What is the value of life? This is a difficult question. It’s the kind of question that depending on the various people you ask, you may receive a million different responses. Not only is this question open-ended, it is multifaceted. What do I mean by that? Take for example pro-life organizations that argue against abortion. They argue that all human lives have value because they’re created in the image of God. Certain animal rights activists, on the other hand, will argue that animals have the same rights as people. Some others would go so far as to argue that “Mother Earth” is more important, thus arguing against overpopulation.
I could take the time to try to argue for or against these certain varying opinions. Maybe I will another day. However, I believe it would be an exercise in futility. People are going to have their opinions and very little is going to sway them from their viewpoint. Can they be persuaded otherwise? Yes, but there is only One who is capable of reaching down to the core of a person’s heart and only He can change their belief system and help them to see truth. God does value life and in Scripture has placed greater significance in human life above all others. He values our lives so much so that the Gospels tell us about the lengths God will go to redeem our lives.
The Bible talks about how God changes a person’s heart. He does a miraculous thing when He introduces His Son, Jesus, into our world. Of course, Jesus came in the form of flesh a couple thousand years ago. What I’m talking about is our own individual little worlds. As we grow up as children, we grow into intelligent beings with the ability to learn and create. We have consciences that help us understand right from wrong. But we also have something called a sin nature. Because of that sin nature, we find ourselves living against, or contrary, to the character and will of God. This brings us at odds with God as we are tainted by the world system. The Bible talks about us being at enmity with Him. God, knowing our fallen nature, brought about a plan to restore us into a right relationship with Himself. He sent Jesus to take on the sin of the world and die in our place on a cross. He died as the penalty for those sins. But God raised His Son from the dead, essentially defeating death, hell, and our greatest enemy, Satan himself. What God did was to essentially provide a way for us to be justified through Jesus. “For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
The issue for the world, however, is that it is turning itself away from God and from His gift. The evidence of that is becoming clearer by the day. Obviously, with all the terrorist activity from ISIS to Boko Haram to Al Qaeda, among others, there are plenty of examples of the types of atrocities man is capable of. Life is certainly a commodity to be exchanged, extorted, and even written off when it comes to these types of organizations. These are the sort of things we have come to expect in these remote parts of the world distanced from civilized society. And this is true despite the fact these activities sometimes hit closer to home.
But maybe the callousness of man’s heart isn’t so far removed. In developed nations, we would certainly expect attitudes and behaviors to be different than the thuggish and barbaric behavior of terrorists in third world nations. However, the sin nature isn’t monopolized by terrorists. It is alive and well in places like Ferguson, MO, Memphis, TN, and even Des Moines, IA.
Of course, we can all point to criminal behavior that is problematic in all small towns and cities. We all wag our fingers, shake our heads, and belittle certain criminal elements that commit felonious acts in our civilized societies. We tend to agree, on some levels, that there are certain acts of behavior that is not acceptable and devalues life. Activities such as rape, kidnapping, and murder are atrocities that we abhor. That’s why they’re called crimes and are rightly punished under a court of law. (For now, let’s make the assumption that the legal system works.)
Other activities and behaviors we may disagree with but too often tolerate. When it comes to abuse, it takes an action that crosses the line before we cry foul. Many kids in schools see this on a daily basis with bullies and the like. We typically chalk it up as childish behavior and assume they’ll grow out of it. However, more and more we see this same behavior in adults displayed on national television. First, we found it entertaining on shows like the Jerry Springer show. Then reality shows aired this adolescent behavior on a regular basis and society began to see this as some kind of norm. It isn’t until a sports figure beats his fiancé unconscious does our collective conscious tell us something isn’t right. But then we find a way to excuse it, move past it, and hope it doesn’t happen again. Nothing to see here folks, move on.
Life is often devalued and diminished in ways that over time we become desensitized to it. Homelessness, for example, has been a fact of life as long as societies have existed. But how we respond to homelessness certainly speaks volumes as to the kind of society we live in. Too often, we either ignore the issue, pretend it doesn’t affect us, believe it’s too big a problem to deal with, or attempt to ease our conscience in some small, insignificant way (e.g. giving $10 or $20 to the Salvation Army during the holidays). These are real people with real problems and in the United States we have plenty of resources available to come up with real solutions. But because we don’t value life the way we should, we ignore the problem or expect someone else, perhaps the cold, heavy-handed government, to take care of the problem for us.
What are other ways we devalue life? Aren’t women objectified in public and in the media? Somehow we have come to accept a perverse view of sexualized behavior as normal. As a result, prostitution (including the sex-slave trade), homosexuality (along with same-sex marriage), and pornography (in its varied forms) no longer seem to carry the stigma that they once did. In some ways, it seems it’s celebrated. Those that one would think (such as progressive women) would find society’s treatment of women objectionable are actually condoning this behavior. If you think differently, consider those who are defending the novel, Fifty Shades of Grey.
In truth, life has become a commodity even in civilized society. It has been marketed in a way to disguise the vulgar nature and shock value. How else can a society comes to terms with treating abortions as some kind of normalized behavior? Life, at this point, becomes measured in terms of convenience or cost effectiveness. What is life’s value to society overall? What can a person born in an inopportune time or with certain physical or mental defects possibly contribute to society? This is a question recently presented to a father whose son was born with Down syndrome. The wife, and mother of this child, determined this condition to be so reprehensible to her that she provided an ultimatum to the father that it was either her or the child.
The question for all of us is this, “What is happening to us?” How did we get so far from God as to treat life as inconsequential? The answer, despite our desire to think otherwise, is that sin is winning out. Our hearts have become cold and insensitive to the things of God. Even as Christians, we need to take stock of how life is valued. Christians typically fight and defend life when it comes to abortion, the sex slave trade, euthanasia, etc., but often we fail when it comes to the weightier matters of life. How about eternal life? Most people recognize Penn Jillette of the magician duo, Penn & Teller. Jillette is an atheist and often makes references regarding religion that I find distasteful and completely disagree with. But there is one quote that does speak volumes and every Christian ought to hear:
“I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me along and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?
“I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.”
The reality is that life, especially eternal life, is something that should be considered with greater weight and significance than we give it today. Society is failing and is only going to get worse. However, what is more concerning is the attitudes of many Christians today, including myself. If someone like Jillette, an atheist, can point out the problem of many Christians’ lack of compassion, then it’s something that needs to be addressed and dealt with. The Church has a problem and it needs Christians to get on their knees and seek God’s compassion for people.
In a world that is dying and becoming increasingly desensitized to the value of life, we need a spiritual barometer. Ultimately, it’s only through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that can change our thinking and direction. But even as Christians, we need to stop and reflect on our own attitudes and behaviors. Dr. Charles Stanley, a pastor, theologian, and author, has noted something similar in regards to spiritual growth. Our spiritual growth should be reflected in our desires, understanding, and selflessness to care for people enough to meet their physical and spiritual needs.
What is happening to us? Hopefully, we’re being changed by Christ. If not, then what we’re witnessing today will only get worse.