“We cannot “humanize” what is already human, but we can certainly dehumanize the humanity around, or within, us. The abortion lobby wants the “fetus” to be thought of only in clinical language, as though he or she were merely an “it,” tissue to be disposed of. Those who oppress the poor want them to be thought of merely in economic categories, as drains on the “system,” not as image-bearers of God. Those who want to “consume” pornography want to think of those on the screen as images, not as people with stories and hurts and families. We too often want to think of our enemies—whether on the geopolitical stage or in our office coffee-room conflicts—as exemplars of total evil, not as each one a representation of God’s creation wisdom. We want to be justified in our actions, by reassuring ourselves that there’s no judgment to come.
When we sin against God, we wish to convince ourselves that God is not there. We, as our primeval ancestor did, seek to hide in the creation around us, until we no longer hear his voice asking, “Adam, where are you?” (Gen. 3:9) When we sin against one another, we want to see the other person as something less than a person. We want to ask as the lawyer did to Jesus, “Who then is my neighbor?” (Lk. 10:29)
When those we dehumanize are seen, despite our best efforts, as human, we either repent or we become angered. That’s why Jesus’ hometown was enraged when he pointed to the truth that God, through his prophets, went outside the bounds of Israel to minister to a Syrian soldier (Lk. 4:27-28). I fear that some of us would have a similarly angry response to a sermon about ministry to a Syrian refugee.
In our sin, we want to keep our illusions–whatever they are–that enable us to silence the conscience within us. We want to, in short, walk in darkness. But Jesus is the “light of the world,” the light from Galilee that illumines the nations and ultimately the entire cosmos.
Light isn’t a soft metaphor. Light is painful. In our natural state, we shrink back from it, because it reveals who we are and what we’ve done (Jn. 3:19). It reveals that those we want to use as things are actually people.”