The sanctity of life from conception to natural death

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The sanctity of life from conception to natural death

April 25, 2024 -

sonogram photo of baby in utero By Alfons Photographer/stock.adobe.com

sonogram photo of baby in utero By Alfons Photographer/stock.adobe.com

sonogram photo of baby in utero By Alfons Photographer/stock.adobe.com

“Suppose a nation in some distant region should take the Bible for their only law book, and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited. What a Utopia! What a paradise this region would be” (John Adams).

This article is intended to make a logical case for thinking biblically and acting redemptively. We therefore began with the necessity of objective truth, without which all that follows can be dismissed as simply “my truth.” We proceeded to the necessity of personal faith in Christ, understanding that we need the transforming power of God to be the people of character our culture needs so desperately.

Now we shift to specific cultural issues for which we need to think biblically and act redemptively by the power of the Spirit. The first is foundational to the others: the sanctity of all human life. Thinking and living effectively with regard to biblical sexuality, race and gender equality, political civility, and cultural engagement is dependent on the way we view life itself.

For example, philosopher Peter Singer claims, “There’s no reason to say humans have more worth or moral status than animals.” If we agree, then we will treat ourselves and others the way we treat animals—as commodities to be used for our purposes.

But we don’t have to go as far as Singer does:

  • When we engage in sexual immorality, we denigrate our sacred worth and that of others, choosing the flesh over the spirit and living by lust rather than God’s love.
  • When we lie, cheat, or steal, we treat our victims as less than the imago Dei, image-bearers of the Divine (Genesis 1:27).
  • When we use political and cultural engagement for selfish purposes rather than the common good, we seek to be our own god (Genesis 3:5) at the expense of others.

If every American viewed every other American as God does, the transformation in our nation would be swift and systemic. Think of the effect on crime rates, substance abuse, pornography, sex trafficking, and our other ills.

John Adams thought such a land would be a “paradise.” The word comes from Persian culture, where it referred to the walled garden of the king. When we love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31), we please our Lord and experience his presence in transforming ways.

When we reject the sanctity of human life, by contrast, we forfeit God’s best for ourselves and our culture. We live as fallen people in a fallen world, with disastrous consequences.

In the book of Judges, “There was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

We are in such a time today.

How did we get here?

The road to devaluing life, like the road to devaluing truth, is long and convoluted. However, we can set out some key markers.

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Separating clergy and laity

Early Christianity embraced the value and ministry of all believers. We are each parts of the “body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:27) with kingdom assignments and purposes of eternal significance. The purpose of Christian leaders was to equip all Christians for their ministries (Ephesians 4:11–12). There was no recognized “clergy” in distinction to the “laity.” Jesus died for all and embraces all as his children (cf. Galatians 3:28).

However, as the Christian movement spread beyond its Jewish cultural roots, it began encountering Greco-Roman paganism. In a time when there were no printed Bibles and literacy rates were low, the threat of heresy creeping into the church was real.

By the third century, Christian leaders “solved” this problem by elevating those called to preach, teach, and lead to the status of “clergy” (the “called” ones) and gave them the authority and responsibility of interpreting biblical truth for their followers (the “laity,” meaning the “people”). This division of authority was undoubtedly well-intentioned, a move that would protect the less literate from theological error and temptation.

However, the result over the succeeding generations was the unstated sense that some Christians are more valuable to the kingdom than others. When the monastic movement began, this stratification of the “truly spiritual” from others accelerated. As church buildings proliferated, clergy had a place to live and work while laity came to watch them perform. The creeds and councils of the Church further isolated the unlearned laity from their learned leaders.

The result was the separation of culture and people into the “sacred” and the “secular.” Some people and activities are more valuable to God, or so we think, and thus should be more valuable to us. Lay people cannot do what clergy do, so we are free to live our lives so long as we pay their salaries and support their activities.

Such a compartmentalization of life is radically unbiblical. God created all that is and pronounced it good. Jesus called his followers to take up their cross “daily” (Luke 9:23), not just on Sunday. We are to be “crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20), to present our bodies as a “living” sacrifice (Romans 12:1), to be “filled” and controlled by the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) in every dimension of our lives, not just our religious activities.

Now, in a secularized society like ours, the separation of secular from sacred has served to denigrate the sacred wherever we find it. Including the sacred status of our very lives.

When people became animals

A second obstacle to the sanctity of human life was constructed by Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theories and their monumental effect on our society.

Prior to Darwin’s 1851 publication, On the Origin of Species, it was conventional wisdom that God created the world and everything in it, conferring on life a sense of divine purpose and significance. Darwin, however, claimed that life itself could be explained in purely naturalistic terms. He argued that you and I are the products of processes that have no need of divine agency.

In this view, humans are no more sacred than any other animals or organisms. We evolved from lower life forms that were not made in God’s image any more than we are.

Despite the massive problems with Darwin’s theories, millions of people now assume that his assumptions are incontrovertible and foundational to a proper view of the world. They therefore see people visiting a zoo as no more unique or sacred than the animals they come to visit.

Tragically, this biological redefinition of humans has been absolutely transformative for Western society.

The rise of capitalistic commodification

Capitalism arose with the Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth century, establishing factory work and divisions of labor as the dominant mode of production in our society. One result of this massive advance for humans was the commodification of work and the products it produced.

Factory workers became cogs in a much larger wheel, each responsible for only a small part of the eventual outcome their labor made possible. The growth of industries and institutions fueled by mass production stratified people into “management” and “labor.” Your salary became commensurate with your place on this ladder.

In short, you became a means to the company’s ends.

In exchange for such sublimation of your individual uniqueness, you were privileged to live in a society with higher standards of living than ever before in human history. More products and experiences than ever were available for purchase and consumption.

Over time, we learned to value our work as our employer evaluated us and our success as our neighbors evaluated us—by our achievements and possessions. Our intrinsic worth as creations of the God who loves us was subjugated to the rising materialism and commodification of our lives and society.

The sexual revolution

The so-called sexual revolution will be the subject of our next chapter. For our present purposes, we should identify some of its consequences with regard to the sanctity of human life:

  • Pornography and prostitution that objectify, commodify, and often abuse men and women
  • Child pornography
  • Sex trafficking
  • More than sixty million aborted babies
  • Gender confusion often leading to surgical and chemical damage that is often irreparable and irreversible
  • The denigration of biblical morality and marriage along with their elevation of humans as image-bearers of our Creator

As we will see, the tenets of this “revolution” are continuing to mold the minds and characters of millions in our culture. We can therefore expect the disastrous consequences identified above to escalate in coming generations.

The escalation of euthanasia

“Death with dignity” is the latest euphemism for what has long been called “euthanasia,” or the decision to end one’s life. In recent years, more states than ever before have legalized this practice and enjoined physicians to assist their patients in choosing it. Canada and many European countries have gone even further, providing such “care” for terminally ill children and infirm senior adults who clearly cannot make such a choice with true autonomy.

This movement is one symptom of the rising utilitarianism in our culture. As we have seen, our society increasingly values us based on how we look, what we do, and how well we impress others with how we look and what we do. When our utility to society begins to ebb, so does our value, or so many think.

They ask: What can the terminally, acutely, or even chronically ill contribute to society? Wouldn’t they be better off if they ended their lives “with dignity”? Wouldn’t we? Wouldn’t we save the enormous financial burdens of medical and social care for such people?

Of course, once we start down this road, there’s no logical place to stop. If the infirm or terminally ill should end their lives, what about those with developmental challenges? (Iceland has virtually eliminated Down syndrome babies by aborting them.) What about those facing depression or other mental health challenges? What of those whose job skills are no longer relevant? The list goes on and on.

Four ways to value life

What is the way forward?

One: Embrace the biblical truth that life is sacred from conception to natural death.

Two: Discover ways to defend life in its manifold varieties and challenges. For example, there are scores of articles and resources about abortion on our website. I have written often on euthanasia as well (here is one example).

Three: Pray daily for our leaders and those you influence to choose life.

Four: Find practical ways to support life where you live. You can support pro-life pregnancy ministries, for example, or volunteer to support seniors in your community. Your church can minister to those facing at-risk pregnancies or other issues as well.

Conclusion

I have visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, scores of times over the years. Each time, I paused before a statement by the poet Kurt Tucholsky inscribed on one of its walls: “A country is not just what it does—it is also what it tolerates.”

His statement applied clearly to the Third Reich’s denigration of the Jews, but it also applies in many ways to American culture today. Let us no longer tolerate the ending and denigrating of life. Rather, let us embrace a pro-life worldview with our attitudes, prayers, and actions, to the glory of God.

Alistair Begg is right: “There is no one who is insignificant in the purpose of God.”

No exceptions.

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