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Image-Bearing and the Opioid Crisis

‘So God created human beings in his own image,
in the image of God he created them.
Male and female he created them.’ (Genesis 1:27)

All human beings, made in God’s image?  All of them?  Yes, all of them.  

Including the 1,372 image-bearers who died from drug poisoning fatalities between January and October of 2021 in my home province of Alberta.  Including the approximately 19 image-bearers a day across Canada who died from opioid toxicity, according to the government of Canada’s public health office. 

Their deaths were not recorded in televised public health briefings, despite the scale of the opioid and drug poisoning crisis in North America (a crisis officially declared a public health emergency in 2016 by the provincial health officer of British Columbia).  Their deaths were not mentioned in many Sanctity of Life Sunday liturgies.  The growing tragedy of their too-early deaths rarely makes the front page, despite University of Alberta researchers finding that deaths related to fentanyl overdose have risen a 118.4% since the beginning of the pandemic.  Their obituaries were not included in many church bulletins or local newspapers.  With the exception of fierce parents and bold community activists, few publicly voice the grief of these staggering losses.  I am as much at fault as anyone.  I’ve spent so much of my mental energy confronting the effects of the pandemic on my family and my friends around the world that I’ve neglected a crisis growing in my own backyard. 

I wonder if, in the church, our public practice betrays our theology of the imago dei, the divine image.  We confess that all human beings are created in God’s own image.  We claim that God made human beings a little lower than the heavenly beings, and crowned them with glory and honour (Psalm 8).   We declare that ‘Life is God’s gift to us, and we are called to foster the well-being of all the living’ (Our World Belongs to God, Section 11). Yet we reserve our own glory, honour and public advocacy for those whose lives and deaths don’t make us uncomfortable: unborn children or communities across the globe, those whose suffering does not confront us on the streets we call home.  On this score, the opioid crisis, and the church’s relative silence about it, reveals our failings and invites us to reconsider what it means to ‘protest and resist all that harms, abuses, or diminishes the gift of life’ in this particular historical moment in North America. 

May we have the courage to face our failings, so that in our prayers, praise, and protests, we include all of God’s image-bearers – every last one of them.   

Just Creator and Healer,
In whose image we are made,
Whose divine fingerprint never leaves us,
We pray for the eyes to see your image 
in all your children:
and particularly in those whose suffering has been ignored 
by so many of us, for so long.
Those who suffer or who have died from opioid addiction, from poisoning, from the absence of a safe drug supply, from the absence of a wider community of care and kindness. 
And we lift our prayers alongside those who grieve alongside their suffering children, friends, and neighbours – those whose hearts are big enough to love through discomfort and pain.  
Give us courage.
Let the sight of your image-bearers in agony move us
so that our hands, our feet, and our voice 
can be joined with theirs for the sake of your kingdom of wholeness and belonging.

Photo by Vince Fleming on Unsplash

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