Respect for the Lord’s Gift of Life
Family values become such only as they are owned and shared by husband and wife, passed along intentionally to children, reinforced by siblings and grandparents, applied to concrete issues and decisions, practiced in the life-style of the family. It is not enough to pay lip-service to a traditional, Judeo-Christian ethic – whatever that means. It is not enough to call oneself conservative, mouth all the politically correct positions of a so-called “moral majority,” and express appropriate horror at what has happened to values in America. Values are convictions made practical. They are personal principles applied to real issues. They are the consistent expression of what you are and believe, in actions as well as words. Values are woven into the fabric of your being. They frame your window on life. They trigger your response to situations.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in the issues of LIFE which God addresses in his Fifth Commandment, “THOU SHALT NOT KILL.” We are a society confused over the issues of life, from genetic engineering to living wills. We are a society driven by issues of health, traumatized by news-cameras’ images of death, challenged by the problems of aging. But more than anything, we are a society in search of reasons for living. That calls for something beyond public opinion and pious platitudes. That calls for a clear and consistent LIFE ETHIC from God to guide us into “Lasting Values For Every Family.”
Our Message From The Master series of that title today addresses RESPECT FOR THE LORD’S GIFT OF LIFE, in three parts: BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES, CONTEMPORARY APPLICATIONS and CHRISTIAN CONTEXT.
Let us state, before elaborating, three simple “Life Principles:” Life is FROM God. Life is UNDER God. Life is FOR God.
It makes a huge difference how one views the origin and source of life. If life is no more than the serendipitous consequence of evolution, it has no meaning or value apart from the biological system and physical universe of which it is an inconsequential part. If life has no Creator, then it has no Ruler. In short, life has no objective values if secular humanism and biological evolution explain life. The loss of values in contemporary western civilization is no mystery.
By stark contrast Christianity asserts that life is from God. He is its Creator, not simply in some general sense, but the Creator of all life and each life. Listen to Psalm 139: “You, Lord, created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
Because God is the Creator of life, each life has intrinsic value. Your life is precious BECAUSE God made you. Not what you’re like or what you can do to establish your worth. God has already done that. In fact, the way you are is the way you’re supposed to be. God made you with unique gifts and personality, individual potential and purpose. Self-image, how you value yourself, begins with the truth that you are GOD’S special creation. And when you have grasped that truth of God for yourself, you will begin to understand the value God has placed on every other human being created specifically by Him.
The principle that life is FROM God has another important implication. If God alone creates life, then God alone has the right to terminate life. Because He is the Ruler of life, HE makes the rules that govern life. In giving his law to Israel, God made the point emphatically (Deuteronomy 32:39): “There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life.” While God has delegated to government the regulation and even execution of life as his representative ruler in society, the exercise of that authority is under accountability to God. No individual can usurp the right to injure life or take life. So axiomatic, so ingrained in the conscience of Israel, was this principle that God alone gives and takes life that you will find echoes of the verse from Deuteronomy in the mouth of kings and commoners throughout the Old Testament.
Not only is life FROM God, but it is also true that life is UNDER God. He is no mere transcendent deity, uninvolved and disinterested in the lives of those he has made. He didn’t pass laws of nature and retire from his legislative office. God has an active role in life in general, and in your life in particular. In Psalm 75, the Author of Life writes, “I choose the appointed time; it is I who judge uprightly.” Some times in your life are hard and some times are happy, but all the time your life is in God’s hands.
Some people’s lives are DESCRIBED by illness and incapacity, by poverty and oppression; but nobody’s life is DEFINED by its condition. The so-called QUALITY of life is simply a flawed human effort at quantifying and categorizing the blessings of God upon life. Woe to those who would sit in judgment of the judge, the God under whom every life is situated! Life is not less because God allows physical, psychological or socio-economic suffering. But God will judge those who impose physical, psychological, or socio-economic suffering on the life of others.
That life is UNDER God assures also that life is in God’s care. “The eyes of all look to you, O Lord, and you give them their food at the proper time,” the psalmist David affirms. “You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. The Lord is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made. The Lord is near to all who call on him.” God has created into his world the capacity to feed, clothe, house, and occupy every human being. It is only human greed, hatred, and lust for Power that produces starvation in Somalia, frozen bodies in Bosnia, or poverty and privation in America’s cities. God IS Providence. He will hold accountable those who destroy life by withholding his sustenance, for that is a sin against life AND against the One who preserves life.
The third principle of life is that life is FOR God. He is the reason for which we exist. St. Paul concludes the doxology of Romans 11 with these words: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever!” All of creation exists for the glory of God. How much more the human life created originally in the image of God! Because we exist FOR God, our life has inherent value. We ARE an expression of glory to him, simply by being. If a painting by Rembrandt has value because of its creator, how much more the value of a living being created by God! If damaging or destroying a painting by Rembrandt is criminal, how much greater the offense of damaging or destroying the life created by God!
Because we exist FOR God, it is also true that God establishes the values for our life. He determines what is right and wrong, good and bad, important or insignificant. He establishes priorities and principles for living life. In fact, he IS the priority that fixes the value of all the rest of life. The prophet Isaiah used a potter and pottery to illustrate the point.
We pots exist to serve the potter according to how he designed us to serve. If one is a cup, one acts like a cup not a vase. If one is storage jar, one holds what the potter stores in us rather than wishing to be a plate. He who made us not only establishes our value, but our values thereby.
Three biblical principles: Life is FROM God, UNDER God, and FOR God. Now how do these principles apply to contemporary life?
Consider such health issues as alcohol, drugs, and tobacco. “just say no” is a slogan, not a lasting value for every family. Children need to understand the value they have to God and from God, the special creation that they are, in order to WANT to say no to substance abuse. They need to trust that God will get them through the tough times, if they are to reject the false courage of alcohol, the peer pressure of smoking, or the temporary escape of hallucinogenic drugs. They need to see purpose, significance, to their lives. They need to recognize a loving, heavenly Father whose values are for their good. You see, values are more than just statements of right and wrong. Values are REASONS to conform one’s life to such statements of right and wrong. Adults are no different. Society can impose laws on us, but not inculcate values in us. Education about the evils of alcohol and drugs has never stopped an alcohol or addict. Finger-pointing, moralizing, punishing, and rewarding may modify behavior in the short term; but that won’t provide values to guide life in the long term. Only life comprehended in our God has value. Only life lived before God has values.
What about such birth issues as abortion or prenatal care? Will a young woman respect and care for the life in her womb because you have a bumper sticker that says she should? No sir! It is when you have shown her the worth HER life has, first because God created her special and more importantly because Jesus gave his life to make hers right. It is when she understands not only THAT it is life in her womb, but WHO has that life and promises to sustain it. SHE needs to have values bigger than the problems she faces. YOU need to demonstrate the forgiving and sustaining love of God as you witness that love of God in Christ. Values are seen, not just heard. Values are held before they can be applied.
What about the end-of-life issues surrounding terminal illness, irreversible disabilities, and aging? What is to keep someone from adopting the pragmatic ethic of the suicide doctor, Jack Kevorkian, or of Hitler and every other pragmatist who would rid society of its weak in order to better the standard of living for the strong? If life has no intrinsic worth, if the quality of life determines the validity of life, if viability is measured on some societal profit/loss … then values have become hostage to the whim and will of opinion shapers and political shakers.
And those are the people who are talking to our children. Why shouldn’t they listen if we seem willing to sacrifice their future for our own short-term pleasure or economic gain? Why should they care about the elderly and infirm if we treat our own aging family members with indifference? Somebody will shape the values of the next generation. FAMILY values are the truths and principles that are drawn from the Bible, discussed around the family dinner table, put into practice in how the family treats each other. They are consistent principles FROM God that make God the REASON for what we believe, treasure and do.
Now let me caution you that unless life values have a Christian context, families will be imposing their standard on children instead of passing on their values to children. You see, values are not simply laws. Merely reciting the fifth commandment at our children has a better chance of inciting rebellion than shaping values. God says so. The law has no power that can enable us to comply. Only the gospel can turn biblical principles into Christian values.
The Christian Gospel says that life has not only been created by God it has also been redeemed by God. Human life is so precious that God sacrificed the life of his only-begotten Son to take away the sin that destroyed God’s image in humankind. Jesus GAVE his life so that death would no longer terrorize our living. Think of the Implications of redemption! Life isn’t merely an 80-year trip through the buffet line of choices and then you die. Life has been made eternal; and here-and-now has become the time to find out about it. If life under the Father who created us is worth living, how about life with the Father who paid the supreme price to adopt us back when we became runaways? “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law,” St. Paul says in Galatians. The law screamed at us, “Thou shalt not kill,” then condemned us for every failure to respect life and nurture life – our own and anyone else’s. Christ redeemed us from that curse and from the slavish obligation to do what we could never do. With the forgiveness He won for us He enabled us to LOVE life and love God.
The Gospel assures us that life has been reconciled by Christ to God. Where once we were enemies, alienated from and antagonized by God, in Jesus we have become God’s friends and God’s family “if anyone is in Christ, he is a NEW creation,” St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5. “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ.” Life’s a whole new ball game in Jesus. It’s trusting our heavenly Father rather than fighting with him over where our life should go. It’s the confidence of his presence that enables us to risk the right. It’s the certainty of his forgiveness that enables us to confess the wrong. It’s the harmony with his will that enables us to see life his way and want it that way.
The Gospel reminds Christians that their life has been regenerated in Christ. “We were buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life,” St. Paul wrote in Romans 6. We have been given the life of Christ, the power of Christ to say NO to sin and YES to God. “The grace of God teaches us to say NO to ungodliness and worldly passions,” the apostle adds in Titus 2. Not rules but grace, not law but gospel forges Christian values.
So, then, family values are built around the family altar. There God speaks to the family about sin and forgiveness; and there the family speaks to each other the forgiveness of sins. At the family altar God’s Word defines life and God’s will guides life. But above all, God’s love turns these principles into values willingly embraced. That family altar may be a devotional time around the table, or it may be a discussion in the car. It is where the family comes together around the Son of God and His Word.
Jesus shapes our values in the issue of life, because as Colossians 3 says it, “JESUS IS OUR LIFE.”
by Pastor Paul Kelm, Message From the Master Series
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