Lethal acts of terrorism, controversial police shootings, and attacks upon law enforcement officers have left many unsettled in America. These horrific public killings cause many to wonder whose lives really matter in life.
So do all human lives have value? And, if so, on what basis do they carry worth? Without debating the controversial social and political issues involved, I will briefly explore the biblical answer to these two critical questions.
A World-Changing Biblical Truth: Imago Dei
The Bible states that of all God’s creatures, only human beings were created in the express image of God. While the Judeo-Christian Scriptures specifically mention the imago Dei (Latin for divine image) only a half-dozen times (Genesis 1:26–27; 5:1; 9:6; 1 Corinthians 11:7; Colossians 3:10; James 3:9), it seems all of Scripture is written with the imago Dei in mind.
Genesis 1:26–27 is the most important text that describes this vital doctrinal truth:
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
Though certainly marred by humanity’s fall into sin, all people—believers and nonbelievers—reflect the image of God. Therefore, this foundational biblical teaching grounds and projects the Christian view that each individual person possesses inherent dignity, moral worth, and eternal value. Evangelical theologian John Jefferson Davis reflects upon a human person’s value as an image bearer within the context of the universe’s own significance, “God’s creation is immense, but man, as the crown of creation, has a dignity and grandeur that surpasses that of the cosmos.”1 Therefore, scripturally speaking, humanity’s unique worth is directly tied to being made in God’s special image.
According to the Christian world-and-life view, the imago Dei lays the groundwork for the sacredness of human life. This image makes human life unrepeatable and worthy of reverence. All people—regardless of race, gender, class, age, or other distinctions—deserve respect and dignified treatment as the crown of creation. Even people with limited mental capacities and various other physical handicaps are made in God’s image and therefore possess immeasurable worth. Though physical conditions may keep them from reflecting all of God’s endowments in the usual way, this by no means diminishes their inherent dignity and value as human beings.
Reflecting upon humankind being made in the image of God and yet subsequently falling into sin, Christian thinker Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) described human beings as being an enigmatic mixture of greatness and wretchedness.2 This view of human beings as noble but deeply morally flawed seems to correspond well with what we observe of humanity. One good reason for embracing the truth of historic Christianity is that the faith seems to have a realistic understanding of the nature of human beings.
All lives have value, from the unborn baby to the aged person suffering with advanced dementia, because human beings uniquely bear the image of their Creator and even sin cannot erode that sacred likeness.
Reflections: Your Turn
How does an understanding of humans being made in the image of God change your thinking and behavior toward people? How have we done as a society, as a church, and on a personal level to afford respect and dignified treatment to all people regardless of race, gender, and class?
For more on the image of God, see chapters 11 and 12 of my book 7 Truths That Changed the World.
- John Jefferson Davis, Handbook of Basic Bible Texts: Every Key Passage for the Study of Doctrine and Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 54.
- Blaise Pascal, Pensées, trans. A. J. Krailsheimer, rev. ed. (New York: Penguin, 1995), S146/L114, 131.