It would be less burdensome if the fulfillment of image-flourishing could be accomplished through a multi-step program. “If anyone follows these steps, it will result in your total fulfillment,” or so the idea could be expressed.
While the ideal of image-flourishing is simple—submission to God, his will and his perspective—it is also a complex path. Paul calls believers to “lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him” (1 Cor. 7:17), but change the life situation if one can, in this case, regarding slavery (7:21). I acknowledged in my previous reflection that calls for submission to God have been used by some to dehumanize and kill other image-bearers. The dangers of such abuse have even motivated some theologians and ethicists to engage in the construction of alternative doctrinal positions because some doctrine or other has been misused to justify humiliation and dehumanization.
One example would be the call for a reformulation of the meaning of the atonement. JoAnne Marie Terrell argues concerning the attempt of people in the black church to harmonize multiple views of the atonement:
Given that this syncretic model emphasizes Jesus’ surrogacy as the means of spiritual liberation, often without a concomitant or necessary stress on political liberation, the doctrine begs for fresh interpretation so that it might have more liberative relevance for black Christians. (Power in the Blood? p. 108)
It would require more time and space to develop my rationale, but I do not believe that her concerns demand a reformulation of the doctrine of the atonement. A network of orthodox confessions, properly applied, could accomplish what’s needed to address such potential abuse.
Sometimes the endurance of suffering accomplishes the flourishing of another image-bearer.
Having said this, I could be accused of insensitivity to such concerns at best, or downright ignorant and uncaring at worst. It is not my intent to be deaf to such voices. I must seek the Lord to scrutinize my heart and evaluate what I say. I do not quickly require sufferers to endure the kind of suffering that causes soul-shaking pain and potential loss of self-worth. Seek change in the situation as the Lord facilitates (see 1 Cor. 7:21 once again). What I am attempting to say, for consideration, is that discerning God’s will in situations of pain is a difficult and complex endeavor. Submission to God is foundational to image-flourishing, but from a human perspective, anything but an ideal of flourishing may be unfolding given experiences of dehumanization.
I will add one more thought to this complexity, or the attempt to walk the thin red line. Sometimes the endurance of suffering accomplishes the flourishing of another image-bearer. In a society where the clamoring for “my rights” abound, this may be a difficult concept to grasp and implement, even for Christians. The ideal of flourishing can become so individualistic that considerations of sacrifice and endurance for the sake of another may be quickly dismissed. God desires image-flourishing, but it may not be manifested along the lines of personal fulfillment. Hopefully, it does, but it may not always be the case. Sometimes flourishing is experienced when helping others to flourish, even when sacrifice is required.
Of course, our Lord Jesus comes to mind as the most obvious example, but I will offer another in my next reflection.