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1/25/13 at 12:38 PM 0 Comments

Martin Luther King Jr., Psalm 146, and the Imago Dei

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By Tony Merida

This week I’ve been reading about Martin Luther King Jr. Though I don’t agree with everything that Dr. King believed, said, or did, he continues to inspire me.

His particular belief in the imago dei (the name of our church and title of our current series) drove much of the civil rights movement, as noted by Richard Willis’ book Martin Luther King Jr. and the Image of God.

Dr. King believed that every person was created by God, and worthy of dignity, love, basic human rights, and fair and just treatment. He fought for equality and called out those who discriminated against races. He said of the imago dei:

“You see the founding fathers were really influenced by the Bible. The whole concept of the imago dei … is the idea that all men have something within them that God injected. Not that they have substantial unity with God, but that every man has a capacity to have fellowship with God. And this gives him uniqueness…. There are no gradations in the image of God. Every man from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard, precisely because every man is made in the image of God. One day we will learn that. We will know one day that God made us to live together as brothers and to respect the dignity and worth of every man. This is why we must fight segregation with all of our non-violent might.” (sermon, 1965, Ebenezer Baptist Church)

He called out the church for not living out this belief, and for not worshiping together. At the National Cathedral, during his last sermon before he was assassinated, he said, “We must face the sad fact that at 11 o’clock on Sunday morning when we stand to sing ‘In Christ there is no East or West,’ we stand in the most segregated hour of America.”

He also reflected on the irony that a particular white Baptist church spent thousands of dollars to evangelize Africans, yet fired its pastor for allowing a black man to sing in its choir (Lischer, 19). Evil.

I’m also moved by King’s concern for the poor. He was moved to tears as he observed the intense poverty in Quitman, MS, specifically as he watched a school teacher feed her students their lunch, consisting of only a slice of an apple and some crackers. He grieved over the poor in Harlem, and defended poor sanitation workers in Memphis.

The ideas of God as creator, and God’s compassion for the poor appear in Psalm 146.

The Psalmist points us to nature of the LORD in this psalm. It is so relevant because our view of God determines everything.

Tozer said, “Were we able to extract from any man a complete answer to the question, ‘What comes into your mind when you think about God?’ we might predict with certainty the spiritual future of that man… The first step down for any church is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of God”

Therefore, when we have a high view (or biblical view) of God, we will praise him continually, trust him supremely, and imitate him faithfully.


Tony Merida is lead pastor of Imago Dei Church, Raleigh, NC, Associate Professor of Preaching at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and author of Faithful Preaching and Orphanology. He can be followed on Twitter.

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