Over the past few weeks our country has been in turmoil. Coming off of the challenging fight against COVID-19, we see video clips of a white police officer with his knee on the neck of an African American man. This video followed one from south Georgia where white men tried to take the law into their own hands, resulting in the death of another African American man. We grieve over these deaths, but we also grieve about protests that turned violent in cities across the country, resulting in many more deaths and much destruction.
The Bible teaches that every man, woman, boy, and girl has special dignity, which comes from God himself. God is the only one with the right to determine life and death. This foundational truth of human dignity has implications for these of the last few weeks and many other issues we experience.
What you believe about racism, abortion, murder, suicide, and even animal rights, and people special needs/ handicaps, and other medical ethics questions all flow from the basic question of whether or not every person is sealed by God with special dignity.
The major presupposition that Christians hold is that God created people in his image. In Genesis 1:26–27, God’s Word says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
When God created humanity, he did so in a way that made humans distinct from all of the rest of creation. All people have special value just because they are stamped with God’s image. We all think and reason. We each have an immortal soul. Humans are given dominion over the rest of God’s creation.
Later in Genesis, God told Noah that murder was a capital crime because it involves taking the life of one created in God’s image. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Gen 9:6). It doesn’t matter who you murder, if you take the life of another person unjustly, you are guilty of assaulting someone made in God’s image and will answer to God for that.
This presupposition directly affects how people live. Let’s work out some of the implications of this biblical assumption and see how consistent we are living with them.
First, man is separate from and over the animal kingdom. Some people think man is merely another mammal––in fact, just an evolved monkey. That is another presupposition with considerable implications. One is that if you tell people they are just animals long enough, they start acting like it. Do you really want people to act out “survival of the fittest” in your neighborhood? Wouldn’t it be better to love your neighbor as yourself, as Jesus taught?
By the way, there is also something called worldview borrowing. The “survival of the fittest” neighborhood ethic is an example of this. Most of your neighbors that believe in naturalistic evolution don’t really try to live out all of the repercussions of survival of the fittest in daily life. Many of them are great friends and neighbors, often sacrificing themselves to help you out. I won’t tell Darwin if you don’t.
As much as we can enjoy our pets, things get confusing when people try to elevate animals to the level of people. This is God’s world. He set up its order. It is good and right for people made in God’s image to care for his creation, including the animals. But that never implies that we are exactly the same as the animals.
Second, government can never take away or grant the dignity of any person. Our government’s job is to recognize the worth that is already there and act accordingly. The founders of our country acknowledged this when they wrote in the Declaration of Independence about the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness granted by our Creator.
Sadly, some Christians have not always lived consistently with this assumption. Even the founder’s of our country didn’t see their arrogant inconsistency in allowing people of one race to own as slaves people of another race, both of whom were image-bearers of their Creator. Even decades after the slaves were freed, many people continued to look down on others just because of the color of their skin. Every racist will answer to God for their terrible attitudes and actions, because all men and women are made in God’s image.
Another implication of the value and dignity of every person is that the government should never allow for or participate in the killing of innocent people. Whether a baby is in the womb of his or her mother, or whether an elderly man is painfully sick and dying, the government has no right to allow citizens to take those lives. This is also why suicide is wrong, even if it involves elderly people who are suffering near the end of their lives. We must never destroy the image of God implanted in a person, even the image of God in ourselves.
When we see weak and needy people around us, we should care for them for God’s sake. A good government exercises its authority and responsibilities in accordance with the inherent dignity of every one of its citizens. It protects the helpless. A good government punishes those who take the lives of others unjustly. It always treats every member of every ethnicity, of each sex, and of every age (from before birth to their death) as equally valuable, stamped by the Creator with massive dignity.
This doesn’t mean that every person always acts dignified or does what is right in the eyes of the Creator. Sometimes those working for the government get things wrong. Governments, however, do have the responsibility to punish wrongdoers and praise those who do good. But every neighborhood and nation will suffer when people and governments lose sight of the dignity of their people. No one gets to decide who is worthy and who is not, and who gets to live and who has to die except God alone.
On what basis does a black life matter, or any other life, for that matter? It is because every single man, woman, boy, and girl, born and unborn are made in the image of Almighty God. If you disrespect any person God says is dignified, you are going to have to answer ultimately to God himself. May God help us all to see all people the way he sees us.
By John Crotts