Protests against injustice around the globe have often brought progress despite stiff resistance from entrenched and corrupt interests. Many that moved the public heart are remembered for simple but powerful messages, such as the 1968 march of black sanitation workers in the United States protesting for better working conditions. They wore signs that said, “I am a man.”
Human beings aren’t commodities to be used and thrown away. Each has worth and intelligence to respect. The protest “I am a man” is even more potent when you consider a spiritual meaning of the word “man.” The Bible’s opening chapter says, “God created man in his own image …; male and female created he them” (Genesis 1:27).
Lasting progress comes from probing the revolutionary meaning of the idea of man – each of us – as the spiritual image of God, or universal good. Good isn’t a material commodity but a spiritual reality, present and knowable by everyone, particularly as love. Man as the image of God is innately spiritual, expressing male and female qualities of goodness, such as strength, wisdom, and kindness.
These fundamental ideas are the foundation of a protest movement in the most basic sense. They uncover and oppose the material reductionism that would make us regard and treat people in ways that make one less able or valued than another. This enables us to follow in the path of one of the greatest reformers of all time. Christ Jesus worked for the justice and well-being of all by bringing to light the image of God each one truly is. Jesus stopped a mob from stoning a woman, called out corruption, and healed people of diseases considered incurable. He didn’t do this by personal force but by the power of God, divine Truth, that filled his consciousness and governed his actions.
In “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” Christian Science discoverer Mary Baker Eddy wrote that Jesus’ “humble prayers were deep and conscientious protests of Truth, – of man’s likeness to God and of man’s unity with Truth and Love” (p. 12). Jesus addressed suffering on a deeper level than temporary fixes. He understood the role of thought in governing experience and that the enemy to overcome is the belief that material conditions form and control life.
Rejecting this belief in his own consciousness day after day proved practical. For instance, it enabled Jesus to provide food for many when it didn’t look possible and restore strength to many weakened by disabilities. Jesus progressively gained power over the big injustices of sin, sickness, and death by the protests he made for man’s original goodness and immortality, such as, “He that believeth on me [not just who he was, but also the truth he lived and taught] hath everlasting life” (John 6:47).
Prayer affirming man’s likeness to God can free people from all sorts of trouble today, too. How long it will take us to reach Jesus’ level of understanding, purity, and power, we don’t know. But claiming our eternal, spiritual life as the image of God helps us now to protest, instead of resign ourselves to, limiting circumstances. Such protest brings progress, and God’s infinite love helps us to freedom even as it helped Jesus.
Prayer is many things in addition to protest. It’s desiring to be more kind, generous, and self-forgetful; thanking God for blessings; witnessing to the beauty and goodness of the universe and man. What’s crucial about prayers of protest is that they expose and denounce the fundamental injustice that underlies all others: that man is material and inherently sinful rather than the all-good spiritual image of God.
“I am a man” (God’s image) is a powerful basis of progress for all creation.
Adapted from an editorial published in the Feb. 26, 2018, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.