Christians believe there is something special about human beings. People are not like anything else in the entire universe. We are not just the highest level of evolved life. The Bible says that people are made ‘in the image of God’. We share something of his nature: the ability to love and to forgive; the desire for justice; an understanding of good and evil. We also have something eternal in our nature – what some refer to as a soul. The Bible says God made us ‘a little lower than the angels and crowned (us) with glory and honour’. Life is a God-given gift. Everything that Christians believe about the sanctity of life follows on from this.
The Bible makes it clear how much God loves us. He knows us individually. The writer of the Bible book, Psalms, says of God, ‘you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made’. God knows us all intimately. In the Bible books, Matthew and Luke, Jesus tells his followers ‘the very hairs of your head are numbered’.
‘you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.'
Christians believe that God has total and unconditional love for every person. No-one is beyond God’s reach, his love or his forgiveness. He wants a relationship with every person. Central to Christianity is the belief that God, in the form of his son Jesus Christ, allowed himself to be killed by crucifixion to enable the human race to have that relationship.
Christianity teaches that people should respect themselves and each other. The Christian faith is the source of many of the foundations of modern society. The Bible teaches that it is wrong to kill another person; it is wrong to pay back evil with evil; that people should forgive those who do them wrong; that people should try to settle issues privately rather than go to court. Christians believe their physical bodies are special and deserve respect – because God in the form of the Holy Spirit lives within them. The Bible book, 1 Corinthians, says,’ do you not know your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit?’
All human life is precious. Christians debate the point at which a clump of cells developing from the fusion of an egg and a sperm actually represents a new, unique human life. Their position on that will dictate their views on issues such as abortion and stem cell research. More conservative Christians argue that human life begins at the moment of conception and so aborting a foetus is ending a human life – in effect, murder. Many Roman Catholic Christians even consider that contraception is wrong because it is stopping life developing. But some Christians consider that the developing group of cells is not recognisable or viable as a separate person and is just a part of a woman’s body. She therefore has the right to decide what happens to those cells. The issue of abortion arouses passionate views on both sides. Some Christians campaign for tighter restrictions on when abortions can be carried out; some campaign for more relaxed laws. Many have conceded there are exceptional circumstances when abortion should go ahead, for example, when the foetus has an incurable illness and is unlikely to survive or where the mother is the victim of rape or if her own life would be at risk.
A Christian commitment to the sanctity of life needs to be worked out not just in the narrow arenas of abortion and euthanasia, but in our commitment to work for human flourishing at all points in between, as well.
Advances in science raise new questions. Many Christians would argue that it is wrong to use and destroy embryonic cells from in-vitro fertilisation. Others focus on the potential to use such cells to find cures for chronic diseases. One argument is that such cells are a by-product of infertility treatment and would be destroyed anyway.
There is also considerable debate about end-of-life issues. Christians have differing views on assisted dying. Some say it is permissible because a person should be able to choose the time of their death. Opponents fear that it poses a risk to the vulnerable and insist a person’s lifespan should be in God’s hands alone.
Ultimately, a Christian commitment to the sanctity of life needs to be worked out not just in the narrow arenas of abortion and euthanasia, but in our commitment to work for human flourishing at all points in between, as well. For example, the organisation ‘Home for Good’ was started by Baptist minister Krish Kandiah in response to the enormous need for foster and adoptive homes in this country.