Explainer: Why Every Human Life Has Inherent, Eternal Value

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Editor’s Note: One of our core convictions is that all human life has inherent and eternal value. But what does that really mean, and how does it affect our everyday lives? Dr. Ben Holloway explores these questions in this explainer.

Being made in the image of God is sufficient for being a person.

Where do we see the value of life taught in the Bible?

The central concept that is important for understanding human value is the image of God. Human beings are made in the image of God, which means they have inestimable value. Notice that being made in the image of God is something that goes with existence. It isn’t added or awarded to something after it begins to exist. Instead, if you exist, you bear the image of God. In other words, the value of a human being rests in its nature.

In what ways do we see the value of life contested in our culture today?

The most prominent issues for which human value is important are moral issues. However, we need an additional concept to bring the intrinsic value of human life in relation to its moral status. That is the concept of personhood.

Ordinarily, personhood has been given a sociological or functional definition. Something is a person if and only if it can think, deliberate over actions, or has some other capacity. Clearly, this sort of thought is compatible with human life being something that isn’t a person. For example, in the debates over euthanasia and abortion, some people seek to justify those actions by arguing that a human life is not a person because it lacks some capacity or other.

However, the Christian view is that personhood is not something that comes with a combination of powers or features. It is something that comes with being made in the image of God. Being made in the image of God is sufficient for being a person.

This concept of personhood has immense importance for all sorts of moral issues. For example, when a human egg and sperm unite to form an organism, a human being is formed. Since it is made in the image of God, it is also a person. Hence, it is immoral to destroy human life in the womb from the point of conception. The same sort of reasoning applies to euthanasia.

How should these doctrines affect our churches? How should they affect our everyday lives?

Many issues related to the value of human life are matters of public policy and legislation. Still, some everyday issues deserve our attention, especially in the life of the church. I have recently been considering abuse. Abuse can occur in pretty much any relationship and is especially present in relationships in which one person has power over another.

To abuse someone is to misuse them. Ordinarily, this means that you treat another person as a means to your own ends regardless of the desires and interests of the other person.

There are many examples of abuse in our world. Sexual abuse, medical abuse, abuse of citizens by paternalistic totalitarian states, bullying, manipulation, and psychological abuse by propaganda. All of these activities are evils that undervalue human beings. I think we should focus on calling out abuse when we see it, even when it is costly to our reputation. We should also be very aware of our own capacities to abuse others.

Combatting abuse in all its forms requires that we believe that human life is of great value, but it also requires a strong affection for human life. We must not only be convinced that people have immense value, but we need to have our hearts filled with a Spirit-induced appreciation for their value.

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Ben Holloway

Dr. Ben Holloway is Assistant Professor of Philosophy and History of Ideas at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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