One of the most unassumingly bizarre experiences of life so far was sticking my head round the door to do a breathing check for one of the residents and finding him watching television. Watching television at 2am is not unusual in and of itself, it was the fact that he lay there, helpless and a little forgetful sometimes, watching some of the world’s best athletes running around winging off of high bars and cartwheeling along narrow poles.
I hated euthanasia once. I hate it even more now.
What evolutionists and unbelievers fail to see is the same thing which struck me so forcefully in that moment:
There lay a body, frail and helpless like crumpled paper blowing in the wind watching others who (let’s be honest) are as solid and muscular as any Greco-Roman marble sculpture. They couldn’t be more different.
But they couldn’t be more the same.
Those athletes, strong and sure, are made from dust and will return to it.
The fractured soul cheering them on is made in the image of God.
These two things they have in common, we all do.
Sometimes it is easier to see the image of God. We look at the bright, the healthy, the creative, the bold among us and reflect on what an incredible being man is. It is easy to see in youth, courage, kindness, and strength that we are made by a divine being and that he made us well. As a result we treat these people with more dignity and honour.
We coo over babies, we celebrate athletic achievements, we put beautiful *young* people on the fronts of magazines, we award medals to the heroes of our times.
But in our confidence and relative power, we forget that we are dust. It just seems so ridiculous.
Yet at times, it is easier to recall the reality of the dust and forget the truth of the image. It can be easier to see someone’s wheelchair than their humanity. When our relatives appear to lose what memory and reasoning they once had it can be easy to grieve them as though we had already buried them. The temptation for carers is to see those in their care as just a job, especially when it comes to the end of life.
There is no image-dust divide.
An Image Made of Dust
Many of my friends and I are relatively young and healthy, it’s not a sin. However, we are not invincible.
As much as I detest the fact, I belong to a generation labelled ‘millennials’. For those of you who are not familiar with the term, it is a reference to when we were born rather than our eschatology.
One of the issues with our generation is the glorification of youth. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that many millennials believe they will grow old about as readily as they believe in God. After all, we don’t even really believe in growing up to begin with. A little idle observation has made me wonder whether perhaps the generation that has come before us may be in denial that they are growing older too.
We are in denial that we are dust. We cannot, or perhaps will not, accept that we will not be young and strong forever. One day we, even we, will die.
Even in church I fear we do not understand. Scrolling through my Facebook page, I find the kitten videos frequently interspersed with posts about how I’m a princess because my daddy is a king, or how we must be warriors for Christ.
Ladies, will you still feel like a princess when your teeth all fall out and someone else has to feed you? Guys, will you still feel like the heroic warrior for the kingdom after you’ve had multiple strokes and can no longer even dress yourself?
When we grow impatient with the old and frail and the sick and the suffering, we need to bear in mind that there is no difference between us. We may be strong and sharp now but we are still made of dust and one day we shall return to it.
Sure, it’s a sober thought but let it water the seeds of compassion in you. Let it teach you to care for others, remembering that you will one day be where they are now, that they were once young and strong and now they must come to terms with the realisation that they were only ever dust to begin with.
So let it teach you compassion but let it also teach you to number your days and use them well because they are numbered. It is a relief to know that we are fading because it is a terrible thing to think that we might have to live in this fallen world forever. One day we’ll be raised new and perfect.
Finding Image in the Dust
Not only is it important to see that you are made from the clay but it is important that we view others as being made in God’s image. It may be broken and marred but it is there.
The image of God does not decrease as a person’s frailty increases.
A moment ago I asked if the ladies would still feel like a princess when they are being spoon-fed at eighty-three. Well, God won’t unadopt you and withdraw his grace when you get old and ugly so why would he do that to anyone else? It is vital that we see beyond the fragility of each person and see them as God sees them. The body may be fading but the image of God is not.
It is a temptation when working in care just to talk at those you are caring for or simply to talk to the other carers and not to the person at all. I see it more than I am comfortable with. Sometimes I am tempted myself because it can be just so hard to communicate meaningfully, particularly with dementia or stroke patients.
But when I am tempted, I think of three things.
First, I think of my granddad and how thankful I am that someone looked after him this way. Second, I steal a glance at the family photos that line the walls as I work, reminding me that these people are trusting me to care, that the person I am caring for is a mother, father, husband, or wife, loving and loved. Then I look at their faces and ask God to help me see his image there. It always is. And if they are awake I talk to them about their day, about their family, about their interests, and when they ask, I try and cheer them up with tales of my own misadventures.
These people may be fading to dust before our very eyes but they are as human as the day they were conceived. They were made in the image of God then and they are made in the image of God now. That image does not wear away with our flesh.
And I asked the men if they would still feel like those brave warriors, fighting for the kingdom as they sit propped in their chair while some young carer tries to wash and shave them.
Those who are older or incapacitated in some way may not be able to knock on people’s doors and tell them the gospel, they may not even be able to hold a coherent conversation for more than ten minutes, but God can and will be glorified in them. Don’t write them off.
One of the key people in my own conversion was an old lady. She was blind and could hardly walk and she adopted my Sunday School class and prayed for us. She lived in a nursing home and could do very little for herself, but we visited her once after I was saved. I thought she was going to cry when I told her I was to be baptised.
We never saw her again. Mattie passed away the following Winter, but she has left her fingerprints on my life and on the lives of others. She is one of the people I really look forward to seeing again.
We can glorify God with our whole lives and even in death. Then afterwards we will glorify him perfectly in eternity.
Our society tends to look at the old and the weak either as a drain on resources or with a patronising sentimentality. As Christians we should do neither but seek to trace the image of God in their tired eyes. Regardless of physical or mental capability, people are people, sinful, broken, lost, redeemed. We must not forget this, it must show in our words and in our actions.
Do not forget that you, even in your strength, are only dust. But remember too, to seek the image of God in every face you see because that image will always remain, even when strength and clarity do not.