What am I worth? Various attempts have been made to evaluate the worth of a human being. I remember reading years ago that the value of the various chemicals and materials that make up the human body is just a few dollars. Of course, now the use of various organs for transplants has hiked this price quite a bit.
And not only do our bodies have material values, our psyches do too. Pop psychologists talk much about our “self worth.”
Of course, when we look around the world, read our newspapers and watch the TV news, we may get the impression that human life is worth very little. People perish by the thousands daily in natural disasters: tsunamis, earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes. Literally millions are dying of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, as well as other diseases. And as if these “natural” disasters aren’t enough, mankind adds to these deaths with brutal warfare, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, murder (and its punishment), abortion and euthanasia. And then, if we look at our entertainment media, we see more of the same – movies, TV, video games all exalt murder, vengeance, war and destruction. All this makes it hard to believe that we members of the human race are of any value, especially to each other.
But the Bible shows that we are of value. According to Genesis 1:26 and 27, man – male and female – was created in the image of God. Though later (Genesis 2:7) we are told that “God formed man of dust from the ground,” we are also told that “God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” Although we share our material nature with the rest of the world, especially the animal world, we share our spiritual nature with God. We are unique. And therefore we have value to God.
And even though that image of God was in some way marred by the fall of man, it is still carried by human beings today (see Genesis 9:6; 1 Corinthians 11:7; James 3:9).
Later in the book of Genesis, after the flood, God gave this command to Noah: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man” (Genesis 9:6). It may seem odd to claim that the statement inaugurating capital punishment could be quoted as assigning value to human life. But it is because of man’s value as the image of God that capital punishment was given. To take a human life is considered, in a sense, killing God in effigy.
“Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17 – KJV) has been used as an argument against the taking of a human life in any manner. But the Hebrew word RASAH is not the usual word translated “kill.” It has the idea of taking an innocent human life, whether intentionally or unintentionally. It is translated in most modern translations as “murder,” though in many contexts it could be better translated as “manslaughter.” Elsewhere in the Old Testament, killing in war and as punishment were not only tolerated, but commanded.
However, it is in the New Testament, especially in the words of Jesus that we find out our real value to God. In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus points out (almost incidentally) our value to God. “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” … “Are you not worth much more than they?”
Of course, the greatest demonstration of our value to God is shown in His gift to us: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, what whoever believes in Him, shall not perish, but have eternal Life” (John 3:16). God valued us – loved us – enough to pay an infinite price for our salvation.
I believe a biblical understanding of the value of human life – our value to God – should affect our thinking in every area of ethics. It should affect our thinking and our actions in our attitude about issues such as abortion, and also in other areas. The Christian should be “pro-life” in every area of our dealings This should affect our thinking about poverty, punishment and war. And while we may believe there are biblical reasons for war or capital punishment, I don’t see how we can ever take pleasure in them, as I hear many speaking of. As the LORD says in Ezekiel 33:11: “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked.”