Tag Archives: Human Value

Quantity vs Quality

Man vs. Cosmos (Photo via Good Free Photos)

Is more always better? Well, we do like our “buy one, get one free” sales at the supermarket…. But what about when there’s a difference in quality? Can an increase in quantity or size make up for lower quality? If you went to a restaurant that offered you a tender, 8-ounce portion of a prime cut of steak perfectly cooked, and their competition across the street offered a tough, grisly, 48-ounce piece of shoe leather masquerading as a steak, half burnt and the other half still raw, for the same price, would it be much of a choice?* Short of a starvation scenario, most people would probably opt for the small, high-quality steak over the much larger nasty steak. But what if the difference is more significant? All the seawater in the ocean doesn’t take the place of 1 bottle of clean pure water for the man dying of thirst. Indeed, gulping down saltwater will only kill him faster. That small amount of pure water is worth more to him than all the quadrillions of gallons of saltwater in the world’s oceans.

Blaise Pascal highlighted this distinction between quantity and quality in his Pensées when he compared the seeming insignificance of man to the vastness of the universe. Skeptics often make the same comparison, but come to very different conclusions. Some have ridiculed Christians for thinking humans are special when we are less than a speck compared to the immensity of the uncaring universe. Some have thought us quite arrogant for considering humans to be special. But the immensity of the universe is really only a red herring that distracts us from the difference in quality. Consider Pascal’s insight:

“Man is only a reed, the weakest in nature, but he is a thinking reed. There is no need for the whole universe to take up arms to crush him: a vapour, a drop of water is enough to kill him. But even if the universe were to crush him, man would still be nobler than his slayer, because he knows that he is dying and the advantage the universe has over him. The universe knows none of this…. Through space the universe grasps me and swallows me up like a speck; through thought I grasp it.”[1]

He’s right. Humans may live fragile lives on a “pale blue dot” circling one of billions of stars in one galaxy among billions in the universe, and yet… all the fiery stars and desolate planets can’t be aware of their own existence, can’t appreciate the beauty they are part of, can’t compose a love sonnet, can’t even ask why that is the case. For all the overwhelming size of the universe, it cannot do what even a child can. Even among life on Earth, when we find similar behavior between ourselves and animals, humans still seem to be not just a little ahead of the animals compared, but miles ahead. Some people like to try to reduce humans to mere animals, but the gap between humans and the nearest animal in terms of consciousness, rationality, understanding, judgment, and intentionality, is really quite staggering. Why is that? The Bible provides the answer: humans, unlike animals, or anything else in our universe, were created in the image of God [Gen 1:27]. We can think and reason like God [Is 1:18]; we are relational like our triune God; we are creative, in imitation of our Creator; we love, because He first loved us [1Jo 4:19].

Although skeptics will often point to the infinitesimal size of our whole world compared to the cosmos, as a strike against humanity being “by design”, it is interesting to note how finely balanced our universe is – on a razor’s edge, as it were – and how science is finding more and more that our world wouldn’t even be able to exist and support complex life except in such a massive universe. It is also worth considering that an immense universe that dwarfs us and fills us with awe and wonder might just be a reasonable calling card of an eternal, transcendent, all-powerful, all-knowing God. On that note, I leave you with the words of King David, who came to that very conclusion 3,000 years ago:

The heavens declare the glory of God;
  the sky displays his handiwork.
Day after day it speaks out;
  night after night it reveals his greatness.
Psalm 19:1-2, NET

 * For the vegetarians/vegans out there, substitute whatever would be a comparable delicacy for you 😉
[1] Blaise Pascal, Pensées #347, 348, quoted in Peter Kreeft’s Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal’s Pensées –Edited, Outlined, & Explained (San Francisco: Ignatius Press,1993), p. 55,57.

The Down Low

The Good Samaritan - Vasily Surikov (1874)
The Good Samaritan – Vasily Surikov (1874)

In the Christian view, every person is made in the image of God and has intrinsic value.[Gen 1:27] This doctrine, sometimes referred to by the Latin term imago Dei, is serious enough that God gives it as the basis for capital punishment when someone murders another human.[Gen 9:6] That each person really does have such high value, as an essential characteristic of their humanity, is nice in theory, but how does that play out? Are the nobodies really as important as the bigwigs and high rollers? While God certainly can use both, it seems like He uses the low people and the “foolish things of the world” to accomplish His work more than the wise and powerful.[1 Cor 1:27-29, James 2:1-5] So, in treating the passed-over people with dignity and respect, we may be closer to working in God’s plans than we are when working with the great and mighty.

Consider that the first disciples called by Jesus were not religious teachers, law experts, or powerful princes. They were only simple fisherman, but notice how God used this fact, as people hearing Peter’s speech were amazed that these weren’t “learned men”.[Acts 4:13]  What they were was honest, humble men, able to report exactly what they saw and heard of the events of Jesus’ ministry on Earth.[Acts 4:19-20] And that’s exactly what was needed of those first disciples – honest eyewitnesses to tell the story. God later used the exact opposite of those rough and tumble fishermen when He selected Saul of Tarsus to be His ambassador. Saul was a Pharisee, the cream of the crop in devotion to the Jewish Law, with a familial and educational pedigree to match. [Acts 22:3, 26:4-5, Phil 3:4-6] Yet his stature and accomplishments blinded him to seeing God’s witness, and ironically, he persecuted the people (Christians) that had found the fulfillment of the Jewish Law he so zealously followed. God had to bring him low before He could build Saul the Pharisee into Paul the Apostle. Once that happened, however, God used Paul’s understanding of the Jewish Law and prophecies to explain His plan of salvation via rich, deep theological treatises like Paul’s letter to the Romans, among others. Paul counted all his previous accomplishments as insignificant compared to the knowledge of Christ.[Phil 3:7-8] Each type of person God called had their purpose, but all needed humility before they could be used to full effect. In fact, God’s entire plan of salvation for the human race wasn’t brought about via the juggernaut of the Roman empire (although He used them to enable the quick spread of His truth when the time came). Nor was it accomplished by Alexander the Great, or any other “great” rulers. Instead, His plan revolved around a small nation, a small tribe, and a nondescript family from a small town, all to bring forth a Savior who would change everything! Indeed, in God’s economy, He chooses to exhibit His power and accomplish His goals specifically through our weakness [2 Cor 12:9], that it may be evident to whom the credit is due.

This inherent value of all people, no matter their position in life, has had significant implications for every Christian. How God values people is how we should value people. Consider the long history of Christians reaching out to those neglected and rejected by the rest of society. Christians started (as in, originated) charitable hospitals in the 4th century to minister to any of the sick at a time when only certain rich or privileged citizens could get medical care.[1] They started asylums to at least try to care for the insane.[2] Christians, as a whole, have consistently opposed infanticide, child abandonment, and abortion from the beginning, recognizing the worth of these most defenseless members of society, and working at great cost to themselves to protect them.[3] They started schools to teach people to read and write wherever they went. In fact, Neil Postman points out that 17th century New England had “quite probably the highest concentration of literate males to be found anywhere in the world at that time.” Equally impressive was women’s literacy rates that far exceeded the best male literacy rates in England at the time. What caused this anomaly? Says Postman, “the religion of these Calvinist Puritans demanded that they be literate.” In addition, Postman also notes that almost all early New England towns passed laws requiring schools be established to teach reading, writing, and grammar, for the express purpose of combating the schemes of Satan.[4] The pilgrims believed that if God has graciously provided His plan in writing, it behooves us to be able to read and comprehend it. But when we read and comprehend it, we are confronted with challenges through the Bible to care for, defend, and help those who can’t take care of themselves. And I couldn’t even begin to list all the Christian charities dedicated to helping orphans, the poor, the starving, the sick, the illiterate, the refugees, the homeless, the handicapped, and on and on. But why? Are we simply “scorin’ points for the afterlife” as Weird Al Yankovich once sang?[5] On the contrary, “we love because He first loved us.”[1 John 4:19] We bless others because of how richly God has blessed us. And no, I’m not talking about that offensive, false, “prosperity gospel” that focuses on fleeting, fickle fortune.  If I lost everything in life, up to and including my life, God’s grace would still make me more blessed than all the riches of all the billionaires in the world. With that in mind, how can I not want to share whatever I do have with others, but especially the free – yet priceless! – good news of salvation through Jesus?

In the Bible, we see the gospel of Christ reaching out across all borders and divisions that typically separated people; gender, class, race, nationality, age, status, education – the invitation was open to all.[Gal 3:28, Col 3:9-11, Rom 10:11-13] In Christ, there are no castes, no untouchables, no one off-limits to reach out to. There is no minimum amount of wealth to “buy in” to heaven, no minimum (or maximum) IQ or educational knowledge to serve God, no minimum number of years invested or minimum number of good deeds required to be saved. He truly makes it so that whoever will can be saved, from the poorest beggar to the richest king, from the grade school dropout to the rocket scientist, from the sweetest child to the most hardened criminal. We all approach the cross of Christ on the same low footing. Without Christ, we are all equally guilty, and yet, all still intrinsically valuable and loved in God’s sight.


[1] Alvin J. Schmidt, Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), p.155.
[2] ibid., p. 160.
[3] ibid., pp. 48-60.
[4] Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, (Penguin Books, 1986), pp.31-33.
[5] Weird Al Yankovich, “Amish Paradise”, 1996, the nevertheless cleverly funny parody of “Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio.

 

A Soul’s Worth

freeimages.com/Manual De La Pena
freeimages.com/Manual De La Pena

I attended a presentation by J. Warner Wallace a little while back, and took the opportunity to get another copy of his Cold-Case Christianity book to give to a friend of mine who’s an atheist. We discuss our opposing views at times, and my friend’s been kind enough to loan me quite a few of his atheist books. If you’re not familiar with J. Warner, he’s a cold-case homicide detective who was himself an atheist when he decided to investigate the whole Jesus incident like he would a cold-case (a really, really old cold-case…). What he found forced him to recognize the gospel accounts as the the most reasonable explanation for the historical evidence, and to consequently reject his prior materialistic worldview as untrue, and start following Jesus. He was nice enough to write a little note in the book to my friend encouraging him to not stop investigating, and to be willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads.

My friend appreciated the gesture, but hoped I didn’t spend too much money on it. I told him that if Christianity is false, then I wasted a few bucks, but if Christianity is true, then was there any amount of money that would be a waste? He replied that he still hoped I hadn’t wasted too much money. Was it a waste? Will he read it? Maybe, maybe not. There’s no telling, but I do hope so. Will it make any difference even if he were to read the book? Maybe, maybe not, but I think a clearly presented, well-reasoned statement of why something should be believed is powerful, even if not immediately accepted. Nevertheless, the short exchange got me thinking. What is a friend’s eternal life worth? Is it worth more than a grande frappuccino at Starbucks? How about a steak dinner? I’ve spent more on 1 meal at a typical restaurant than I did on that book, and the results were all too temporary – just a few hours before I was hungry again. But if, in reading that book, he sees the truth of Christianity, and accepts God’s free gift of salvation, then the results are not only lifelong, but eternal!

How much are you worth? Jesus said,”For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?”[1]  Your worth is more than all the treasure in the world, even if you don’t have a penny to your name. We have this  intrinsic worth because we are created in God’s image. If you want more background on that concept (sometimes called by its classical Latin term “imago Dei”), I’ve also posted about that here and here. To illustrate the value He places on each of us, Jesus tells the story of a shepherd that cared for each and every sheep in his flock. When one went missing, he left the 99 to find the 1 missing sheep.[2] He also tells us “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”[3] Not that buying a book is comparable to sacrificing one’s life for a friend, but the basic principle is that if you really care about someone, some level of sacrifice will be present, in whatever form and to whatever degree that takes. Jesus is telling us that actions speak louder than words.

Sometimes, it’s little things in life that remind us of bigger principles. As I look back, I can think of times when I might’ve said otherwise, but my actions loudly proclaimed that a few dollars or a few minutes of my time were more valuable to me than the eternal security of my friends. Maybe you are in the same place. Let me encourage you to join me in not remaining in that place of regret over past inaction, but rather seek out opportunities to humbly and graciously share the truth. In the words of Thomas Aquinas, “There is no greater act of charity one can do to his neighbor than to lead him to the truth.”[4]


[1] Mark 8:36, NASB.
[2] Luke 15:1-7, NASB.
[3] John 15:13, NASB.
[4] As quoted in Peter Kreeft, Socratic Logic (South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, 2010), p. 346.