In one of his books, the great preacher and teacher Leslie Weatherhead tells about visiting some friends who had an old dog named Pete. Pete was in sad shape. He tottered about, had a raw spot on his back, and arthritis in his joints. Weatherhead asked his friends, “Why don’t you have Pete put to sleep?” “Oh no,” they said, “Pete is Mike’s dog.” Mike was their son who was away at the university. “If we put old Pete to sleep, what would we say when Mike came home and looked for his beloved dog? We couldn’t bear to say to him, ‘oh, we put him to sleep because he was such a bother and he wasn’t worth saving.”‘
“Not worth saving?” That was the label that Weatherhead could hang on old Pete, but not the parents because of their love for Mike and Mike’s love for old Pete. Love is a heavily value laden term, especially objects of sentimental value. The old dog Pete may not be loved by us but he’s definitely loved and valued by Mike. Can you imagine some cynical angel, like Weatherhead, looking down on the world and saying, “I don’t see why God keeps those mangy humans around? Look how they disobey. Look how wretched most of them are. Why don’t you just wipe them out? They aren’t worth saving!” Morally speaking, we deserve the moral description of being mangy, but the reason why God doesn’t put us down, so to speak, is because our value is based on God’s benevolent love for us. We are God’s creation, made in His image and by virtue of this– human life is sacred because God is sacred; human life is priceless because God is of infinite value and all human life reflects the image of God.
So why does God give us a commandment that all cultures from one degree to another agree that murder (the unlawful taking of a human life) is wrong? Is God being superfluous? By no means!! God (in what some consider stating the obvious) is reinforcing the idea that human life is sacred. If there is no God, all things are permissible… even murder! Apart from God, there is nothing left but (as the late John Paul stated), a culture of death.
A culture of death surrounded ancient Israel. Not only was animal sacrifices acceptable, but also human sacrifice. One of these pagan gods was Moloch. This demon (which Moloch represented) demanded child sacrifice, a practice that ancient Israel picked up. These pagan gods in general reflected the blood thirsty culture of death. It was in the midst of this culture of death that God commands Israel to value life. The term used in the Hebrew is RATZACH; this Hebrew word is never used in connection to the lawful execution of a death penalty or the kind of killing that takes place when a soldier is in a life and death situation that demands killing, nor is this word ever used in connection with hunting or killing animals for cultic reasons. What the bible forbids is not killing, but the unlawful killing of a human being: “You shall not murder.” This ranges from premeditated, cold blooded murder, from voluntary manslaughter (crimes of passion) to involuntary manslaughter (unintentional deaths).
More and more we are living in a culture of death. In our secular and pragmatic society, innocent life is no longer sacred; the value of human life is grounded in its usefulness. If one’s life is no longer useful, but in fact becomes a burden on society, or if one’s life is defective (of no use), then it’s time to abort and sell the parts that are useful. Dr.Peter Singer, Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University’s Center for Human Values, has said, “Killing a defective infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person.” Singer, who is considered the father of the international animal rights movement, has said that children less than one month old have no human consciousness and do not have the same rights as others. (Religion Today, 4/19/99). Even recently in the news we have seen the obscene and callous nature of Planned Parenthood, relegating the value of little aborted babies to the usefulness of their body parts. What is evil about both Planned Parenthood and Dr. Singer and his wicked statement is that personhood is connected to function. If our usefulness is radically compromised then our humanity is dehumanized beneath that of a common beast: ready for the slaughter house, while body parts are auctioned to the highest bidder!
How should we understand this from God’s perspective? Let me share a very important distinction between God’s love and human love.
G K Chesterton notes the difference between human beings loving what we create versus God loving what he creates! He noted that we can only truly love what we create after it comes into being. We can tear down a house halfway and no big deal. But it’s not until a house becomes a home that we have a strong emotional connection. Not so with God. God loves what he creates before it comes into being.
Question—is a baby a human product, something humans construct, not worthy of love until it comes into full being, like a house that can be torn down half way through construction? Or is a baby a divine creation deserving love before he or she is born? Which is it? The answer is obvious.
In conclusion, during the 1840’s in the Fiji Islands of the Pacific, a man was worth $7. You could buy a man for a musket. After you bought him you could starve him, work him, whip him or eat him. Cannibalism was very popular in those regions. But if you went to the Fiji Islands forty years later you could not buy a man for $7 million. What had made the difference? Heroic missionaries like John G. Paton had brought the Gospel. Twelve hundred Christian chapels were scattered over the islands. The people had learned to read a book which says, “You shall not murder.” They had learned to see persons through the eyes of Christ. As we put on Christian lenses and focus on them as persons, killing will stop and God’s Kingdom will draw nearer. What is a human life worth? It’s priceless!!
Soli Deo Gloria