This is my third and final post in the series on ‘the Sanctity of life’ and I would like to end off with a few words of application (to go back to the first in the series click here). What does the sanctity of life mean? How do we apply it? Here is the general principle, and then several specific applications.
The general principle is very important. If you are a Christian and you want to take this seriously, you have got to start this way; don’t start by asking,” Well how does this relate to war, capital punishment, suicide, abortion, and euthanasia?” We could spend a long time on those 5 things, don’t go there first, we will get there towards the end, but you can really get bogged down in the ethical applications. The first and the primary application of this commandment is that everybody who comes into your world must feel honoured and valued. They must feel that you take them so seriously. You are breaking this commandment when you treat people with indifference, when you treat people with flippancy, when you treat people with coldness. Does everybody that comes into your orbit sense that you treat them with dignity, with warmth, with seriousness, do they feel valued when they are done talking with you?
How easy it is when we think about ‘thou shalt not kill’ to think about things like suicide and war? You have to start here, and this is what really gets to me. C.S Lewis said “If we are all made in the image of God, look at the sun, look at the mountains in their massive seeming permanence, and then look at the person sitting next to you. Do you realize that when that sun is so old, if it gets that old, that it’s just a cinder, and when those mountains are so old that they have been worn down by the wind and the tides of time that they have been ground down into little grains of sand on the seashore that does exist now. That the persons sitting around you will still be alive in some condition. Do you realize that the life of the persons around you makes the life of those mountains nothing?”
Have you thought about what it means to live in a society of people made in the image of God. And do you treat people with value, do they sense that you are warm, do they sense that you are interested, do they sense that you are serious about them, do they just feel your love when you talk to them. Do they sense that you are trying to size them up to see whether or not you want to be with them, whether or not this is a good use of your time, or do they sense that you are just trying to find out what they need? Here is Lewis’ quote from his famous sermon ‘the weight of glory’:
It may be possible for us to think too much of our own potential glory hereafter, but it’s hardly possible to think too often or too deeply about that of our neighbour. The load of weight of my neighbors glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud shall be broken. It’s a serious thing to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may someday be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet if at all only in a nightmare. All day long we are in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities. It is with the awe and circumspection proper to them that we should conduct all our dealings with each other, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization, these are mortal and their life is to ours is that of a gnat. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn, we must play, but our merriment must be of that kind, and it is in fact the merriest kind, which exists between people who from the outset have taken each other seriously. No flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. Our love of which we love the sinner, our love must be real love with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner no mere tolerance or indulgence which parody’s love, as flippancy parody’s merriment. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them that we should conduct all our dealings with each other , all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.”
We live in a city where people do discard you, where the retailers know there is a long line of people after you if you are not happy. Where the people who you work for know that there is 100 other people who want your job and they don’t have to deal with you. The more modern a city gets, the more we lose sight of the sacredness, the weight of your neighbours glory.
Now, having said that, when it comes to ethics, let me just give you one principle that this particular passage, this truth gives us. It gives us an ethical rule of thumb to be used in all these strange, and careful and difficult situations like suicide, and euthanasia and physicians assisted suicide and abortion and even war. It’s the doctrine of carefulness.The doctrine of carefulness is this: Human life is so important and precious that anything that might harm or weaken it in any way must be avoided at all cost.
Now Thomas Watson took the doctrine of carefulness and applied it in some amazing ways in his little commentary he wrote 300 years ago on the 10 commandments. In summary he said that if we understand that human life is so important that anything that might harm or weaken it must be avoided at all costs then we should be taking care of the poor like nobody’s business. He says the poor lack the basic necessities, they lack beauty, they lack food, they lack shelter. And he quotes Matthew 25, in a passage where Jesus says, “on the last day, he is going to come to some people and say,” I was sick and you didn’t visit me, I was in prison and you didn’t come to me, I was homeless and you didn’t give me shelter, I was hungry and you didn’t feed me, I was naked and you didn’t clothe me, and the people will say when did we see you in these conditions Lord. And he will say, because you didn’t do it to them, these hungry people, these homeless people, these sick people, you didn’t do it to me”. Now Thomas Watson points out that that’s image of God reasoning, it’s the same reasoning you have in Genesis 9. God is saying that “my image is on those people” and to assault a human being is to assault me.
Well in Matthew 25 what Jesus is saying is, “I’m the poor”. When you weaken their life, when you fail as Thomas Watson put it, to do everything in your power to prevent their death, this is the only way to obey this commandment, when you do everything in your power, because of the doctrine of carefulness. Anything that might weaken in any way human life has to be avoided at all costs. And that means if you have something in your power to alleviate a condition that might lead to someone’s death, somebody’s destruction, then you must do it. It doesn’t mean that you can save all the poor people in the world; but what is within your power. Jesus says I am the poor person, how you treat him or her, tells me how you regard me.
How can a person be like that? The only way is if you know that you are a sinner saved by grace. If you think God loves you because you are a good person then you are going to look at the poor and say why should I help them, they must pick themselves up. But if you know that you are a sinner saved by grace alone, that God came in spite of the fact that you got yourself into the mess that you are in and in a costly way poured himself out; though he was rich he became poor so that through his poverty we might become rich, you take that verse and it burns itself into your heart and you say I have got to do something about these folks. The doctrine of carefulness says you have got to be helping those people who don’t have the basic necessities of life.
Secondly, suicide is wrong. You know a lot of people say, “Well don’t you own your own life”? You know it’s interesting that humanists and Christians agree that you can’t murder other people because those people’s lives aren’t yours. That’s an accidental coincidence isn’t it, because a person who is not a Christians thinks that an individual’s life belongs to themself. I belong to me, therefore I can take my life if I want, but here is the big problem with that, the only way that you would belong to yourself is if you were not created. Whatever you create you own; if I make something it my house I own it- if God created you he owns you and your life is not your own, you can’t do what you want with it. If you think you can commit suicide because you are your own and no one created you, then we have a problem because if it’s ok to commit suicide because you are not in the image of God, then what’s wrong with murder? You see it weakens the whole idea of the sanctity of human life
When it comes to suicide Roman Catholics have invented this idea of mortal sins, and if you commit one of them then you are damned. But Romans 8:1 says “no condemnation! “ That means if you are not a Christian and you die whether its suicide or not you are lost, and if you are a Christian and you die whether its suicide or not, you are saved. But suicide is a terrible thing to do and it’s wrong.
One thing is important to say as I wrap up. Here is the joy in this, and I hope nobody thinks I am being overly dramatic, lots of people both men and women have paid or done what was necessary to have abortions, maybe some people here. And now you may be sitting there and saying “well now where does this leave me?” Everybody has assaulted human life, some have done it, maybe very literally, some have done it maybe through abortion, some have done it maybe by attempting to take their own lives, but everybody is a murderer. And Paul says, “but by the grace of God we can be His, his children, because Jesus though he was rich became poor, though he was alive became dead, so that those of us who spread death, could come to life and spread life.” That is the gospel, and that is the only way to understand the sacredness of human life. Thou shalt not kill means, love one another as I have loved you.