Defining the Sanctity of Human Life

Jim Denison | Denison Forum | Updated: Nov 22, 2023
Defining the Sanctity of Human Life

Defining the Sanctity of Human Life

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Israel and Hamas have agreed to a deal by which Hamas will free fifty civilian hostages in return for the release of 150 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails and a four-day pause in fighting. The first hostages could be freed as early as tomorrow. US officials hope this deal in Israel could lead to the release of many more hostages, including those held by Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

In all the reporting I’ve seen on this agreement, here’s a question no one has asked: Why is it that only the jihadists take hostages? Israeli forces have been inside Gaza for several weeks—why have they not taken a single Palestinian hostage to use as leverage with Hamas?

NOTE: I have written a book on the Israel–Hamas war, which we are releasing as a free digital download. I invite you to get your copy here.

“We love death like our enemies love life!”

The answer is simple: the two have very different views regarding the sanctity of human life.

Israel’s worldview, rooted in the Hebrew Bible, believes that all people are created in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:27). They consider hostages to be especially valuable: their central prayer, recited three times a day, speaks of God’s compassion as one who “heals the sick and frees the captives.” The Babylonian Talmud teaches that being held captive is worse than death or famine, for it includes them both.

This is why they freed 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for a single Israeli soldier in 2011. Over the years, they have released about seven thousand Palestinian prisoners to secure the freedom of nineteen Israelis and to retrieve the bodies of eight others.

Hamas, by contrast, stated in its original charter: “Jihad is its path, and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of its wishes.” They claim, “We love death like our enemies love life!” They view Muslims who die in war as martyrs who will be rewarded in paradise.

How we view the sanctity of human life is foundational to the society we create. Israel, as I have witnessed in more than thirty trips to the Holy Land, has built a thriving economy for the benefit of its citizens. Hamas uses Palestinian civilians as human shields and steals aid intended for them to construct tunnels and acquire weapons for killing Jews.

When we view each person as sacred, our definition of success changes dramatically.

Playing Scrabble in five languages

John F. Kennedy and C. S. Lewis both died on this day sixty years ago.

By most measures, both would be considered enormously successful. In a recent Gallup survey, Mr. Kennedy was the highest-rated former US president. He had a net worth of $300 million at the time of his death; in 2015, Forbes estimated the Kennedy family’s net worth at $1.2 billion. His presidential museum is one of my favorites and a lasting tribute to his iconic cultural status.

C. S. Lewis achieved remarkable success as well. He was a true genius, receiving three “firsts” from Oxford (the equivalent of graduating summa cum laude three times) and serving on the faculties of Oxford and Cambridge. (He also played Scrabble with his wife in five languages.) He attained national fame for his radio talks on the BBC during World War II and was featured on the cover of Time magazine in 1947. More than two hundred million copies of his books have been sold.

However, I will always remember my surprise upon visiting his home for the first time. Known as “the Kilns,” it is a modest house where he lived, wrote, and died. Lewis gave away most, if not all, of the proceeds of his books, often making his donations anonymously. He never bought a car or learned to drive and seldom traveled. He put his money in an “Agape Fund” and donated so much of it that a friend had to advise him to keep a third for taxes.

He was just as generous with his time, laboriously responding to each and every letter he received. His personal correspondence was so vast that it has been collected in three volumes.

“You have never met a mere mortal”

What explains Lewis’s extreme personal generosity? Consider this observation in The Weight of Glory:

There are no ordinary people. You have never met a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

Lewis was convinced—rightly—that people are inestimably significant, far above anything the material world can give or measure. As a result, he wisely invested his resources where they would bring the greatest return.

As did his Lord. Scripture says of Jesus: “By him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible—whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16). And yet he chose to make humans, knowing that our sins would cost him the cross (Revelation 13:8 NIV). And then he died a tortured, excruciating death for us (Romans 5:8). He would do it all over again, just for you.

Such sacrificial love is an abundant cause for gratitude this Thanksgiving week and every day of every year.

“It is not your business to succeed”

Serving people in the will of God is the highest and best definition of success. The more we obey our Father’s call to “serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10), the more successful our lives become.

C. S. Lewis was adamant on this point: “It is not your business to succeed, but to do right. When you have done so, the rest lies with God.” Billy Graham likewise asked:

How does God define success? His measure is very different from the world’s measure, and it can be summed up in one sentence: Success in God’s eyes is faithfulness to his calling. Paul was a failure in the world’s eyes—but not to God. Even Jesus was a failure as far as most people were concerned, but “he was faithful to the one who appointed him” [Hebrews 3:2 NIV]—and that is all that mattered.

What is your definition of success? Is it the same as God’s—and are you pursuing it?

How would you answer his questions today?

Photo Courtesy: ©Getty Images/Dan Kitwood / Staff

Publish Date: November 22, 2023

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.

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Defining the Sanctity of Human Life