The sanctity of human life. Is it still a sacred concept or an adage that doesn’t apply in today’s society?
Focus on the Family believes that human life is of inestimable worth and significance in all its dimensions, including the preborn, the aged, the widowed, the mentally handicapped, the unattractive, the physically challenged and every other condition in which humanness is expressed from conception to the grave. Without a doubt, human life is sacred. At some point in your life you may have even expressed these words in one form or another trying to explain your pro-life views. Respect for the sanctity of human life is at the center of all we do as Christians.
So what does that look like and how can we incorporate it into our daily lives?
Our Judeo-Christian tradition teaches us the sanctity of human life. The Bibles says in Genesis 1:27: “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Having been made in the image of God means so much more than receiving certain abilities and attributes. It means we actually are the images of God.
What a privilege! No other “creation” of God can say that! Each of us carries the image of the creator. We are not merely flesh and blood. Since we are image-bearers of the Living God, our lives are sacred, based on something beyond our unique characteristics and abilities. This image or likeness of God is not tangible: you can’t see, touch or smell it. It’s part of the mystery of life.
Being made in the image of God provides us as humans with direction and guidance regarding how we treat one another. Men, women and children should be respected, regardless of their mental capacity, physical ability, faith (or absence of faith) or social position. These people may or may not exhibit attributes of God, but that doesn’t determine their worth. Their value is established on the basis of the nature of God, who is the perfect example of dignity and holiness.
The sacredness of human life is not based on accepting Jesus Christ as Savior. Every human life, Christian or not, has inestimable value because each life is created in the image of God. Each human spirit is a mirror image of the likeness of Yahweh. This is not just reserved for Christians, but extends to all members of the human family.
How do we define human dignity?
Human dignity is innate, bestowed upon us by God. It’s not based on our ability to care for ourselves or even the competence to complete the task. Dignity is not a concept that can be forfeited, so being dependent on others cannot cause us to lose our dignity.
Our culture’s failure to honor human dignity is evidenced in words like “quality of life”. People would rather die than continue living with a disability. Dependency is looked upon as the ultimate weakness. From that attitude comes the press for cultural acceptance of solutions such as euthanasia, instead of giving compassionate care to those who cannot care for themselves.
A common fear among the disabled or terminally ill is that of becoming a burden. No one is immune to this fear. We can restore human dignity through our witness of caring for each other, even in our times of dependence and need. The challenge is before us. We need to reestablish the Sanctity of Human Life ethic in our generation and we must begin with the church. Even as Christians, we fail to comprehend the value of every human life because we cease to look at each other in awe.
Our view of one another should be as breathtaking creatures, embodying a touch of the Creator Himself. Churches must lead the way by teaching the truth about the value of life from a biblical worldview.
So how can you help restore the Sanctity of Human Life ethic?
Begin the restoration in your own heart! Routinely examine your heart for attitudes that violate the spirit of the Sanctity of Human Life ethic. It can take on many forms including disdain for someone we don’t know based on his or her appearance, a negative comment made under our breath or impatience with a slow driver. The sins of superiority, contempt and slander are far more frequent and easier to hide than the physical crimes of assault, rape or murder.
We need to teach the next generation a respect for all human life. Parents should teach their children through word and deed. Together we can restore the beauty and reverence our Creator intended by restoring dignity to humankind.
Carrie Gordon Earll is the Senior Policy Analyst for Bioethics at CitizenLink (an affiliate of Focus on the Family) and a fellow with the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity.
The First Nine Months booklet lays out fetal development in tasteful photos and medical facts.
The 2010 Sanctity of Human Life Guide provides more information on the value of life from fertilization to natural death.