June is chock-full of celebrations: the awareness of Alzheimer’s and gun violence, Juneteenth, World Refugee Day. There’s even a World Sea Turtle Day. And while we’re out there protecting our shelled brethren, we can’t forget Hellen Keller’s birthday or the Stonewall Uprising. And, yes, it’s also Pride Month. But I’ll risk jamming June with one more celebration. I’m calling it IG Pride.
The acronym is key. It’s not “Instagram” or internet slang for “I guess.” It’s a packed and precious theological phrase the broader world has nearly forgotten: image of God. So, if you’re reading this (my apologies to the sea turtles), stand tall; it’s your time to shine.
THE INCLUSIVITY OF IG
Whereas all the other June celebrations leave out certain demographics of humanity, IG Pride is all-inclusive. Every human being is made in the image of God. If you’ve got a heartbeat, you’re in. Everyone is an insider. Everyone counts.
Of course, the question for most people is what "image of God" even means. Let me spell it out with some good old-fashioned Dutch Reformed theology.
That man bears God’s image means much more than that he is spirit and possesses understanding, will, etc. It means above all that he is disposed for communion with God, that all the capacities of his soul can act in a way that corresponds to their destiny only if they rest in God. . . . According to the deeper Protestant conception, the image does not exist only in correspondence with God but in being disposed toward God. God’s nature is, as it were, the stamp; our nature is the impression made by this stamp. Both fit together.
For Geerhardus Vos, the image of God includes a lot (spirituality, understanding, will). But all of that focuses on a singular purpose: communion with God. Every human being is tilted, in a sense, leaning towards the Trinity—three persons in one essence. Human persons are who they are because of who they lean on, regardless of what they claim. At the deepest level, being a human has far less to do with who you claim to be and far more with how you’ve been made—something over which you have no control.
"Human persons are who they are because of who they lean on, regardless of what they claim."
REDUCTIONISM AND IDENTITY
That biblical message is tough to swallow for the broader secular world . . . to put it mildly. Why? Well, there are lots of reasons. But one of the most prominent is that people try to reduce identity to a single feature. Given that June is Pride month, we can take that as an example. Sexuality, which is certainly a powerful and important part of human experience, is only one facet of human experience. And yet many people this month will proclaim that their identity is encapsulated by one of the letters in the ever-expanding acronym LGBTQ+. Carl Trueman in Strange New World explains how, historically, we got here by jumping on a few psychological stepping stones. Think of these as prominent ideas that were then soaked into the culture through what Charles Taylor calls our social imaginary, the way in which we experience our world through social norms, cultural trends, and symbolism.
- Stepping Stone 1: Marx and Nietzsche – Religion is a means of oppression (Marx), and humans should rise above it to “create themselves” in a Godless material world (Nietzsche).
- Stepping Stone 2: Romanticism – Inner feelings came to have more weight and value than external authorities (i.e., nation, church, and family).
- Stepping Stone 3: Sigmund Freud – Sexual gratification is central to human happiness and should be pursued and protected at all costs.
- Stepping Stone 4: Wilhelm Reich – All sexual norms and traditional family structures that represent them need to be destroyed so that people can be sexually free.
Much has happened since Stepping Stone 4, but these four leaps have brought people to a place where they can claim that sexuality isn't merely something they do or prefer; it is who they are. Their sense of self, freedom, and all of their personal experience are wrapped up in sexuality.
The problem is, as Trueman points out, sexuality is only a part of each person’s unique human history. If I meet someone on the street who tells me he is gay, I would walk away knowing very little about him, despite his protests that homosexuality is central to his identity. Why? Because sexuality is only one facet of what makes us human. And underlying all that we do and feel is not a psychologized identity bound to sexual preference; it is a divinely endowed leaning with history, a bent toward oneness with God lived out in a million experiences—all of which constitute a formative and purpose-giving relationship. We can push away that leaning; we can ignore it; we can daily dismiss it. But it’s there.
"Underlying all that we do and feel is not a psychologized identity bound to sexual preference; it is a divinely endowed leaning with history, a bent toward oneness with God lived out in a million experiences."
Our identity cannot be reduced so easily to sexuality. It is, no doubt, mysterious to say that being made in God’s image means being bent toward communion with him. But that mystery is purposeful. It shows that we are not solely responsible for or sovereign over our identity. We live life not in a monologue, but in dialogue: in discourse with and dependence on God and others. God is speaking to us everywhere and in his Word. And the rest of the world and the people in it call for our responses on the micro and macro level. The sliding glass door from my office, for instance, won’t step aside if I try to walk through it. It exists and demands a response from me. I can’t bend reality to my will. On the human level, I’ll encounter many people today whose words and actions demand a response from me. I can’t walk through the world in willful monologue. I am a dialogical creature made in the image of a dialoguing God.
In light of the complexity of my 37-year-old dialogue, who I am cannot be encapsulated neatly in an adjective, especially one that only describes one facet of my experience. The phrase God has chosen to use to describe our identity is as broad as it is deep. “Image of God” draws us into dialogue with God and others. It is an identity that screams for relationship, for a sense of belonging. We hear a lot of talk about freedom as essential to human identity. But as Trueman writes, “human beings do not simply wish to be free. We also wish to belong, to be part of a group where we are accepted and affirmed.” The deepest acceptance and affirmation lie not in lobby groups but in the Lord of time and space, the one who saw us coming from eternity.
WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND: THE UNIFYING IG
I introduce “IG Pride” for a very simple reason: without it, we are lost and divided. All sense of belonging slips through our fingers like sand—no matter how white-knuckled our hands are in clinging to claims of identity. Look around you. The Western world is deeply divided. Factions. Tribes. Activists. Extensive depression and anxiety. These are the consequences of having no shared story, no deeper sense of belonging.
IG Pride means we can remember we have a sense of belonging that goes beyond all human change and circumstance. We are who we are because of who God is, because of how we’ve been made. Every human being on the planet is included. Every human being has a God-governed, communion-craving history.
And that’s not just a point of pride for us; it’s a point of marvel. As King David wrote, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps. 8:3–4)
The answer: a mirror for the divine. God looks at you and sees not just a thing, a bi-pedal mammal with strange patterns of hair. He sees himself. And that applies not just to each individual person; it applies to the whole human race. That will never cease to drop my jaw. “When God looks at us, he sees himself? Why? How?” Those are great questions to pursue for IG Pride Month.
The best thing about IG Pride Month is that we can learn to celebrate it every day. It’s not jettisoned to June. From Monday to Sunday, we can look at each other and marvel: Wow . . . a reflection of the God who knows and cares for the entire cosmos. For any given person, where do the contours of the reflection align with God’s character? Where do they not?
Oddly enough, this all has to do with rainbows and relationships—but not in the way people think.
RECLAIMING THE RAINBOW
This month, rainbows will be ubiquitous as the symbol for Pride Month. You can’t avoid them, and there’s little good in protesting. But there is something we can do: reinterpret them. The rainbow symbol doesn’t belong to LGBTQ+. It belongs to God, who put it in the sky right after the earth was flooded in the time of Noah. Why did our dialogical God put it there?
I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. (Gen. 9:13–15)
Covenant. Relationship. Remembrance. These are the words that reveal the true, God-given meaning of a rainbow.
Of course, that covenantal relationship with God means we have the responsibility to dialogue with God and submit to his words, looking to his speech to identify who we are—not to our passions or feelings or psychological well-being. In this sense, posting a rainbow in your window isn’t just a call to accept a group of humans trying to reduce their identity to a single facet. That rainbow is a reminder that we are all living, right now, before the face of the God who speaks—more specifically, to the God who spoke his Son into the world on our behalf. This is a God who knows us, a God who remembers our moments, every detail of our idiosyncratic history. Divine remembrance calls for humble dialogue. It’s only in listening to God that we’ll be able to celebrate who we really are, not apart from him but in him.
"Divine remembrance calls for humble dialogue. It’s only in listening to God that we’ll be able to celebrate who we really are."
So, fly a banner. Wear a t-shirt. Spread the word. June is IG Pride Month. We’re coming in with the sea turtles and the refugees. We’re coming in to claim the one thing that can unify humanity because it’s the one thing God has given to all of us: his image.
Remember the rainbow. God is here. He remembers, and he’s calling us to find ourselves in him.