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What are human beings?
Psalm 8 begins and ends with, “O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”18 In between these bookends of praise David, the author, gives reasons for why we should be in awe of God’s majesty. He cites the wonder of creation and the grandeur of the universe.
The main thrust of this Psalm – the key point – arises in verse 3 and 4, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”
In the vastness of the universe, what an insignificant speck I appear to be!
BUT NO! Because at this point in the Psalm David fixes on an even greater wonder – “what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honour. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.”
How does David know this? Because the Bible tells him so!
Genesis 1 spells it out for us:
“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:26-
We are not insignificant in this vast universe. We are God’s special creation -
Now the secular world is not convinced about the sanctity of human life. Many are a bit fuzzy about what they do believe and most people probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it.
It would be wrong to say that only Christians have respect for human life. However, we need to understand that there is a commonly held belief that what defines human persons is what they can and cannot do and that the sanctity of human life is an irrational prejudice rooted in outdated religious tradition. Whether you are valued as a person or not depends on how you are able to function. We may call this this functionalism. (Not to be confused with the philosophical, architectural and sociological notions which are known as functionalism!)
Here are three examples:
They may sound extreme but all three are from people who are highly influential in forming opinions in today’s culture.
Our confused culture
Our society is a funny mix but even today we do see functionalism partly shape our culture’s attitude to human life.
An unborn child’s life is only protected if it could function outside the womb, currently considered to be 24 weeks. In the United Kingdom we routinely end the lives of around 200,000 perfectly healthy unborn children every year.
Many disabled people feel concerned about the increasing number of well-
The other side of the coin is the existence of some wonderful examples of care through hospitals, hospices and social services. It’s not all bad news. But our society is confused.
It’s important that, as Christians, we are not confused.
We need to understand that our value as a human being does not depend on our function. As John Wyatt puts it, “In Christian thought, the dignity of a human being resides, not in what you can do, but in what you are, by creation….Our dignity is intrinsic, in the way we have been made, in how God remembers us and calls us.”22
The notion that human beings are God’s special creation, made in his image and precious to him is an essential part of Christian belief and from it comes a respect for the sanctity of all human life. God makes and loves each person, so everyone has value: the unborn baby, the new-
18 All Bible references are from NRSV
22 John Wyatt – Matters of Life and Death page 60-
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