The Sanctity of Human Life and the Limits of Human Compassion

In addition to the many other things in the headlines this year, pro-life/pro-abortion issues have been at the forefront of the news with several events spurring that on. A seemingly pro-life leaning Supreme Court has many on the left feeling quite nervous about the possibility of the Roe vs. Wade decision being challenged or overturned. This last week, this led a Democrat-controlled House to pass legislation that, if it were adopted, would lead the United States to become just the third country worldwide to allow abortion without a gestational limit. They would join China and N. Korea as the only countries in the world to allow the termination of the infant up to the moment of birth.

For China and N. Korea, this is sad, but not surprising. The governments of those countries have consistently demonstrated how little they value individual human rights, but if this were to happen, it would be a shock to see the United States join them in this limited club. Even though some countries in Europe have often led the way in various streams of progressivism, in some ways the US is beginning to surpass them in areas like abortion and the pervasiveness and export of identity politics. For some in the US, they may see this as a triumph of the modern age, but many American Christians find themselves wondering how we arrived at this destination and confused by how to navigate the many human rights issues that are thrown at us on a daily basis, often with a very carefully sculpted political slant.

In this short article, I hope to examine a Christian view of the sanctity of human life and compassion as well as review some of the specific areas that human compassion is often limited by ideology. If you are a non-Christian reading this, I welcome your interest, but given the lack of a common moral/ideological foundation, I don’t expect your agreement. Human life is valued quite differently by different tribes and nations of humans, which is why we find vastly different laws related to the treatment of the unborn, women, special needs children, the old and infirm and minorities of all sorts. By contrast, human life is defined by the Bible in very specific ways that should unify all those who hold to the Truth of God’s Word.

Biblical Definition of Life

  • Mankind was created in the image of God – Genesis 1:26 – All life has value, but human life has been ascribed greater value than animal or plant life because of this fact and murder was considered a particular horrific crime, as an attack on life and the image of God.
  • In Genesis 9:6 – the Bible ties murder to the image of God in this way and establishes the principle of the death penalty for murder. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God, God has made man.”
  • Human life is present in the womb. Most commonly this is referenced to Psalm 139:13 – “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” Other verses reference our humanity beginning at or even before conception. Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” Paul says in Galatians 1:15 that God “had set [him] apart before [he] was born.” For a Christian, the human soul exists at or even before the beginning of biological life in the womb. This life is a gift from God.
  • Our physical bodies will perish, but our souls are immortal. 1 Corinthians 15:50-55
  • In Hebrews it talks about our desire for “a better country, that is, a heavenly one“(11:16) and “for here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” (13:14) We are created for eternity, and are not created to find satisfaction with our life on earth.
  • In summary, humankind is the special creation of God, made in His own image. Individual human life begins at or before conception and though our physical bodies will perish, who we are as human souls is immortal.

God’s Compassion and Christian Compassion

  • In addition to looking at a viewpoint of life, I believe it is important to look at the compassion of God and the compassion that we are called to as His followers.
  • God’s greatest example of compassion is Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for our sins. By this sacrifice, we are able to come into right relationship with God and no longer fear eternity separated from our creator, but instead can joyfully look forward to a never ending fellowship with Him. (Romans 5:6-9)
  • Jesus compassion is noted for the masses – Matt 9:36 – “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
  • He healed people out of compassion – Matthew 14:14
  • God’s nature is compassionate – Psalm 86:15 – “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” Psalm 78:38-39 – “Yet he, being compassionate, atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them; he restrained his anger often and did not stir up all his wrath. He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and comes not again.
  • These are all reminders that God knows our weakness, our sinfulness and how much we need Him, and He acts in compassion towards us, beautifully illustrated in the story of the Prodigal Son – Luke 15:20 – “And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”
  • Following God’s example, we are given direction to function in compassion towards one another. Ephesians 4:32 – “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
  • 1 Peter 3:8 – “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.
  • Colossians 3:12 – “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
  • Zechariah 7:9-10 – “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’”

God values human life. Every human life is precious. He looks upon human suffering with compassion. God acted in the greatest way possible to meet our most pressing need by providing salvation when we could do nothing to earn  it. As followers of Jesus, we are to be people of compassion as we interact with this world, but when we look around the world and deal with human issues, we often are shown different values. Let’s look at these principles applied to different issues in the news today.

Abortion

God’s viewpoint: All human life is precious and created in the image of God and every individual life involved in the situation is worthy of compassion.

Man’s ideas which may limit compassion:

  1. The most obvious limit is that the unborn child is not worthy of life or compassion. This is a clear violation of the created order and violates God’s commandments. The unborn child is only shown compassion if they are wanted, otherwise they are discarded.
  2. Some would show a lack of compassion upon the mother, pushing a mother with an unwanted pregnancy into the margins of society and refusing to show compassion on both the women seeking an abortion and those who are struggling after having an abortion. These women have sometimes found the church to be a community hammer coming against them rather than an agent of mercy.
  3. Some of the architects of the modern abortion advocacy movement operated out of a value system that encouraged abortion in order to reduce the number of births in minority populations, a group which is overly represented in abortion statistics. Some scholars estimate that just among the black community, over 19 million babies have been aborted since 1973.
  4. In many countries and to a growing degree in the US, babies are aborted upon the parents discovering they would be born (or have a high chance of being born) with Down’s Syndrome or other potential limitations. Thus, it is deemed more compassionate to spare the family the complications of a special needs child.
  5. Some would say that legalized abortions limit the number of abortions more than when abortions are illegal and make them safer for the mother. The data on whether it actually decreases the numbers is inconclusive, with each side presenting their own statistics, but regardless of the data, the number of abortions are extremely high in all cases.

Christian response: Since all human life is of equal value, regardless of the race, sex, economic status or health of those involved, followers of Jesus act to preserve life and support life. They invest heavily in ministering to whoever is in their community. They support and encourage all babies to be born and loved and all mother’s to find grace and mercy in the Church. They love those who have had abortions and lead the way in providing support and counseling. The Church acknowledges that we are all sinners and that the only hope for any of us is salvation through Jesus Christ.

Victims of violence – In recent years, some crimes have been highlighted because of the circumstances surrounding them, including the race of the participants, who committed the crime and whether or not the crime fit a narrative that serves a political/societal agenda.

God’s viewpoint: All human life is precious and created in the image of God and every individual life involved in the situation is worthy of compassion. It is just to punish those who act in violence to take another human life, regardless of their station. The government has been appointed to serve in that role as the administrator of that justice. No human life is worth more than any other.

Man’s ideas, which may limit compassion:

  1. Because of injustice, some deaths are more noteworthy than others, and it is felt that it is important to highlight those deaths and leverage them to initiate social change. This is complicated by the fact that some of these victims may in fact be criminals themselves and highlighting them often shows a lack of compassion on their own victims. It also minimizes other deaths, in which lives are lost which do not serve the cause of special interests. Example: minority deaths originating from street/gang/criminal violence are often minimized and ignored, despite the devastating impact on their communities. See this thread of children killed in street violence this year.
  2. Corrupt police or courts may allow police who are responsible for injustice to escape punishment and to reinforce fear and mistrust in those communities, thus leading to growing discord and despair. Hopelessness may exists in communities where this has become a pattern.
  3. Generalization of events can bring radical changes to communities that would otherwise not have been directly impacted by these tragedies. With hopeful reform and cooperation on both sides, perhaps future tragedies might be prevented, but often the attention brought by special interest groups and the media can lead to escalating conflict between authorities and suspects or overall disengagement at the expense of the most vulnerable in the communities.

Christian response: Since all life is valuable, regardless of who is involved, Christians should stand for justice where all loss of life is found. When there are victims in our neighborhoods, churches should be the first ones to reach out in compassion to help those victims or their families. Churches should be active in working in their communities to prevent violence, initiating and participating in programs and leading the way of pointing others towards peace. Christians should be staunch defenders of justice and advocate for the government to fulfill their role as the arbitrators of God’s justice for victims and the innocent. This justice should be applied fairly to each person regardless of standing or station in the community. Christians should recognize that those without Christ will often act in selfish, evil ways and realize that the greatest need of all involved is salvation through Jesus Christ.

The Refugee Crisis – refugee immigration has been around as long as I can remember. Christian friends of mine were helping refugees resettle in DFW when I lived there from 1993-96, but in recent years it has become increasingly politicized.

God’s viewpoint: All human life is precious and created in the image of God and every individual life involved in the situation is worthy of compassion. God’s love for the orphan, the widow, the needy and the foreigner is documented throughout scripture. God has appointed for nations to have responsibility for their affairs, including their borders and the management of their borders. In Scripture, the community of faith is primarily responsible for caring for the needs of others, not the government.

Man’s ideas, which may limit compassion:

  1. Acting to end injustice as a government by military action may often create more long term suffering if the impact of those actions is not taken into account. Most refugees are refugees due to the actions of governments, both their own and others.
  2. Helping refugees requires a longer term commitment than many people are willing to give. Many want to give funds or volunteer once at a program, but the long term help that is needed is in short supply and intermittent or fading help can leave refugees dependent on help that is no longer there. Helping them establish themselves in a new community is much more difficulty and time intensive, but more helpful in the long term.
  3. Governments can offer help that they are not equipped to give. Sometimes refugees can become political pawns between governments and political parties within a national government. Because of changing policies, refugees lives can be completely changed on a politician’s whim.
  4. Generalizing refugees as terrorists or with other labels because of their ethnicity or passport country is unfair to the majority of refugees, who are often fleeing from terrorists and other bad actors in order to avoid suffering at their hands.
  5. Refugees often come from countries with a high standard of hospitality and the lack of compassion towards them upon arrival leads to isolation and in the worst cases, radicalization.

Christian response: Since all lives are valuable, regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, economic level or country of origin, Christians must act with compassion to be on the frontlines to help wherever there is suffering. Christians should be the first ones in their communities to welcome refugees and should be leading and cooperating with others to both meet the many physical needs of those refugees upon arrival and to show them the love of Christ through word and deed as long as they are in our communities. Christians should recognize that the Great Commission may be fulfilled in their generation by God bringing immigrants and refugees into their communities from the least reached corners of the world. Christians should advocate for compassion and justice for refugees from others, including the government, but should not abdicate their Christian responsibility to others to help those the Lord brings into their areas.

In all of these areas and more, Christians lead the way to be defenders of the sanctity of human life and bringing compassion to bear wherever possible. For many of us, the best thing we can do is set aside our right and desire to argue about these things on the internet and instead start asking, “where can I help?” with those who are suffering in our town. We are “salt and light” and that doesn’t happen with our votes or with our likes, it happens with our hands, our feet and our voices.

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