Monday, May 10, 2010

How do you value a life?

In my Christian Ethics class, we have been studying many issues that impact real life. Some of them have to do with life and how we make decisions regarding life's situations. We hear much in the news of debates on abortion, fetal stem-cell research, cloning, and euthanasia. How are we to sort through all of the noise and come down to the basic issues so we can determine the right course of action?

First, I have observed through the years that many people make decisions based on emotions and feelings. Even when they profess to have thought things through, the decisions often come out in favor of what they "feel" is right. Whether they will admit it or not, they have concluded that there is no authoritative basis on which one can examine life's issues in order to determine whether any course of action is moral or immoral, right or wrong. It has become common in our so-called post-modern age to think that what is right for me may not be right for you. Each of us has our own view of what is right, and we cannot impose our "right" on you, nor can you impose your "right" on me. In short, what is being described is chaos.

Every day, we live with laws that determine our actions. When someone runs a red light and causes an accident, that person is cited for a violation. Society cannot function without a basic commonality of right and wrong. We accept that it is right for me to own something and wrong for someone else to come in at night or while I am gone and take it. We consider murder wrong and sentence the murderer to capital punishment or lifetime confinement.

How do we determine what makes something right or wrong? One may say that it is just a basic understanding among humans that we need these laws in order for society to function. That only goes so far. What makes it right? Is every law enacted by our congress, for example, a good or right law? On what basis can we judge?

As a Christian, I accept that God created all things. He is the source of authority. Man (male and female) was created in His image. We are image bearers. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, this image was marred. Despite the fall, we still have to draw from Him the principles for living. Thomas Aquinas wrote in his Summa Theologica on the concept of "Exitus et Reditus," that is, everything flows out from God by His glory and everything returns to God for His glory (Summa Theologica I, 44-119 cited in class notes). According to Augustine, the image of God in man orients him to God in invocation, knowledge and love.(Confessions I, 1,1). If we view this as a compass, God our returning to God is viewed as True North and any departure from this true north is evil or sin. He provided grace and truth, and we owe Him our worship.

When we consider these issues of life and death, many take a purely utilitarian stance. In class, this was laid out as a bell curve with the value of life being the vertical axis and time (conception to death) being the horizontal access. Some view life as only being worth living (or allowing life to exist) if it exceeds a minimum level of functionality. In other words, a newly conceived embryo through birth starts with no value and slowly increases in value until such time as the child is born. Even then, the value to society is not very high until that child becomes a contributing member. On the other side of the bell curve, as one retires and ages, the value to society decreases to the point where that individual is viewed as no longer of sufficient value to allow for continued existence. Thus, both abortion and euthanasia are condoned since those aborted or euthanized are either not yet able to contribute, or are past the ability to contribute to society. This is a dangerous position as shown by how Nazi Germany justified the murder of millions as  "Lebensunwertes Leben" or life not worthy of living.

Our True North must be to take God's guidance from His word and apply it to our life's situations. Our value lies not in our functionality, but in the value God gives. That value begins at conception and continues to natural death. To intentionally take a life then becomes a departure from True North, and is therefore sin.

What happens then if we have made such choices? The Bible is clear. Through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we can find forgiveness. We must repent of our sin (not just feel sorry for having been caught, but admit that our actions were wrong and our motives impure). We must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who died on the cross to provide an atonement for our sins. If we do so, then we can find acceptance and we can rediscover our True North.

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