From time to time we hear the term ‘the sanctity of human life’.  

This term refers to the sacredness of human life – the belief that human life is unique, set apart, untouchable. It informs us that to be human is to be different from all other life forms; it informs us that to be human is to be special. It thus recognizes in the human a unique dignity and significance. It also constitutes a boundary within which we are to regard and treat each other. It outlaws all forms of disrespect of the human – from a mere contemptuous thought to deliberate murder.

We might ask: who or what conferred this awesome dignity on the human? Certainly not the theory of evolution. This theory would have us believe that humans are the accidental result of a long series of random mutations, with no special dignity or value. Did we ascribe this dignity to ourselves? The lack of respect we demonstrate for each other answers that question quickly enough.

The sacredness of the human is decreed by God. It is grounded in the fact that humans are created in the image of God [Genesis 9:6]: God created humans in his image. For this reason human life is sacred. For this reason it is wrong to kill a human being deliberately, accidentally or by negligence. For this reason it is wrong to hold anger towards a human being. For this reason it is wrong to despise a human being. For this reason it is wrong to violate a human marriage, steal a human’s belongings, tell lies about humans, and covet what another human has. For this reason it is wrong to exploit, abuse or misuse a human being. [Exodus 20:12-17; 21:12-32; Job 31:13-15; Matthew 5:21-24; Ephesians 4:29]

But there is an even deeper level of truth to which we must go. Because humans are created in the image of God, the way we treat humans expresses our attitude to God. Do we claim to honour God? Do claim to love God? That claim will be proved true or false by the way we treat our fellow humans.

Job expressed this truth when he said ‘Did not he who made me in the womb also make them? Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?’ [Job 31:15]

John similarly said ‘If anyone says “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. … Whoever loves God must also love his brother’ [1John 4:20,21].

It is an historical fact that when God is rejected by a country human suffering at the hands of other humans increases. The Old Testament prophets repeatedly drew attention to the increase in social injustice that went hand in hand with Israel’s abandonment of the true God [for example, Isaiah 10:1,2; Jeremiah 5:26-28; Hosea 4:1,2; Amos 2:6-8].

This is also observable in contemporary western culture. The assumption that ‘God’ is a mere human invention, with no real existence, has left the concept of the sanctity of human life with no real leg to stand on. This is evident in the indisputable facts of our society today:

The alarming child abuse statistics.
The incidence of domestic violence.
The push for the legalization of euthanasia.
Statistics indicating that each year abortions are the largest single cause of human death.
Schoolyard bullying in epidemic proportions.
The incidence of property-related crimes.
Diminished personal safety.
The devaluation of human life, including the reduction of the human to a sexual object.
Diminished respect at all levels of human interaction, including the family, the classroom, the workplace, the parliament.
Emphasis on ‘animal rights’ above human well-being.

In banishing God we thought we were exalting ourselves – ridding ourselves of accountability to a higher power, making ourselves, the human, the ultimate life-form, with our future in our hands alone. But the very opposite has resulted.

In the absence of belief in God belief in the human dignity cannot be sustained.  In the denial of God the sanctity of the human is also denied. Desecration of the human, disrespect of the human, is inevitable. Distrust, disintegration, destruction, death – none of these ought to surprise us in a society that has severed itself from God.

Only in returning to God can any society regain this priceless gift that it has lost, this dignity, this distinction:  that we, the humans, are sacred.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2013,2016