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Seeing the Reflection of God By Larry Gadbaugh

The Weird and Wonderful Reflection of God

My son and I had bounced out to our local grocery store to pick up a few items. As usual we encountered fellow shoppers with bedhead hair, profanity-laced sweatshirts, PJs, face and body piercings, and outfits designed to display as many of their tattoos as possible. My hometown’s unofficial motto is proudly posted on bumper stickers, “Keep Portland Weird!”

“Dad, the weirdest people shop at Winco!”

This was yet another instance where I found myself struggling to practice my personal conviction and the theological foundation of the mission I lead: Every person conceived is made in the image of God.

After all, my son’s judgment was a reflection of my own. In spite of Jesus’ declarations about the importance of the least among us, I confess there’s rarely a day goes by I don’t view someone as if they are something less of a human being than I am.

God’s Image

I realize this is because I struggle to truly believe that every person conceived is made in God’s image, and therefore I am called to treat them with dignity.

This revelation is perhaps among the most foundational, essential, and timely convictions we need to practice as we fulfill our mission in our outraged, politically polarized, secularized, uncivil, violent culture.

Seeing Him in Others

Through our churches and ministries we serve our neighbors who are displaced, disabled, abandoned, abused, or invisible (such as the pre-born). We are committed to treating them like God has treated us. When we sacrificially love them, we are reflecting the heart of God for those he has made. We’re practicing the truth of the image of God. We are radically witnessing to our culture that we follow the Creator and Redeemer who made us to receive his life and love, and respond to him in trust and faithful devotion to his grace by treating each other – especially the least among us – the way that our Father treats us in Christ.

What Changes

What if I practiced this consistently? It would change the way I drive.

I would view the person carrying cardboard signs on the freeway exits differently. I would become more understanding of the complexity of the immigration problem. I would pray for those serving in office instead of delighting as my side demonizes them. I would seek to gain understanding from the millennials and Gen Zs on my staff and in my church instead of reducing them to the caricature I hear from my more “mature” peers. I would pursue connecting with “tribes” different from mine to discover how to be a better neighbor with them.

Walking It Out

As we are wrestling with how to reignite the power of the Gospel to transform lives and our community, I believe there are few priorities more essential than practicing the image of God. After all, we cannot love God wholeheartedly without loving our neighbor sacrificially. And we won’t love our neighbor if we view them as anything less than fully a person made in God’s image, just like us. How we view and treat each other reflects what we actually believe about God. That’s a mirror that should wake us up every morning.

Back at Winco, as my son issued his assessment of these strangers, I was thankful the Spirit convicted me:

“Son, you and I are shopping at Winco.”

I am still learning to see my neighbors as Jesus does – a reflection of myself, and of the God who loved us so much he sent his Son to transform us into the image of Jesus.


Larry Gadbaugh has served as the CEO of First Image in Portland, Oregon, since 2001. Diane and he have been married for 42 years and have five adult children and three grandchildren.

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