Life is sacred, or should be. William Watkins contrasts a series of old absolutes with those that have in some measure replaced them. For instance, as a former absolute: “Human life from conception to natural death is sacred and worthy of protection.” Then, as its alternative: “Human life, which begins and ends when certain individuals or groups decide it does, is valuable as long as it is wanted” (The New Absolutes, p. 65).
“You see,” he earnestly elaborates, “I was adopted at birth, about twenty years before the 1973 U. S. Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade legalized abortion on demand. I have wondered if my biological mother would have denied me my inalienable right to life if she had conceived me just a couple of decades later under Roe. I was fortunate.”
This reminds me of a person who, along with his girl friend, had their child aborted. He would not have had that option if his parents had been of similar persuasion. The former also appear to suffer from guilt, having taken the life of their child.
Created in God’s image, human life assuredly appears as sacred. As such, it should be preserved except perhaps on only rare occasions. Recalling the thesis that an exception does not prove to be the rule. Although many employ this line of reasoning.
We are alerted to the sacred character of life early on in Scripture. When God inquires of Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” (Gen. 4:9). Which implies that Cain is responsible for his sibling’s welfare. Nor does God allow for his protest, while allowing: “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” This is in keeping with the notion that it is for God to rectify the wrong when humans fail to do so.
Fast forward. The new ruler of Egypt was threatened by the growth of the Israelite community, and feared that if invaded, it might cooperate. When his initial efforts failed, he mandated that all male children at birth be cast into the Nile. With the apparent intent that their female counterpart would be absorbed into the general culture. Along with a striking disregard for the sacred character of life.
But God intervened, appearing to Moses in a burning bush that was not consumed. Which has been explained as a natural phenomenon or a vision. In any case, God delivered the chosen people from bondage, and covenanted with them in the wilderness.
These appear as representative instances of a reoccurring theme: life is sacred and should be treated as such. By the individual to which it is granted. For those endangered by others. In terms of the Golden Rule: that we would treat others as we would like to be treated.
The ideal notwithstanding, some problematic issues surface. While Christians have often disagreed on the specific application, the basic principle ought not to be in question. It remains to touch on several of these issues in brief.
First, it is customary to contrast the just war theory with pacifism. Although these alternatives can be refined more precisely. For instance, Robert Clouse edited a text entitled War: 4 Christian Views. These are nonresistance, which he distinguishes from Christian pacificism, along with the Just War, and Crusade or Preventive War.
In greater detail, Arthur Holmes lists in this regard as principles of the just war: (1) just cause, (2) just intent, (3) last resort, (4) formal declaration, (5) limited objectives, (6) proportionate means, and (7) noncombatant immunity (pp. 120-121). Some would include a viable means of disengagement. Conversely, those inclined toward pacifism range from a refusal to be implicated in any way in armed conflict, to those willing to assume non-combatant status. Such as persons engaged in medical service or as chaplains.
It is said by just war advocates that the purpose of warfare is invariably peace. Some might extend this to include a just society, although no example comes to mind. Which recalls John Calvin’s claim that one who can save a life, and refuses to do so, is guilty of murder.
This issue is very personal for me, since I became a Christian while serving in the military during World War II. I was serving at the time as a radar technician; so while not on a flight crew, I was actively engaged in preparing for their mission. I was troubled by this, and on one occasion wrote to an American pastor—who I was familiar with only by reputation. He was disposed to embrace the just war theory in some respects, as was I.
Second, there is capital punishment. Which is said to be in keeping with the principle of lex talionis, tit for tat (cf. Exod. 21:23). However, it must be borne in mind that this allows for extenuating circumstances. Which can be many and varied.
However, the use of extended incarceration as a substitute is not all that inviting, since it puts an additional burden on society—thus inhibiting other services. In contrast, the Hebrew system of jurisprudence lays great emphasis on recompense for wrongs done. An alternative that seems to characterize more our military penal practice than the public domain.
In any case, the Christian should affirm the sacred character of life. Both concerning those who have committed crimes, and those who are at risk should they be free to continue. So I am told that there must be a trade off in some respect, and one subject to conscientious review.
Third, there is the practice of abortion—touched on above. Egyptologist James Hoffmeier alleges that infant sacrifice should be considered the Canaanite counterpart to abortion on demand (cf. James Hoffmeier, ed., Abortion, p. 53). Otherwise characterized as abortion for convenience.
Fourth, euthanasia is increasingly advocated. As pertains to what is said to be a good death. A practice that is abused even with careful supervision. With the concerns of others often being the more critical factor. Which should be distinguished from introducing artificial means to extend life, without hope of recovery. This being a practice often allowed in a living will.
Finally, slavery might be included in this short list of objectionable practices. Since it deprives persons of the privilege of exercising their volition. Recent studies have shown that slavery is still widely practiced, often in more subtle fashion. As when services are withheld on condition of compliance with imposed practices. In this regard, the Pentateuch when viewed in Mosaic perspective resembles an emancipation proclamation. Born free, humans were meant to remain free. However, slavery was permitted in Jewish tradition, under less than desirable circumstances and for a limited period of time among the Jewish populace.
I will conclude on a personal note. A friend was walking in the market area when a bomb exploded. She was rushed to the hospital, along with others who were injured. Fortunately, she was able to make a full recovery. This was obviously in violation of the noncombatant immunity provision of the Just War Theory, cited above. In fact, she was and is an outspoken advocate for the peaceful resolution of political tensions. Most would maintain that the indiscriminate attack was reprehensible. I share their concern.
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