
What does it mean to be human. The Bible says humanity is created in the image of God. It is a way of expressing the value of each person — self and others. It was a key concept behind the Civil Rights Movement as proclaimed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
It is such an important concept that it is good to get new perspectives on what this image of God might mean — how we are related to God.
Evelyn Underhill, in writing about 14th century Christian mystic John Ruysbroeck, helps us in this. Underhill:
“. . . there is in man [humanity] a latent Divine likeness, a ‘spark’ of the primal fire. Created for union with God, already in Eternity that union is a fact.”
I catch on a few key words. One is “latent.” The image of God is not always readily apparent in my neighbors and me. But this is important because even when we cannot see God’s likeness, it is there.
This is what King was doing in the 1950s and ’60s when White people were being so mean and ignorant toward Black humanity. King called on Black people to look deeper than the meanness and ignorance and to see the humanity, which from a Christian perspective has a Divine likeness.
The second word is “spark.” We all know a spark is not a fire, but we also know that a spark can start a fire.
The third, a phrase, is “primal fire.” In God there is the fire of life; it is primal — before and beyond all else.
To think of humanity as having a spark of this primal fire within us should encourage us. It explains why we are doing the caring, loving, righteous, gracious, just thing — all characteristics of the Divine as revealed in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures.
We should indeed be encouraged. There is something — a spark — within each of us that goes back to the very nature of God. And that spark is in everyone we encounter. It may be latent in us, but it is still there and possible to ignite into flame.
(Quote from Underhill’s book, Ruysbroeck, p. 27, Kindle Edition)