“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”…So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them…And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” Genesis 1.26-27, 31
Dignity: the state or quality of being worthy of honor and respect.
Being made in the image of God means that we are endowed with worth and honor because it is our very make up as human beings. We are all– no matter our race, gender, or socioeconomic standing– endowed with dignity because we are made in the image of the One who is always worthy of honor and respect. When we look at the verses above, we see first and foremost that we are image bearers before we are male and female. Both are God-given gifts and realities that cannot be changed by our feelings or what others may tell us. What an amazing beautiful thing that we are made male and female, and the wise way that we were formed in our differences. But being male or being female in itself does not give us dignity. Being made in the image of God gives us dignity.
Because this is a God-given reality, our dignity cannot be taken away from us. Sure, it might feel like it can. It might feel, as a survivor of abuse or rape, that your dignity has been stripped away. It might feel, as a woman, that your dignity is being trampled on when you think you’re being denied rights. People may tell us we have no dignity. People may tell us we are not worthy. It’s not being able to say what happens to our bodies that brings or takes away dignity. It’s not being able to have the same privileges, jobs, pay, or status as others that brings or takes away dignity. It is because we are made in the very image of God and endowed with dignity from this blessing of the Creator that we have dignity– worth, honor, and respect. If we teach or believe that someone can take this dignity from us, we are sorely misunderstanding true dignity. “Since the value of human life flows from the image of God, so does human dignity. And since the image of God is shared by all people, all of us have an intrinsic dignity that is distinct from anything else about us. The supreme value of the image of God far outweighs any other consideration in determining our worth.”1 No one can destroy that because it is a reality of being made in God’s image.
It is interesting to me that one of the only places in the Bible where the specific word “dignity” is used is in Proverbs 31, in a passage speaking of what it looks like to be a woman who fears the Lord. The passage outlines things that this woman does: She does her husband good and not harm all the days of her life, she works with willing hands, she helps provide for her household, she is informed and involved in the community, “she dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong”, she helps the poor and needy, she is not idle, and because of all this her children and husband call her blessed. What things to be known for. Then comes the mention of dignity: “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” This is not a woman who is demanding respect. In fact, just the opposite. She has in mind her husband, her family, and those in need before herself. She works hard to accomplish the tasks before her–from domestic to economic. And these things do not make her weak, but strong and unafraid of what the future holds.
As women, our dignity does not come from others telling us we are worthy. It does not come from making ourselves appear strong, independent, not needing anyone to help us. It does not come from equal pay or equal rights. It does not come from having all the answers or being the best. Dignity comes at the moment of conception, by God’s grace of making us in his image. He looked at human life and called it very good. He looked at human life and saw it as precious and honored. This is counter-cultural, but true dignity is counter-cultural. We grow in this dignity not in the ways the world tells us, because it is not the world who has the authority to give it or take it away. We grow in true dignity by becoming more like God, through Jesus, and that is something that can never be taken away. Our dignity comes by acknowledging the Dignified One who gives it, and glorifying Him with our very lives.
1 Quote from link: http://www.colsoncenter.org/the-center/columns/call-response/15270-the-image-of-god-and-human-dignity