How much is a human life worth? This is a question that a number of disciplines and storytellers have wrestled with for a long time. As a part of the Genesis creation narrative, a claim is made that God specifically created humanity unique. This distinction of humanity is that when God created, he bestowed his own image onto humanity. Genesis 1 claims that humanity, male and female are created in God’s own image. This statement is repeated three times so it must be important. There is an implied dignity and worth in this distinction for humanity compared to the rest of God’s creation.
The relevance of this issue is found in the application of ethical practice and human relations. What an individual believes about the dignity of humanity as being created in the image of God will impact the way in which they view themselves and how they interact with other human individuals.
So what is a human life worth?
What is the image of the God of the universe worth? Genesis implies that humanity is special to the extent that humanity may not even be able to fathom since humanity is incapable of fully understanding God. But what we do know of God is what he has revealed to us in scripture, as well as the work of his Holy Spirit in us and through us. We know that God is triune, operating in three persons in perfect, unified relationship. We know that God is love. We know that God loves his creation and sees us as having unsurpassable worth, each one. How do we know this? Well, other than the clear declaration of Genesis 1, we know this because of Jesus.
Jesus’ declaration of human worth
Jesus made worth statements about humanity in his teachings and parables over and over. The statements of honoring the social outcast, caring for the sick, the poor, and the least of these all point to a God who is actively revealing his very heart for humanity and the unsurpassable worth he has given each and every one of us.
If Jesus’ revelation of God’s heart in his very life and teachings are not enough to convince us of humanity’s true worth, then we have a final declarative statement in the cross. When we ask, “How much is humanity worth?” The answer starkly, violently on display in a terrible and beautiful revelation of God’s love is when a bloody man who is also God dies. To God, humanity is worth this, both collectively and individually. We are worth the cross to God.
Within Christianity, there is a distinct call to relate in love towards fellow human beings (John 13:34-35; Romans 12:10; Romans 13:8; Galatians 5:13; Ephesians 4:2; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 Peter 3:8; 1 John 3:11; 1 John 3:23). This emphasis on loving others and honoring the dignity of humanity is established by God at the beginning of his creative work on earth. Accepting this, there are certain implications for ethical issues humanity faces including issues of war, violence, slavery, government, power, abortion, euthanasia, gender issues, racial issues, religious plurality, and living in a peaceful community with one another.
The image of God in all human beings is so valuable, cherished and loved that the God of love is driven even to the cross for us to understand just exactly who he is and the value he puts on each of us. The relational nature of God is revealed in love and human beings are the reflection, the very image of that God here on earth. God in his infinite wisdom has invited us to be a part of his kingdom revelation of himself to creation. We are called to be his image in this world. We start by loving and worshipping this God by honoring the worth of humanity in our individual selves and then every human being we relate to.