Respect for the Sanctity of Life
Respect for the sanctity of life is the belief that human life is sacred and God-given, and therefore must be highly valued. This is a relevant topic in the world and also in our churches. Our society has spent much time and money researching the subject of sentient (with feelings), and non-sentient (without feelings) to guide them in what the value of life is. They say that while humans are sentient, fetuses are non-sentient; some animals are sentient, while others are not. However, when you base a moral standard on whether life is sentient or non-sentient, you end up with a false moral standard.
Before we look at practical areas where we face this, let’s look at Bible principles that support the sanctity of life.
The human race was created in the image of God.[i] Every person was created with an eternal living soul. Our natural bodies will decay and return to dust, just like our cat that died and is buried behind our chicken pen. Unlike our cat, when we die, our soul will dwell either in heaven or hell forever. The difference between animals and us is that God breathed into us the breath of life.[ii] God allows us to choose who we will serve in life. This choice dictates our destiny.
God is the author of life. This means two things.
God gives life. The account of the creation in Genesis 1 tells us that God made the world and everything in it. Before creation, there was no life. Nehemiah, Job, David, and Paul all talk about God giving them life. Every time there is conception, there is the miracle of life by the hand of God.
God takes life. No one knows when our time on earth is complete. My wife’s grandfather lived to the ripe old age of 96. Others, God calls home in their infancy, childhood, or in their prime of life. In His sovereignty, He gives, and He takes life.
Murder is sin.[iii] Since God is the author of life, He has the right to say when life is given, and when it is taken. When man takes his own life or the life of someone else, he is putting himself in the place of God. God gave man dominion over all the earth, except human life.[iv] God alone has dominion over human life.
God cares for all life, including animal life. When God created the animals, birds, fish, and all living creatures, He looked at what He created and said it was very good.[v] In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us not to be anxious about our future provisions because God will supply our needs, just like He cares for the birds.
Let’s take a practical look at how these Bible principles guide us in the questions the Christian needs to answer regarding the sanctity of life.
The life of mankind has value because he is a living soul. A man’s value does not change with skin color, race, sex, net worth, or moral choices. God values each of us equally. Do black lives matter? They sure do, just like every other color of skin. Civil authority has the responsibility to carry out capital punishment and restrain those who break the law.[vi] Anyone of any skin color should fear the authority over them if they disobey the law. Likewise, the Bible tells us we will be judged at the end of time based on whether we have received Christ as our Lord and Savior, not things like skin color, etc.
The beginning of life:
Preventing conception. The subject of birth control is a controversial subject among Anabaptists. However, there are some forms of birth control that God’s people should have no question about. Some work by controlling and manipulating the hormones of the female so that conception does not happen. But they are not 100% accurate; when this method fails, conception happens, and there is life. In order to prevent pregnancy, they use a second method that thins the walls of the uterus. The embryo then cannot attach itself, and as a result, is aborted. This, along with all other abortion, is murder – taking the life of an unborn child.
Medical intervention in creating life: Technology has made it possible for those who could not have children to have their own children, using in vitro fertilization (IVF), embryo implants, etc. Many of these methods create more embryos than they ever intend to use. These extra embryos, which are tiny lives, are either frozen or discarded. The Christian should not have any part of this.
The end of life:
Prolonging death. The medical world has made it possible to keep our bodies alive for a long time. There are life support systems, the ability for extensive operations, etc. How much medical intervention should the Christian use to prolong life? We must remember that God is the author of life, and we should accept death at His hands when radical medical intervention could only postpone its imminency. It is good to talk about what extent of medical intervention you think is right before you find yourself in a situation where you or your family members need to make that decision.
Euthanasia and physician-assisted death are the painless killings of a patient suffering from an incurable and painful disease or an irreversible coma. It is accepted and sometimes encouraged for people to hasten their own death, so they are not a drain to society, a burden to their family, can minimize pain, and keep their dignity. Don’t be surprised if this is suggested for your elderly parents or someone with a terminal illness. This also is a form of murder.
Safety First: Accidents happen, and sadly, sometimes take lives. However, we are responsible for doing all we can to prevent injury or death by accident. In the Old Testament, God’s people were required to consider how dangerous their animal was.[vii] If an animal known to be ornery killed someone, it was to be stoned and its owner killed. We should do what we can to prevent possible accidents that could harm or take a life. Business owners should be responsible for making sure equipment is safe to operate. We are responsible for protecting the life of ourselves, our families, employees, and all those around us.
Care of the body: If we believe in respect for the sanctity of life, we will care for our bodies. Addictions such as smoking, drinking alcohol, and drugs have caused the death of many. As Mennonites, we are not as challenged with these things in our churches. However, studies are showing that obesity is harder on our bodies than smoking. How many of us are treating our bodies worse than the smoker? Do we abuse our bodies with continual lack of sleep, overworking, not exercising enough, and caffeine addiction?
A righteous man will regard the life of animals.[viii] Some in society have elevated the life of an animal equal to or above that of a human. Animals do not have a living soul and were not created in the image of God; therefore their life is not sacred. God created animals to benefit man.[ix] Raising animals for meat or other products, using them to help in our work, etc., are Biblical uses of animals. However, animals can feel physical pain, and we should not put an animal in needless pain by being cruel to them or abusing them.
Respect for the sanctity of life is one of our Christian virtues because it should be the way of life for the Christian. Does your life exemplify this virtue as a way of life?
More on this subject:
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[i] Gen. 1:27 “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”
[ii] Gen. 2:7 “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life”
[iii] 1Jo 3:15 “…and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.”
[iv] Genesis 1:26 “And 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 fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”
[v] Gen. 1: “21. And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good. 25. And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.”
[vi] Rom. 13:3-4 “For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: for he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”
[vii] Ex. 21:28-29, “If an ox gore a man or a woman, that they die: then the ox shall be surely stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be quit. But if an ox were wont to push with his horn in time past, and it hath been testified to his owner, and he hath not kept him in, but that he hath killed a man or a woman; the ox shall be stoned, and his owner also shall be put to death.
[viii] Prov. 12:10 “A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.”
[ix] Gen. 9:2-3 “And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered. Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.”