To the reader: This is the second meditation about students as God’s image bearers. As Jack Collins has noted in his book on Adam and Eve, students are designed not only to resemble God but to live in relation to God and to one another.
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
– Romans 12:4,5
Last week, I described the newborn baby who resembles her mother. Those who are parents know as well that there is a special bond between mother and baby, which starts even while the baby is in the womb. The baby knows her mother’s voice and feel, and mother and child form their own tight-knit embrace. Theirs is a special relationship, as is universally known.
Why is that? Because we are made to live connected with one another even as God is. God is a holy community of three — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In the Trinity there is a mutual love which overflows to the care of us. So when God made Adam, for example, he saw that it was not good for him to be alone, and he created Eve to be with Adam and to love him.
Like our creator God, we are part of a community as well. We are made to work, to love, to cry, to live together. The Bible is full of collective and relational images to characterize who we are: we are his house, his field, his body. The theologian Herman Bavinck thought so highly of the relational in image bearing that he said it takes the whole human race, with all its diversity, to fully realize the image bearing capacity of humans. I love this way of thinking about humans as image bearers. It says that all humankind, all males and females, all culture groups, all language groups, all ethnicities, all age groups, all individuals with varying gifts and interests and intelligences are vital to collectively make up the image of God. It’s as if God were saying, when he made us in his image, that the task of exercising dominion over his world is so vast and diverse that it is only in relation to one another and with him that we can fulfill the task. Billions of differently talented people are needed to make this happen.
Given the relational quality of image bearing, it makes little sense for schools to engage in reductive practices that diminish the schools’ ability to cultivate the relational reality of human life. If teachers only say to students “do your own work,” then students are diminished and less ready to take up their relational tasks. If teachers value only one kind of intelligence, usually a lingual-numerical intelligence, then they are undervaluing other ways in which students are smart. Other kinds of invidious practices, such as sexism, racism, and nativism, are all ways one part of humankind is preferred over others, to the detriment of the relational character of being human. And when the autonomous individual is valued over the individual in groups (sons and daughters in families, students in school, members in churches, citizens in the country), the image of God as a relational image is being defaced. We are made to live and work in community.
The relational view stresses the value of collaboration. In the classroom this means group learning, and forms of cooperative learning should be a regular feature of classroom practice.
Outside the classroom, it may mean engaging schools that are culturally different in types of inter-school cooperation such as community service learning, short-term mission trips, or student exchanges.
There is much here for teachers to consider, not the least of which is that they should take delight in student differences, understanding that each are facets of the multi-faceted jewel that is the image of God. Praise God from whom every tribe, tongue and nation flows!
Little children, little children who love their Redeemer, are the jewels, precious jewels, his loved and his own. Like the stars of the morning, his bright crown adorning, they shall shine in their beauty, bright gems for his crown.
– Hymn by William O. Cushing