Recently, two different medical cases have captured the essence of the modern debate about the sanctity of human life.
The first case, a very high profile one, is about a young girl who, in December, went in for a routine Tonsillectomy. Something went wrong and the hospital, on December 12th, declared her brain dead.
Her family, however, refuses to believe it. After a court battle with the hospital, the family was allowed to move her to an undisclosed location where she is on life-support.
The second case flips the situation around. In late November, a woman, 14 weeks pregnant, was found unconscious at her home. She turned out to be brain-dead, but the hospital has refused to remove life-support because of a state law requiring them not to remove life sustaining measures on someone who is pregnant. Her family wants the life-support removed and is suing the hospital to force them to do just that.
In both of these cases, a hundred years ago, there would have been no debate—they all would be buried in the ground. But because of modern medical technology allowed us by God’s providence, we can bring someone back from the brink of death or keep them in a shadowy lane between life and death.
In short, we can play god like we’ve never done before. This has opened up a wide ranging debate in modern times on the sanctity of human life. When can we take a life? When do we save a life? These and other related questions are crucial in the abortion debate and the euthanasia debate.
Euthanasia, for those unfamiliar with the term, literally means “good death” and refers to various ways that a patient might choose to have his or her doctor help him end his life. Physician-assisted suicide is another related term. There’s much more to euthanasia than that, but that’s enough for us to know right now.
God has given us the responsibility in recent years to be able to make life and death choices. How do we handle this responsibility? How do we handle this responsibility in a Biblical way and with Biblical values and principles?
First, we need to understand a little about how the culture that we live in makes decisions:
I. THE CULTURE: THE RELATIVE VALUE OF LIFE
A. How The Culture Makes Decisions
Our culture today doesn’t use Christian values to make these decisions. Christian values are absolute because they are based on the Bible. The old saying goes, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.”
Instead of making decisions based on the absolute authority of Bible, most people make decisions in a relativistic way. Relativism is the opposite of absolute; Relativism says that truth depends on the person, the situation, or whatever. A relativistic person might say, “What is true for you is true only for you, it’s not true for me.”
The value-system that is increasingly being used to make end-of-life decisions could be called “The Quality Of Life” value-system. You’ve probably heard of it, and maybe even used it. It goes something like this: Grandma is so sick that she will never have a good life. What many people are saying now is that Grandma needs to die.
It’s a relative value versus an absolute value. Someone decides that the person’s life isn’t valuable any longer, so they should get out of the way. Make room in the hospitals for younger patients who have their lives ahead of them; quit wasting resources on older, especially terminally-ill, people.
Richard Lamm, the former governor of Colorado, believes that giving too much medical attention to the elderly is creating an unsustainable burden on our society and economy (see http://www.denverpost.com/opinion/ci_24082751/societys-unsustainable-burden)
In other words, your value as a human being is relative—it depends on what you can give back to the culture and how many resources you cost the culture in order to maintain your life.
It’s the same way in the abortion of babies. The baby might not be convenient for the mother and father to have—sometimes it’s a financial burden, other times it’s not the boy they were hoping for, or it’s a baby that has Down’s syndrome.
Relativism says that it wouldn’t be good for the parents or the baby, so they kill the baby. In this, the value of human life is based on the relative values of the person, not on the absolute values of the Bible.
B. Where Does Relativism Take Us?
The value of human beings cannot be determined by age, health, abilities, etc. If you allow relative values to determine the value of a human being, then where does it stop?
We can abort a baby practically at any time within the womb. Where does that stop? Some people are advocating that an infant doesn’t have value until they are a certain age.
For example, Francis Crick, the Nobel prize-winning biologist, has advocated legislation mandating that newborn babies would not be considered legally alive until they were two days old and had been certified as healthy by medical examiners.
Former Senator Charles Percy of Illinois argued that abortion is a good deal for the taxpayer because it is considerably cheaper than welfare.
Winston L. Duke, a nuclear physicist, stated that reason should define a human being as life that demonstrates self-awareness, volition, and rationality. Since some people do not manifest these qualities, some are not human.
Finally, Ashley Montagu, a British anthropologist, believes that a baby is not born human. Instead, it is born with a capacity for becoming human as he or she is molded by social and cultural influences. (James P. Eckman, Biblical Ethics: Choosing Right in a World Gone Wrong, Biblical Essentials Series [Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004], 17)
If you allow terminally ill patients to be euthanized because the quality of their life has diminished, where does it stop? Does the person who is too old to work and can’t get along without help get euthanized? Again, there are those who would advocate for this.
I know some might argue that they would never go that far. But once you hop on the boat of relativism, there is nothing left to anchor you to the shore. Sooner or later, you will drift. If not you, then the next generation that buys into the relativistic decision making process.
Biblical Christianity says that there is a God and he has made his will known in a book—the Bible—so that there are moral absolutes. What are these? That’s where we turn to next.
II. THE BIBLE: THE ABSOLUTE VALUE OF LIFE
What does the Bible say about the sanctity of human life—the value of human beings? Unlike evolution, which says that we are products of billions of years of chance and chemicals and DNA, the Bible places a very high value on life.
By the way, one reason that euthanasia and abortion are supported by so many is because of an increasing acceptance of evolution. If we are simply bags of DNA that, when we die, are nothing more than decaying chemicals, then what’s the big deal?
The fact that there is debate on the matter is only because the Christian values that built this culture are still hanging around in even the atheists and cause us to be disgusted with the thought of killing people.
But atheists have to admit that, if they followed their atheism to the logical end, there’s nothing to keep people from killing each other except maybe someone else killing them for them for what they did. Evolution is simply the survival of the fittest. One atheist recently wrote:
[We atheists] imagine there are reasons to obey laws, be polite, protect the weak etc. Rubbish…Outside of my greedy little gene’s need to reproduce, there is nothing in my world that stops me from killing you and reproducing with your wife. Only the fear that I might be incarcerated and thus be deprived of the opportunity to do the same with the next guy’s wife stops me…
I know it’s not PC to speak so bluntly about the ramifications of our beliefs…Maybe it’s time we Atheists were a little more truthful and let the chips fall where they may. At least that’s what my genes are telling me to say” (http://winteryknight.wordpress.com/2014/01/16/an-atheist-explains-the-real-consequences-of-adopting-an-atheistic-worldview/?utm_content=buffer5f1a1&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer)
You will see more of this devaluing of human life as we near the end. The Bible, however, places a high value on human life. First, it says that…
A. We Are Fearfully and Wonderfully Made
Psalm 139:13 For thou hast possessed my reins: Thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb.
Psalm 139:14 I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: Marvellous are thy works; And that my soul knoweth right well.
Psalm 139:15 My substance was not hid from thee, When I was made in secret, And curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Psalm 139:16 Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; And in thy book all my members were written, Which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.
“I am fearfully and wonderfully made:”
What does it mean to be “fearfully…made”? The word “fear” in the Bible doesn’t always refer to being afraid, but rather to having reverence and awe towards someone. A God-fearing person is not someone who is afraid of God, but someone who reverences God and is in awe of God.
So when it says that we are “fearfully…made,” it doesn’t mean that God was afraid when he made us, it means that God’s creation of humans is a reverent and awesome creation.
The word “wonderfully” refers to being differently made. I think that it means that each of us are uniquely different. Out of the billions of people alive, or who have been alive—we are each special and unique. There’s no one quite like you, even if you have a twin.
These verses tell us that God himself is the source of human life. Just as he formed Adam from the dust of the ground and Eve from Adam’s rib, so also he knits together every human life in the womb. Somehow, among the DNA and the division and replication of cells, God himself is involved in the production of human life.
That fact, in of itself, gives life a great value. And wherever we are involved in the making or taking of life, we are treading in the territory of the Creator God.
We should make sure that we are acting in accordance to his revealed will. The Bible says that we can take life only in very specific circumstances—abortion and euthanasia are not among those circumstances.
Now someone might point out that if God is involved in making of human life, can we not say that he is involved in the making of all animal life—and that all life therefore should be valued equally?
First, it doesn’t say here that God is involved in the same way in the creation of animal life, so we shouldn’t assume that he is.
Secondly, Genesis is very clear that human life is a special creation of God’s. Let’s turn there now.
B. We Are Made In God’s Image
Genesis One and Two both tell about how God created—they are not, as some think, two contradictory accounts of creation. Genesis One is concerned with the creation in general, while Genesis Two focuses on the creation of mankind.
The mere fact that there is a separate creation chapter in the Bible that focuses on mankind is evidence that human life is more valuable than the other parts of creation.
1. Dust And Spirit
Genesis 2:7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
In the first chapter, God speaks and the earth, oceans, animals and so forth are created. In this chapter, we discover that God created man (and later woman) in a unique way.
First, he “formed man of the dust of the ground.” Why? Dust is a symbol of lowliness. This was no special dust—not gold dust—but just common dust. As such, we are created to be in submission to God. In the next chapter, the entrance of sin into the world brought about death, and death separates the spirit from the body, leaving the body to return to what it was made of:
19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. (Genesis 3:19)
But we are not just dust. The Lord “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.”
I think the two-part creation of Adam is very important. On the one hand, we have the breath of God within us. We are made special. But we are not gods, we are made of the dust. There’s a high part of our creation, and there’s a balancing low part.
It is the breath of God that is the glory of man. The word for “breath” in the Bible, in the Old Testament Hebrew (ruach) and in the New Testament Greek (pneuma), is same word for “spirit.” God has breathed some of his spirit into mankind.
2. The Image Of God
The same idea is expressed differently in Genesis 1:26-27—
Genesis 1:26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
Genesis 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
Being in the image of God means that, in many ways, we are like God. We are rational and creative, we have a sense of morality and justice, we can love and hate. There are some animals that have a degree of some of those things, but in all creation, humans are the most like God.
Human beings are also the only creatures with a spiritual side to us—we pray, we ponder our meaning and our existence, we consider the Creator.
Yet, these are not the most important features of being in the image of God. If they were, then would an embryo or a baby in the womb or a small infant be considered in the image of God? Or how about someone with severe brain damage or mental retardation?
They can be very limited in mental abilities, emotional expression, morality and justice, and they don’t pray or wonder about their Creator. Some animals have even been tested to have a greater IQ than babies or toddlers.
So mental, emotional, and spiritual abilities cannot be the only part of being in the image of God.
The main thing about the image of God is not that it is some ability that humans have that animals don’t have or don’t have as much, being in the image of God is simply what we are. As humans, we are the image of God.
A child, for example, might not have the same abilities as her parents. She might not have the same interests. And, if she is mentally handicapped, she might not even be close to the same level of intelligence or physical beauty. But despite all that, the child is still the parent’s child, she still bears a likeness, she still shares the same DNA—the child is in the image of the parent.
Being in the image of God is not primarily about our abilities, it’s about who we are. We alone are God’s image-bearers on this planet. We are not highly evolved animals, we are images of the Creator himself.
We are fearfully and wonderfully made, we are made in God’s image, and…
C. We Are Worth Saving
The classic Gospel verse tells us that:
16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
Why are we worth saving? Why are we worth sending Jesus to die for us? This is a critical question in salvation, and a question that relates, as you’ll see, to euthanasia and abortion.
We are not worth saving because of the good works we’ve done. You cannot earn your salvation by praying the rosary faithfully, or being baptized by immersion, or being a member of a good church, or being the kindest and most helpful person in town.
We tend to value our worth by what we can do. That’s why elderly people can be so frustrated when they can’t do what they used to do.
That’s why euthanasia sounds like a good option to many people: if you have out-lived your usefulness, you should just die.
That’s why abortion is such an easy way out for many people: “I can’t do what I feel makes me useful if I have a baby, and a baby can’t do anything but use up my time and energy.” All that is relativistic thinking.
God doesn’t love you based on your usefulness; he loves you because he made you and that’s the absolute truth!
But despite God’s love for us, we’ve walked away. We are prodigal sons and daughters. We’ve doubted him and mistrusted his intentions. That sort of rebellion isn’t quietly swept under the rug. It requires repayment. It requires justice. But God loves us and sent his Son to die for us so that we can be saved.
Your value, whether you are a baby in the womb or a elderly person who can’t move anymore and can’t remember your own children or anyone in-between, is so great in God’s eyes that Jesus willingly died for your sins on the cross.
Let that sink in.
It’s not what you do that makes you valuable. It’s who you are. You were created by God and he loves you. Have you also been redeemed by him? Have you received his free gift of salvation bought for you by Jesus’ blood? Are you still a prodigal running from God—or do you belong to him?