Summary: Value human life, regardless of abilities or productiveness. In practical ways, be a) pro-life, and b) pro-dignity.
The sixth commandment is short: “Don’t murder” Isn’t that obvious? Unlike some commandments, most people agree with this one. Yet the commandment points us to a deeper understanding of the value of human life.
WHY should we value human life, above all other life?
Read Genesis 9:1-6. Humans have unique value, because they are created in THE IMAGE OF GOD.
The value of people does not depend on vague sentimentality, or similarity to us. Most of the people in the world are actually quite different from us, in race, language, culture, and experiences. Yet they are human, and they are in the image of God.
The value of people does not depend on their abilities. People we might see as handicapped or retarded are in the image of God. I had a cousin, mostly nonverbal, who was quite content to page through magazines and shovel chicken manure all day long. When he joined the church, he managed to stammer only, “I love Jesus.” He is now with the Lord in glory, because he is in the image of God.
The value of people does not depend on their usefulness to society. Families sometimes struggle with end-of-life decisions, as artificial life support leads to a judgment about whether it is life that is being prolonged, or the process of dying. With modern technology, God allows people to participate in the decision about when the last breath will come. Yet decisions about when life should end should never be based on whether people are still “useful” to society.
The value of people does not depend upon public opinion or laws. Euthanasia, genocide, abortion, infanticide—all have been accepted at various times in history. In ancient Greece, infants were exposed on hillsides, to be adopted or die of exposure. Under Roman law, fathers had rights of life or death over their children. In a culture where infants were devalued, the Didache, an instruction manual for Christian communities in the first century, said, “You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.”
In today’s world, abortion is both a moral and social issue, which is addressed by both laws and social norms. Science and public opinion often set the tone for debate. When exactly does life begin? Is the “morning after pill” different from the “morning before pill”? Do rape and incest factor into decisions? Who has the right to make such decisions, and what is the role of the government in protecting life? Public opinion can be swayed by science and cultural norms, but God’s word should be the foundation of Christian ethics: If a fetus is human, it is in the image of God, and life in the image of God must be valued and protected.
Ultimately, we must decide whether the value of human life is based upon God’s values, or society’s values. This is a personal issue for us, because it impacts our own sense of value. Sometimes we may feel unworthy, insignificant, or devalued. A time may come when we are unproductive, or in the oppressed minority. If we devalue others, we devalue human all of human life.
We should place a high value on human life. Yet valuing people goes beyond not killing them!
HOW do we value human life?
1. Be “pro-life.”
“Pro-life” is more than a political stance on whether abortion should be legal. It is a commitment to protect and sustain life for all people.
When Noah came out of the ark, God reaffirmed the value of human life. He was clear that human life has a greater value than animal life, and that human life should be protected by society. Read Genesis 9:6.
(This is not an argument for the death penalty, as imprisonment of murderers was not a realistic option in the time of Noah, as it is today. Punishment and deterrence is a complex issue, and arguments about the justice system might better focus on a fair and impartial justice system, with the emphasis on deterring murder and preserving the sanctity of human life.)
God’s word to Noah indicates that God cares about protecting human life, and that he expects people to protect life as well. It is broader than murder: God cares about unsafe streets, gangs, and innocent victims of crime. God also cares about pollution or environmental hazards that may kill, or even unhealthy habits like smoking, drugs, and poor nutrition. (One recent study said that Americans drink 21% of all the calories they consume.)
God also cares about acts that destroy the human spirit: human trafficking, slave labor, physical or sexual abuse, or hopeless poverty. We might not have a lot of influence, but we must do everything possible to build a society that values and protects human life. That might include politics. Whether our political bias is liberal or conservative, God commands us to seek solutions that preserve life. We can also support organizations that support life, such as Cedars, for children in crisis, or Bethany Christian Services, that provides alternatives to abortion, while supporting adoption and foster care, families and refugees.