THE REASON Lives Matter

blog - lives matter

Quite obviously, our country still has issues with ethnic relations.

Please notice that I very intentionally use the word “ethnic” as opposed to “race.” Did you know that the word “racism” actually comes out of the 19th century French Enlightenment period – a philosophical period that shifted mankind’s focus from God to man? It was at that point that humans started to believe there was such a thing as more or less evolved “races” of humans. But according to the Bible, there are only 2 races of humans – believers and non-believers – who descended from one race, sharing common ancestry dating to Adam and Eve. In other words, the mere use of words like “racism” are indicative of a larger problem – a loss of the public consciousness of God. This invariably leads to a loss of the value of human life. It’s a deep issue that has manifested itself in multiple ways.

The violence of the past month indicates that our nation, as a whole, apparently doesn’t have a particularly high view of human life. But we’ve also legally and publicly ended 60 million lives since 1973. Think those aren’t related? We’ve been demonstrating for quite some time now that we simply don’t care very deeply about other humans’ lives. Further indication is that another societal pillar – the relationship between citizens and the people we hire to protect them – is seemingly starting to break down as well now too.

Why?

Cornell professor Brian Tierney has all but proven that the concept of inalienable human rights and universal human value was brought into western philosophy by medieval Christian theologians. For the past 150 years or so, Americans have taken for granted the fact that all human life has value and all human beings possess rights. But that’s actually a fairly small sliver of time and place in history. Humans haven’t always believed in inalienable rights rooted in inherent worth. And we didn’t just stumble upon this idea by good fortune either. It is was received directly from the Christian Church’s influence on the West.

If you don’t believe that, just ask EITHER some of the smartest atheists OR some of the smartest Christians!

Friedrich Nietzsche said,

“Another Christian concept, no less crazy: the concept of equality of souls before God. This concept furnishes the prototype of all theories of equal rights.” (The Will to Power, 401)

Nietzsche would later go on to say that it was foolish to believe that the value system of Christianity would be kept if Christianity was lost in a society. He referred to these values as “shadows of gods.” And he concluded that if you remove the Christian foundation, the values too will go.

In more ancient times, guys like Aristotle, also certainly no believer in the true God, said,

“For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule…And indeed the use made of slaves and of tame animals is not very different, for both with their bodies minister to the needs of life.” (The Politics)

No, Artistotle clearly did not believe all human lives had equal value. He felt some were too emotional and incapable of higher reason. Some, in his opinion, were closer to animals and it was okay to treat them as such.

In more modern times, academics like Princeton Bioethics professor, Peter Singer, has argued that human life only has worth on the basis of “capacity” – our ability to do legitimate reasoning. Consequently, he’s deeply in favor of abortion and euthanasia, because he does not believe infants and senile elderly to be capable of sound reasoning. The obvious question is WHO is the lucky individual who gets to determine who’s reasonable or not? Singer doesn’t have a good answer. He seems to think he’s qualified though. Somewhat paradoxically, he’s also considered one of the founders of modern animal rights.

Even Thomas Jefferson, arguably the least religious of the founding fathers, said:

“And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath?” (Notes on the State of Virginia, 163)

Jefferson is teaching that there is no basis for human worth and equality outside of this value being imbued by a divine Creator. Similarly, George Washington said that morality cannot be sustained apart from religion. John Adams said our Constitution only worked for religious people. And so on.

Finally, and perhaps most pertinently in light of the cause behind the most recent violence, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in his “American Dream” sermon, said:

“You see, the founding fathers were really influenced by the Bible. The whole concept of the imago Dei … ‘the image of God,’ is the idea that all men have something within them that God injected, to have fellowship with God. And this gives him a uniqueness, worth, and dignity. And we must never forget this as a nation: there are no gradations in the image of God. Every man from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard, precisely because every man is made in the image of God.”

So, can I say it again? If you don’t believe Christian faith is the only basis for human rights, just ask either some of the smartest atheists or some of the smartest Christians. They’ll both tell you the same thing.

More importantly, ask the Bible itself. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t just come up with the idea of human equality. He found it, and launched the most important modern civil rights movement – non-violent and totally effective – by doing theology. Dr. King knew it wasn’t enough for any of us to simply say that lives matter. He knew we had to have a basis, a reason why lives matter. And he rediscovered for our generation the beauty of the imago Dei. How? He reminded us what God’s Word has to say about it.

In Genesis 9:5–6, God says,

“And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting…. from each human being, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.

“Whoever sheds human blood,
    by humans shall their blood be shed;
for in the image of God
    has God made mankind. (Gen. 9:5-6) (see also, James 3:9-10)

Make sense? Humans are incredibly valuable precisely because when God created them, he placed his image upon them. This is the reason lives matter. Apart from this teaching (known as the imago Dei) there is absolutely no true basis to make the case for the value of human life. Tierney, Nietzsche, Aristotle, Singer, Jefferson, King, and God all agree on this.

But the Bible teaches that because humans still retain the inherent worth of the image of God, Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, saw us as valuable enough that he would come and die to pay for the sins of every human.

“Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.” (Rom. 5:18)

And the proof is in the pudding. Christianity had answers for civil wickedness in the past. Christians ended the infanticide in the Greco-Roman world by taking these children in. Christians cared for the elderly and the sick during the plagues, when everyone else left them to die. Jesus was the one who spoke radically about ethnic relations between Jews and Samaritans. And Jesus was the Ultimate Nonviolent Protestor.

“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7)

Saved by Jesus and inspired by Jesus, the early Christians put their belief in the sanctity of human life on display. In doing so they presented a more beautiful truth than the world around them. Lives were lost but hearts were melted and the world was changed. The western world was led to place a high premium on the value of human life. But we’ve lost that because, as a majority, we’ve lost the Christian faith.

We won’t get it back by politics. We won’t get it back by Facebook tirades. And we won’t get it back by Sunday punchcard Christianity.

In the wake of last week’s murders, Dallas Police Chief David Brown said at a press conference, “We’re asking cops to do too much in this country.” He’s right. We’ve put the weight of God on someone/something other than Jesus. We’ve asked our governement and its civil servants to accomplish the divine. So we’re constantly disappointed and kicking around shallow solutions.

If we regain the value of human life in our country, it’s only going to come because our citizens see the imago Dei. And the only ones we can assume would put this on display are Christians. So, if you’re a Christian who really wants to be part of the solution to our nation’s most newsworthy problem, it requires:

  1. Regular study to know Jesus.
  2. Regular repentance and thankfulness to comprehend Jesus’ grace.
  3. Regular courage to speak about Jesus.
  4. Regular sacrifice for others to show Jesus’ love.

God created us and placed his image upon us. We clearly matter.

God redeemed us by the blood of his only Son. We clearly matter.

God placed his own Spirit inside of us and has empowered us. We can make a difference if we move forward in faith.

Church, be the Church.

 

For more on the Imago Dei, please read here.

blog - lives matter 2

Advertisements

10 thoughts on “THE REASON Lives Matter

  1. John Huebner says:

    Wow…so well put! How can we get this out to major media outlets? At least in Forward. Thanks for the research and thinking!

  2. Excellent article today! I’ve been thinking and praying about this issue since the Dallas shootings. I agree with your conclusions — the answers are not in politics or demonstrations. It is through repentance and a new life in Christ. That can only come through the power of God’s Word. And that can only come through the proclamation of God’s Word. And that starts with me. No excuses.

  3. Kurt Loescher says:

    Wow! What a nice piece. There is room for discussion on some of your points (The tower of Babel deserves to be in the discussion on the origin of racism, and the two kingdoms of church and state in the discussion of who is responsible for addressing the violence involved with racism). But your main theme is dead on. By witnessing to the love of Jesus, we are exercising our belief that all lives are precious and equal in the eyes of God. You convicted me with your statement about punch card Christianity. I wanted to say, “Hey now! Wait just a minute.” Instead I turned to my Savior in repentance. In grace and faith, let’s witness to our torn nation the love of God in Jesus.

  4. Rachel S. says:

    “The thing wrong with America is white racism. White folks are not right…It’s time for America to have an intensified study on what’s wrong with white folks.”
    -Dr. King

    (Source and video here: http://lutheranconfessions.blogspot.com/2016/01/three-quotes-and-speech-martin-luther.html )

    Your four recommendations are on point. But they fall short. While doing those, white people specifically must also systematically and thoughtfully examine their own roles in perpetuating racist institutional structures in our country. You can’t just pray and work in a soup kitchen once in a while and hope people see you being a good example, and that that somehow will alleviate the pain and suffering of all our country’s people. If you think Jesus will solve this problem without specific human action, you are part of the problem. What specific human actions would Jesus (the ultimate non-violent protestor, as you say) recommend?

  5. Hannah says:

    Interesting historical references from a variety of diverse influencers. I’d ask for more clarity around why asking American police officers to protect its citizens (or, let’s start small… just not kill them) of all races (or, excuse me, ethnicities) is something that can only be done by the Christian God. And/or that it is divine?

  6. James, thanks for yet another edifying and thought-provoking post.

    Two comments that I would categorize as brotherly criticism, with an inquisitive tone (in other words, I present them in the spirit of eager willingness to hear your explanation and to be corrected): First, I think we have to be careful of blanket statements like: “In other words, the mere use of words like ‘racism’ are indicative of a larger problem…” Theologians like Chemnitz would say that even though words matter, words aren’t the most important thing; the ideas they are intended to communicate are. (We say the same thing with respect to the content of the Bible.) I too try to make a distinction between the one human race, for whom Christ shed his blood, and the various ethnicities within that race, but I also know many Christians who use the word “race” who mean the exact same thing as you and I mean when we use the word “ethnicity.” So while the development of the word may be indicative of a larger problem, I don’t think the mere use of the word is. The important question to ask is, “What do you mean by that?” (I recently had one of my delegates to our district convention tell me that the convention was “entertaining.” After further conversation, I’m almost 100% sure he meant “enjoyably edifying.”)

    My second criticism has to do with the concept of the imago Dei. I think there is a lot of confusion on this subject in the visible Christian church, and because mainstream Protestantism has hijacked this term and used it in a non-biblical way (which supports their decision theology), we as Lutherans have to be VERY careful when speaking on this subject. Franz Pieper has a fantastic and concise treatment of this in his Dogmatics, vol. 1, p. 518-519. To sum up, he says it is possible to describe us as still being created in God’s image in a sense, but if we use the term “image of God” that way, we have to realize that we are not using that term in its proper sense (cf. Gen 5:1-3; Eph 4:24; Col 3:10) and we definitely have some explaining to do, so that we don’t give the impression that we are somehow mitigating our natural total depravity and the spiritual deadness and blindness into which we are all conceived. Luther said that when Genesis 9 and James 3 refer to mankind being made in God’s image, they are simply pointing to the fact that God obviously values mankind in a way he doesn’t value the rest of creation (and therefore we should too), since ORIGINALLY, before the Fall, he made their reason, emotions, and will in perfect harmony with his own. This is the point you also made, but it wasn’t entirely clear if you were saying that we all STILL retain the image of God.

    “Humans are incredibly valuable precisely because when God created them, he placed his image upon them. This is the reason lives matter.” – Correct, but the past tense of “placed” needs to be emphasized. And I’m not sure it was when you went on to say: “But the Bible teaches that because humans still retain the inherent worth of the image of God, Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, saw us as valuable enough that he would come and die to pay for the sins of every human.” If I’m to follow my own advice, I would explain to someone asking about this sentence that what you’re trying to express is that God created humans in the beginning to have a special, close relationship with him that nothing else in creation has, and God still wants that for all humans (that’s why he sent Jesus). But I could also see someone just as easily coming away from that sentence with the understanding that we still have the image of God as he gave it to us in the beginning (its “inherent worth”). The Bible actually describes us as worthless by nature (Romans 3:12), or more precisely, as worthy and valuable as our god(s) is/are (2Ki 17:15; Jer 2:5; Jonah 2:8; Ac 14:15). Only in Christ is the worth and value of the image of God, yes, the image of God itself, restored to us, and only through faith in Christ does anyone benefit from and enjoy the same.

  7. Nonymo says:

    A hard sell.

    I find less than valid the claim that Christians, however pious, are a stronger force for good in the world than others who don’t draw inspiration from Jesus, the Bible etc. Many of the Muslim Arabs I meet exude an aura just as positive and authentic as the best of Christians I have ever met. Christianity has no monopoly on goodness. The mere concept of dividing all people into two races, believers and unbelievers, runs counter to the notion that “lives matter”, because we (accepting this concept) feel it all the less when someone we suppose to be an “unbeliever” bites the dust – or nowadays rather the bomb blast – than if we viewed all people as being of one race. One race = lives matter. Two races = some lives matter less than others. It is rather the prevalence of this distinction in the mind of the American public that allows the ubiquitous violence to go on with such little protest. The distinction between believers and unbelievers is no less than a construed, arbitrarily applied binary good and bad, 1 and 0. This distinction denies any form of respectable application; its intended purpose is to build pressure on the reader to follow the writer’s will. A further manipulative aspect of this piece is the appeal to the purported agreement on the part of the “smartest” (argument by authority). I do not put into question the upright intentions of the writer, but most certainly his ability to critically question the methods of persuasion he employs (the same judgement I had to pass on myself years ago).

    Matthew 5:6. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Rather than being over-full on the rightness we deem to be in possession of, let us show some hunger for it and live by the Greatest Commandment and its appendix. Salutations from Herr Lessing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s