1. The Bible is clear that humans are made in the image of God. This sets us apart from the rest of creation. We are not just different in degree from animals and other created things, but we are a different kind. That image of God in us means we have the capacity and the privilege to have a relationship with our Creator. Although that image of God in us has been marred by sin and can ultimately only be restored through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, it’s presence means that . . .
2. We are to see all people as having both the image of God and the potential for redemption. No, the image in all people does not mean all with be saved. Furthermore, it does not mean that all human beings are “children of God.” All are creations of God, but only redeemed persons are children of God. It does mean that all human life is valuable and of inherent worth. Contrary to our human pragmatism, this value and worth applies most importantly to . . .
3. Those who are helpless, defenseless, and who perhaps cannot speak for themselves. This includes the unborn, the disabled, the mentally ill, and the infirm elderly. The issue is ontological personhood rather than a pragmatic definition of quality of life or a temporal legal defense of individual rights. Moreover, this value and worth applies to . . .
4. Those who are marginalized, disenfranchised, and often caught up in the fallen structures of human society. By “fallen structures” I simply mean the societal structures that may be good in and of themselves, but which are also affected by the fall of creation (government, economics, education, and so on). That the structures are fallen and even broken in no way removes personal responsibility. Personal responsibility (or irresponsibility), however, does not remove the image of God either. It does acknowledge that these structures are made up and run by fallen human beings, often have complex cause and effect dynamics, and that the “fallen-ness” of these structures affect real people. Let me break down the implications for four groups:
a. First, I am talking about the poor, the homeless, the powerless, and the marginalized. Whatever their condition and whatever the cause of their condition, self-imposed or victims of circumstances, the Bible has a whole lot to say about caring for them. They may need assistance or they may need admonition, but they are persons made in God’s image.
b. Second, I am talking about those incarcerated and guilty of crimes and about their victims. The first may need punished swiftly and severely. They certainly need a chance at rehabilitation. Their victims definitely need restitution, comfort, and justice. It all gets kind of messy, but both are in the image of God. By the way, I would argue that a society which genuinely values life has in place both swift and severe penalties for crimes against persons and aggressive rehabilitation efforts for the incarcerated. Not to have the former overlooks justice and the inherent value of their victims’ lives. Not to have the latter overlooks the inherent value and potential redemption of the perpetrators’ lives.
c. Third, and most relevantly, I am talking about those who are refugees and immigrants seeking a better life. Certainly, there are legal and safety issues to consider. That is the government’s responsibility (and it could do a better job). The starting point from a Biblical perspective, however, is that refugees and immigrants are bearers of the image of God, should be cared for, and are, in the overwhelming majority of cases, simply trying to make a better life (what could be more American than that?). At the same time that I ask my elected officials to secure the border, I also want them to come up with a compassionate and quick way to help anyone who qualifies to become a productive (and tax paying) American citizen. I don’t think it is that hard to come up with a solution. It is just that the issue has become one by which to demonize the political opponent, while image bearers of God suffer and American citizens on all sides grow more and more frustrated.
d. Finally, and at times the most difficult to shallow and apply, I am talking about the enemy. Yes, we have enemies. Even the Bible acknowledges that. My personal enemy is also made in the image of God. I am commanded to love him and do all I can to live at peace with him. Our corporate enemy is such that at times we go to war with him. Some would argue for absolute pacifism based on the command not to kill and the fact that all humans are made in the image of God. I can’t go that far, but would argue that the image of God in humans means we should always avoid war until all other options are exhausted, and do all we can to spare innocent lives. Oh, yes, the historical realities are sometimes overwhelming (to quote the Brad Pitt character in the movie Fury, “Ideals are peaceful; history is violent). Debates get quite intense and nuanced here, as they can for all points above.
There is so much more to be said about a comprehensive and consistent pro-life position; many books have been written on the subtleties and nuances of application in this messy world. The bottom line for me is this:
One, my starting point has to be the image of God in humans and a respect for all of life, including and especially the unborn and the powerless.
Two, having said that, I know our fallen world makes application of a comprehensive and consistent pro-life position a challenge. Crime, poverty, self-defense, war, evil, hardened and unrepentant criminals . . . well, as they say, it all looks good on paper. The devil is in the application details (that’s two clichés in a row).
Three, when it comes to evaluating politicians running for office, I have to weigh their positions on all of the above before I make a choice. All the points above are important to me, but some do carry more weight than others. When I agonize over the scorecard, I have to struggle with the only opinion that ultimately matters – What does a comprehensive and consistent study of the Bible tell me? You tell me: Am I being too naïve and unrealistic?