In some of my recent posts I’ve been exploring what it means that we are made in God’s image. Today I want to look at what this tells us about the value of human life.
NOTE to small group leaders : I’m including this post in the Small Groups category because this is an issue that some of you may want to discuss in your small groups.
My mother died in April 2008, having lived almost eighty-six years. She had been an active, vital woman for most of her life, staying in vibrant good health through her seventies and into her eighties. But early in her eighties, she began showing occasional signs of confusion and mild memory loss. Eventually a geriatric assessment revealed that she was suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. My father cared for her at home until she suffered a severe stroke in September 2006, as a result of which she required a level of care that could not be offered at home.
Throughout the years of Mom’s slow decline with Alzheimers, and the year and a half that she was hospitalized after her stroke, all her loved ones did our best to keep communicating with her. It wasn’t easy, especially for Dad, but we wanted to continue to honour her and care for her while we had the opportunity.
Even though most of my siblings would not claim Christian faith for themselves, I believe we were in part operating out of a deep-seated conviction that Mom’s life continued to have intrinsic value despite her condition. Certainly that was, and is, my conviction. In that conviction, Marion and I talked to Mom about Jesus a couple of weeks after she had had her stroke and was still struggling to communicate. We encouraged her to put her trust in Him when she seemed fearful, and noticed that she became much more peaceful after we had prayed. Even months later, after she had become much less responsive, we continued to speak to her as if she could hear and understand. We did this believing that her spirit was alive, even though her mind and body were failing.
Although all creatures are of value because they came from the hand of God, Jesus made it clear that people are of more value to God than sheep or sparrows . He did not say that only people who are well have value. On the contrary, he healed lepers, whom most wouldn’t touch, and spent time with those that society had discarded. By shedding his blood for our redemption, Jesus underscored the high value that God places on every human life. God’s image in us is worth so much to God that Jesus died to see that image restored!
When Mom was close to the end of her life, her loved ones agreed that if her life began to ebb away, artificial life support would not be used to keep her alive. I was completely at pleace with that decision because it respects the ultimate sovereignty of God. However, I could never have agreed to either euthanasia or assisted suicide. Her life came from the hand of God, and not being God, I lacked the wisdom and authority to say that her life was no longer worth living.
Once we accept the conviction that some human lives are of more value than others, we are on a slippery slope that can lead to all kinds of abuse. The thinking that justifies assisted suicide at end of life will inevitably lead to increased suicide rates for people of all ages, probably especially teens who are prone to emotional highs and lows. After all, when you are depressed, you sometimes feel life isn’t worth living. Time to end it all? If your friendly purveyors of assisted suicide are available to help you on your way, why not?
Though euthanasia against the patient’s will is not officially sanctioned yet, there is good reason to believe that it is already occurring in the Netherlands and perhaps elsewhere. Where will this slippery slope lead? Adolf Hitler’s evolutionary belief system, with its conviction that some forms of human life were more evolved and therefore more valuable than others, led to the Nazi holocaust and was used to justify innumerable medical experiments, some of extreme cruelty. I don’t want to live in Hitler’s world – do you?
I am moved by the story of a South American AIDS patient who wanted to be euthanized, but changed his mind when someone took the time to become his friend. We can’t always trust our own perception of the value of our existence – especially when we are under extreme stress. The Bible says that the human heart is easily deceived. Only a robust belief system that is convinced of the value and purpose of human life can withstand the assault of the culture of death.
Believing that all people are made in God’s image means that we respect human life from beginning to end. It also affects how we treat those around us. Our society is not only increasingly tolerant of both abortion and euthanasia, it is also increasingly given to elder abuse, bullying, hazing, sexting, putdowns as a form of humour, and various other more subtle expressions of the conviction that some human lives matter more than others.
Christ-followers are called to live according to a different set of values than the world around us. As society gets darker and a culture of death and despair takes root, we are called to let our minds be renewed by the Word of God so that we can represent the values of the Kingdom of God and be salt and light in a world that desparately needs hope.