Is God Dyslexic? Reflections on the Image of God


Would you choose to have a dyslexic child? That’s the question the non-profit charity organisation, Made by Dyslexia, asked the public in 2018. How would you answer?

For some, choosing to have a dyslexic child might not sound all that appealing. After all, aren’t dyslexics less intelligent? Isn’t that why they struggle with mainstream education? So, wouldn’t dyslexia hurt someone’s life chances?

But what if I told you that the British Intelligence service, GCHQ, seeks out people with dyslexia? Or that dyslexics include film directors, actors, billionaire entrepreneurs, Olympic athletes, and world-renowned scientists?

I’ve been dyslexic for my whole life. I was born with it. Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about dyslexia. Particularly, how to view this condition in a way that is faithful to both science and scripture.1

In this piece, I want to share with you some thoughts on what it means to be both dyslexic and made in the image of God.

But first, let’s start with some facts.

What is Dyslexia?

“But you can’t be dyslexic! You’re so clever.” It was a lovely sentiment. But my congregant’s objection to my dyslexia highlights an important point. Dyslexia has nothing to do with intelligence.

My experience has shown that dyslexia is, by and large, misunderstood. So with that in mind, here are five things everyone should know about dyslexia.

  1. Dyslexia is neurological. Despite various theories, no one is sure what causes dyslexia.8 What we do know is that it is a variance in the structure and/or function of the brain.
  2. Dyslexia is genetic. This means that dyslexia is as much a part of a person as their eye colour, height, and physical build. It also means that dyslexia is most likely hereditary, passing from parent to child.
  3. Dyslexia is common. Estimates vary but it has been suggested that ~13–14% of the US school population and ~10% of the British population may be dyslexic. Contributing to a possible 700 million people worldwide.
  4. Dyslexia is a learning difference. It is not a difficulty, disorder, or disability. These labels reinforce the idea that dyslexic people are of sub-optimal intelligence, which, in turn, has knock-on consequences at both employment and education.
  5. Dyslexia is a double-edged sword, presenting challenges in certain areas around language processing. For example, reading, writing, spelling, and grammar, but also memory and concentration. But, these difficulties can be managed, and even mitigated, with proper support.

But it is also vital to understand that dyslexia also gives many gifts too. Dyslexics often excel in leadership, creative thinking, problem-solving, innovation, programming, critical thinking, and emotional intelligence. These qualities are prized by many employers.

But remember, the exact presentation of these strengths and weaknesses are uneven. This means that no two dyslexic individuals are alike.

Given this mix of qualities that make up dyslexia. How are Christians to approach it because of the image of God?

What is the Image of God?

On my desk, there is a photograph of my two sons. People often comment on how they are ‘like me’ in looks or personality. There is, they say, a family resemblance.

The Bible teaches that all humans are in some way ‘like’ God. That, since he made us in his image, there is a ‘family resemblance’.

We call this the doctrine of the “Image of God” (sometimes called the Imago Dei). And it originates in the opening chapter of the bible. Genesis 1:26-27 (NIV2011) says:

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.

So if that is what the Bible says, what does it mean? What exactly is the “image of God?” A quality? A characteristic? A role? In short, Christians across (and even within) denominations and traditions disagree. What Christians do agree on is that God’s image grants all humans both dignity and worth.3

Genesis 1: Image of God

Within my Reformed tradition, the “Image of God” has been understood to be both qualitative and relational. It is a quality that enables humans to reflect God’s character. But it is also the basis of a special and unique relationship with him.4

But I would agree with bible scholar John Walton, that the “Image of God” is also a role and identity that humans receive from their Creator.5 And with John Frame, who points out that “we are, as persons the image of God. Everything we are reflects God in some way”.6

Yet the Bible, and our experience, tells us that humanity is living on the wrong side of Genesis 1. We live in a Genesis 3 world. We are sinful and fallen creatures living in sinful and fallen societies.

Again, Christians disagree on the extent to which the fall affects the image of God in us. Yet, even those with the strongest views, still believe that fallen humans keep the image of God in some sense.7

The main way that sin affects the image of God in us is relational and moral. Humans do not relate to God properly, nor naturally desire to obey him.7 Yet, the Bible also says that there are material consequences from sin’s arrival too—such as mental and physical illnesses, limiting conditions, disease, pain, and death.9

So it is no surprise that Jesus’ death and resurrection also has a relational and moral impact. Through Justification Jesus makes us right with God, restoring the relationship broken by sin.10 And over time we become more like Jesus (in both character and moral) through sanctification.11 A process that isn’t completed until we are reunited with Jesus.12

Then at Jesus’ return, the image of God is restored in us and returned to its former sinless state as ‘all things are made new’.13

I admit that this is at best, a thumbnail sketch. But is it enough to begin to think about dyslexia in a biblical and scientific light? Let me explain.

How might Christians view dyslexia?

Sometimes theological reflection can feel like completing a puzzle. With time and patience, the pieces click into place, revealing the full picture.

Other times, it is more like pulling a loose thread on an old jumper. The harder you pull, the more things seem to unravel. Which is it here?

In my case, there are still plenty of loose threads lying around. But on the whole, a picture has begun to form.

For instance, I am comfortable saying that my dyslexia is not a result of living in a fallen world. It does not affect my ability to relate to God as Lord and Saviour nor reflect Christlike qualities.

Neither does dyslexia cause me physical pain or suffering nor have life-limiting consequences. At least, not in a way that conditions such as blindness, cancer, or dementia might. I suspect dyslexia will still exist in the New Creation—if such labels will even matter there.

Yes, dyslexia can contribute to mental anguish and low self-esteem. But, dyslexia is not the direct cause of this.

These negative consequences arise from the structure of our society. Especially, a “one size fits all” attitude to education and employment. As mentioned before, many employers are coming to see the unique value a dyslexic employee can offer.

It is also worth thinking about the impact of dyslexia in other parts of the world and human history. Before the rise of the written word, would dyslexia have had a negative impact on a person’s day to day life? What about for a person in one of the many oral cultures that still exist today?

Furthermore, I doubt spelling and grammar will matter all that much in the New Creation—a society in which people will have perfect love, compassion, patience, and understanding for one another. A place where people will celebrate one another’s differences and delight in accommodating them. Here, the dyslexic and non-dyslexic and can thrive in mutual support and service.14

I would not go as far as saying that dyslexia is part of the image of God per se. However, as John Frame noted, “Everything we are reflects God in some way”.15 And in this sense, my dyslexia is part of the way that I express the image of God as a person. It is part of who God made me.

Lastly, as image-bearers, those with dyslexia are worthy of dignity and respect. One simple thing you can do is to learn what you can about dyslexia. This will also help you play a part in busting the myths that surround it.

You can also use terms that honour dyslexic people and avoid terms that belittle them. I am thinking here particularly of using the positive description “learning difference.” And avoiding labels like “learning difficulty,” “disorder”, or “disability.” Jokes at a dyslexic person’s expense are especially hurtful.

And you can help influence positive change in education, employment, and churches. Changes that enable dyslexic people to belong and flourish.

This will in turn allow them to use their God-given gifts for his glory and in service of the church and the world.


Credits and References

[1] I want to make it clear that what follows are my thoughts. I do not seek to speak for all dyslexic people everywhere, but only for myself. Additionally, because of my Christian tradition, my theological reflections will have a broadly Confessional Reformed flavour to them. That said, I recognise that those of differing Christian heritage, other faith, or indeed, no faith, may see things differently. In the spirit of BioLogos, I hope this piece will function to promote better understanding, build bridges, and foster gracious dialogue.

[2] For one study looking at possible causes of Dyslexia, see Natalie R.Powers et al, Alleles of a Polymorphic ETV6 Binding Site in DCDC2 Confer Risk of Reading and Language Impairment , 2013 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajhg.2013.05.008

[3] Edward M. Curtis, “Image of God” in David Noel Freedman, et al (Eds.), The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, 1992, 3:390

[4] Consider for example the answer to question 6 in the Heidelberg Catechism “God created man good, and after his own image, in true righteousness and holiness, that he might rightly know God his Creator, heartily love him and live with him in eternal happiness to glorify and praise him.” Rick Brannan, Historic Creeds and Confessions , (Oak Harbor: Lexham Press, 1997), HC Q6. See also, 4.2 in The Westminster Confession of Faith.

[5] John H. Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2–3 and the Human Origins Debate. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic: An Imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2015), 42-43. These are discussed in fuller detail in Chapter 21 (190-197).

[6] John M. Frame, The Collected Shorter Theological Writings (Electronic Ed.) . (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2008). See Question 10 under Lecture outlines on the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

[7] For example, John Calvin “It cannot be doubted that when Adam lost his first estate he became alienated from God. Wherefore, although we grant that the image of God was not utterly effaced and destroyed in him, it was, however, so corrupted, that anything which remains is fearful deformity”. John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Institutes of the Christian Religion. (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1845), I.xv.4. Essentially, Calvin is saying that the image of God remains in so far that the ruin of a castle, no matter how dilapidated, is still a castle.

[8] See for example, Romans 1:18-32, 3:9-20, 8:5-7; Galations 5:19-21; Ephesians 2:1-3; Colossians 1:21; 1 Timothy 1:9-11, 4:1-5, 6:3-10; Titus 3:3.

[9] Jesus healing ministry is most illuminative in this regard. Consider, this summary from Matthew 4:24: “News about him [Jesus] spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them.” In addition to Mark 5:21-43; Luke 7:11-17; John 11:1-44, and cf. Romans 5:12-21, 1 Corinthians 15:12-58, etc.

[10] Romans 3:21-26, 5:1-9, etc.

[11] Romans 8:1-6, 8:28-30, 12:1–2; Galatians 5:16-18, 22-26; Thessalonians 4:3–8;, etc

[12] 1 John 3:1-3

[13] Revelation 21:1-4

[14] I am indebted to Christy Hemphill’s reflections on the BioLogos forum for forming the foundation of this point. See https://discourse.biologos.org/t/neurodiversity-evolution-the-image-of-god-and-the-fall/45397/6

[15] Frame, The Collected Shorter Theological Writings (Electronic Ed.) , np


Liam Maguire
About the Author

Liam Maguire

Liam Maguire is the families' worker and an elder at Ashford Congregational Church, in London, England. He's driven by a passion for seeing families transformed by the gospel and thriving in God's great family, the church. Liam loves science and is captivated by the wonder of the universe and the natural world. He is particularly interested in entomology, keeping a range of creepy crawlies as pets (because secretly he's still a five-year-old at heart!). Liam is married to Abi, whom he met whilst studying for a BA in Applied Theology, together they have two sons and a dog.
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