We are made in God’s image. As we have discussed before, I think this means that we are the ones through whom God manifests his glorious presence in the world. We are like little idols, physical entities by which God makes himself present throughout his creation. God is present in other ways too, of course, but we are his image bearers. And that means there nothing mere, simple, or ordinary about being human.
In one of my favorite passages from C. S. Lewis’ The Weight of Glory, Lewis explains that this means we need to have an amazingly high view of the people around us, along with a correspondingly high view of the responsibility that exists between us:
It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are in some degree helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
Although that is the most commonly quoted part of the sermon, I love where Lewis goes next. Rather than allowing this to suck all the joy out of our relationships as we are buried under the weight of such awesome responsibility, Lewis calls for human relationships that are both joyful and deep, playful and serious. We can and should have it both ways.
This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.
And then he concludes the sermon with another ringing reminder of what an amazing thing it is to stand next to one of God’s image bearers.
Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.
There are ordinary people, only image bearers.