Compassion: A Fourteen-Day Journey #10


How Much Is a Life worth?

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As easy as it is for us to grow thick skin from the daily diet of violence served up by the media, most of us still cringe when we read about the Ammonites’ brutality to the people of Gilead, Israel’s territory east of Galilee. Respect for human life is always at stake during wartime, but in this case, the Ammonites’ unnecessary torture and violence toward their victims is an example of how life was devalued during the time.

In our day, we struggle with ethical dilemmas in the areas of reproduction, biotechnology and death. How can the sanctity of life be preserved in our world–where scientific advances are complex and confusing, where technology changes at an ever-increasing speed? Evangelical leader Charles Colson addresses issues related to abortion, stem cell research and euthanasia in a discussion under the heading “What Is Life Worth?” Some poignant paragraphs follow:

Life and death become judgment calls, subject in some cases to ethics committees’ determinations and hospital guidelines. But who decides what our ethics will be? If there is no truth, there are no true ethics, only prudential standards that reasonable people try to apply. So the best-intentioned doctors in the world have to make judgment calls, ever aware of the costs involved for the hospital in which they are staff members. Aware of the patient’s suffering, pressured to handle as many cases as possible, embroiled in a quality-of-life matrix, the white-coated doctor becomes god, with nothing like God’s judgment.

I don’t want to be misunderstood here. Max’s Colson’s grandson’s autism is not a good thing–it’s part of the world’s brokenness. Yet that brokenness has been used to enlarge my capacity to love. That’s a very great gift. Paradoxically, Max has introduced joy into the lives of his teachers, his mother, her grandparents, and many others because of these costs, these sacrifices. How should one account for that?

How should Max account for himself, and why should he have to? Max is more than happy to be alive, thank you very much. Max knows a joy and wonder that puts me to shame. Why is that?

Let me just suggest at this point it’s because the good life is not about the sum total of what we contribute to the world. It’s about loving. Utilitarianism knows nothing about love. Love is the beginning and the end of the good life, however, and it’s in love that our lives must be centered.

The issue that has to be decided is clear if we’re willing to see it If we are creatures made in the image of God, then life has an ultimate value that cannot be understood within the context of a cost-benefit analysis. How much is a human life worth? Is it priceless, or is it determined by the preferences of the powerful? It all depends on how human life comes about, which has given rise to a raging debate in our society.

AMOS 1:3-15 NKJV

Thus says the Lord : “For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, Because they have threshed Gilead with implements of iron. But I will send a fire into the house of Hazael, Which shall devour the palaces of Ben-Hadad. I will also break the gate  bar of Damascus, And cut off the inhabitant from the Valley of Aven, And the one who holds the scepter from Beth Eden. The people of Syria shall go captive to Kir,” Says the Lord . Thus says the Lord : “For three transgressions of Gaza, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, Because they took captive the whole captivity To deliver them up to Edom. But I will send a fire upon the wall of Gaza, Which shall devour its palaces. I will cut off the inhabitant from Ashdod, And the one who holds the scepter from Ashkelon; I will turn My hand against Ekron, And the remnant of the Philistines shall perish,” Says the Lord God . Thus says the Lord : “For three transgressions of Tyre, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, Because they delivered up the whole captivity to Edom, And did not remember the covenant of brotherhood. But I will send a fire upon the wall of Tyre, Which shall devour its palaces.” Thus says the Lord : “For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, Because he pursued his brother with the sword, And cast off all pity; His anger tore perpetually, And he kept his wrath forever. But I will send a fire upon Teman, Which shall devour the palaces of Bozrah.” Thus says the Lord : “For three transgressions of the people of Ammon, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, Because they ripped open the women with child in Gilead, That they might enlarge their territory. But I will kindle a fire in the wall of Rabbah, And it shall devour its palaces, Amid shouting in the day of battle, And a tempest in the day of the whirlwind. Their king shall go into captivity, He and his princes together,” Says the Lord .

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