The Dignity of Homelessness
The convergence of several distinct circumstances has set the topic of homelessness as a regular conversation around our table. My two children are getting older and are becoming more aware of their surroundings by the week. We also recently moved from a rather small town in Mississippi to Indianapolis, the 12th largest city in our country. Thirdly, we’ve tried to be very aware of the people that are all around us....especially the downtrodden and needy.
It all started with Mr. Arnell. I saw him sitting on a street corner in the cold. He was holding a cardboard sign and had a tattered backpack sitting at his feet. As I approached the intersection where he was sitting, I rolled down my window as asked if he would like some lunch. Before too long we were both chowing down on some Wendy’s and sharing our story. His story was one of heartache, tragedy and pain. He spoke of the shame and indignity of being a grown man that is reduced to sitting on a street corner while everyone that passes by tries desperately not to make eye contact. His shame was palpable and his heartache was deep. I prayed for Mr. Arnell and reminded him that God does indeed love him and we went separate ways. Later that night was where it really settled in for me. As our little family sat around the dinner table discussing the day, I told our children about my lunch with Mr. Arnell. Almost immediately the questions started from my children. It was both beautiful and terrible to watch their little minds process the idea of homelessness. “Where does he sleep?” “Where is his family?” “Does Mr. Arnell have a pillow?” “Where is his momma?” My children didn’t see Arnell like I see people most of the time. They didn’t see the bad decisions that might have been made. They didn’t see socio-economic status. They only saw a man that needed some help. Watching my children process this reality has reminded me of how and why we should love people.
Humanity has an intrinsic dignity and worth because we all are created in the image and likeness of God. We see the image of God reflected all around us! Creativity, logical reasoning, compassion, kindness, justice and the recognition of beauty are just a few ways that we reflect God’s image. I believe it was John Calvin that compared this reality to broken statues that still have some resemblance of their former glory. You see, all of creation reflects God’s glory but only mankind reflects His image. When I recognize the reflection of God’s image in people it shapes the way I interact with everyone around me. I become more interested in the person, their gifts, abilities and passions. I have a genuine interest in their story and experiences. Now don’t get me wrong here. This reflection of God’s image is broken and marred. While we all have a shared image we also have a shared flaw; sin. Sin separates us from God and illicits his wrath and righteous judgement. God requires righteousness in order from us to relate to Him in any capacity. The good news is that what God requires He also provides. When we put our faith in the blood of Christ and what He accomplished on the cross our sins are forgiven and we are clothed with His righteousness. Then, and only then, can we return to the fellowship and relationship to God that was intended for man.
It is all too easy for us to get into the rut of our daily routine and forget the grand story that we all participate in. We forget that we are surrounded by people that reflect the image of our great God. We lose sight of what’s important and grab a hold of the temporary or self serving. How diffferent would our interactions look if we began treating everyone like image bearers of God? The bible gives a host of reasons that we are to engage and love people. I think though, that this might be the greatest of them all. We step into this issue of homelessness and embrace the men, women and children that are struggling there because they have a special dignity endowed by their Creator. May we not be put off by the outward appearance of the man on the corner. May we recognize God’s image all around us. And may leverage our time, resources and experiences to tell the man or woman on the street corner how they can be made whole by the work of Christ. In demonstrating compassion, love, kindness, generosity or concern you reflect God’s image as well. What an incredible and mysterious opportunity!