by Jonathan Sherwin
“The West became a humane civilization because it was founded on the precepts of a teacher who insisted that man was valuable.” – Vishal Mangalwadi
It is without question that Christianity has changed the face of the world, and it has done so on the back of the Bible. This ancient book carefully composed, transmitted, and passed accurately through generations has instigated positive political, social, religious, and economic reform.
For example, In 17th Century Scotland, Samuel Rutherford – a preacher – read his Bible and saw that all men are created equal under God. Rulers weren’t meant to lord it over their subjects. Reasoning from Scripture, Rutherford argued that Kings are not above the law, but that they are held to a higher law. At first rejected in Great Britain (Oxford University burned the book), it influenced the founding governmental systems of the United States of America, and eventually led to political reform limiting a monarch’s power here too.
Schools and Universities have been established by people reading their Bibles. Hospitals and healthcare programs have been created also. The Salvation Army tackles poverty. William Wilberforce, reading his Bible, campaigned to end the Slave Trade, and while he was at it set up the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA).
So how is it that the Bible, a mere book, can cause so much change? It is because, in short, the Bible gets the answers to the basic and grandest questions of life right. It’s not that men read a parable or a Psalm and have a creative idea in the shower that sets their whole life on a path to reform (although that may happen), but that when we read the Bible as a whole, as a complete book, we see it speak accurately to three key areas of life: our value, our condition, and our hope.
Our True Value
Firstly, the Bible tells us that human beings are valuable. Being made in “the image of God” (Genesis 1:26,27) endows human beings with dignity, worth, and value. No other part of Creation is made in God’s image. All of Creation is made “good” but humans are set apart, marked as special.
This goes a long way to a firm ethical foundation for the treatment of humans. Why is it wrong to enslave other people? Because all human beings are equally valuable. Why should we not murder? Because all human beings are equally valuable.
In the New Testament the true value of humans is marked by the extraordinary sacrificed of Jesus Christ. God’s own son, come to die to save us. The philosopher Alvin Plantinga calls this the “greatest good” – the best thing we can think of our imagine – and it happened for us.
Humans are prone to two excesses when we remove the Bible as the yardstick for our worth. Firstly, we can think too little of ourselves. One could reduce humans to be of equal value to animals, or other living things like trees. After all, if all we are is simply another type of animal – albeit more highly evolved – then let’s treat each other like animals. Perverse sexual ethics, ethnic cleansing, and slavery all become hard to argue against when we take this position. If we aren’t any more special than any other random collection of atoms, then why should we treat each other as special?
Equally, we can also think too much of ourselves…
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