Value of Life and Death

The words of a modern Christian song sum up well some of the values of our modern world. “United States of America, looks like another silent night, as we’re sung to sleep by philosophies that save the trees and kill the children” (Casting Crowns, “While You Were Sleeping”).

Almost every day the news mentions soldiers from Canada and the USA who have given their lives in service in Afghanistan or Iraq. No one denies the value of each life lost, the sacrifice of families who will grieve the deaths of sons and daughters fighting overseas. Yet little or no mention is made of the multitudes of unborn infants who die in hospitals and clinics from abortions every day. Even less mention is made of physician assisted suicide (PAS), common in the Netherlands and Switzerland, and quietly growing in states, such as Washington and Oregon, where it is legal.

Men like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and bin Laden, are paragons of our time for their wholesale destruction of human life, yet the very society and culture we live in shows by its actions that it places a similar lack of value on life.

This should be no surprise. It is the expected end point of a humanistic world view adopted widely after WWII by most of the western world. A rejection of God’s role as Creator, then rejection of the existence of God altogether has left a void which must be filled. And so man crowns himself as god and an ethic of moral relativism becomes the new code of behavior. There is no longer an absolute right and wrong; as long as you like something, it is right for you. Thus an unwanted pregnancy is called an “unplanned conception,” the killing of a fetus, a “therapeutic termination,” the choice of a terminally ill patient to commit suicide, his/her “right to die.” The terms used remove responsibility for sin, even obscuring the facts of moral decisions.

What does the Bible say about the value of the human life? David marveled at God’s personal interest in His creation and plan for his life: “For You formed my inward parts; You knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made … My frame was not hidden from You, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in Your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Psa 139:13-16, ESV).

In a store you pay a premium for an item marked, “handcrafted.” It is not mass produced in an automated process where one item is no different than the thousand others produced in the factory it originated from. Likewise, we are crafted by God as individuals, with a future and a purpose, while still in the womb (Jer 1:5)! God places the highest value on each life so created. His response to the first recorded sin of a man born into this world shows this: “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground” (Gen 4:10, ESV).

The taking of a life before a child is born, or when a person is near to death is equally abhorrent to our Creator. In Exodus 21:22-25, if a pregnant woman lost her child due to injury received from two men fighting God demanded “life for life,” placing equal value on the fetus as a grown man. In 2 Samuel 1 an Amalekite lost his life when he claimed to have helped wounded King Saul in assisted euthanasia. God alone claims authority to take life (Deut 32:39).

For most Christians, the abortion issue is straightforward. Possible dilemmas are not part of our life experience; for some believers they are. A couple finds out from a routine ultrasound study that their unborn child has a condition incompatible with life, or the mother begins to hemorrhage and the only way to save her life is by ending the pregnancy. Suddenly what seemed to be a clear right and wrong is now a desperately complicated decision.

However, for all of us, the end of life is a real issue. We hope to bypass death with the call to the air by Christ (1 Thess 4); but those who are older or have health problems that make death a less than distant possibility should consider how to die a good death.

Dying is no longer a simple issue as modern medicine has the ability to sustain life far beyond what was possible even a few years ago. How does a Christian, a person created by God who values life, die, for “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psa 116:15)? It has been said that we die the way we live. If we live by faith we die with faith, entering eternity with a secure knowledge of our destiny: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me” (Psa 23:4, ESV). The Bible likens death for a believer to sleep, a temporary rest for the believer’s body until the body rises in resurrection (1 Thess 4:13-18).

Christians, however, do not always die in their sleep or praying on their knees. Sometimes death is gradual; a good death can take some advance planning. If a believer’s death is a fight with every possible technology brought to bear to prevent the inevitable passing, this may be a practical denial of the fact that death has already been defeated for us by Christ. So, if we want our death to be consistent with our faith, an advance directive and a detailed discussion of our values should take place with the person who will act if we are incapacitated. This must be especially true if that person acting on our behalf is not a believer. The challenge lies in knowing when to pursue life-sustaining treatment and when to seek comfort care alone. There is no explicit answer in Scripture, nor can we make a rule that will apply to every situation. But Paul’s attitude (Phil 1:20-26) gives an excellent framework for a decision.

Paul speaks of the quandary he has in deciding whether to hope for continued life on earth or to hope for heaven. He decides life is his first choice while he can serve others, but “to depart and be with Christ” is his hope otherwise. Actively seeking death is always wrong, even in the presence of intense suffering. God often allows such circumstances to demonstrate His sustaining power and grace. Many saints have had a bright testimony to the unsaved as they endured great pain in dying. However, in contrast, vainly requesting life support for a loved one already clinically dead shows more of a fear of separation than a hope of heaven.

Life is valued by God as He is the Creator, so we are to value life. Sometimes the value we place on life will be evident in our death. Whether living or dying, let us glorify Him.