What is the Value of Life?
The title of this article could suggest several directions in which it could go. My intention here is to raise a general question about how we think of the lives we live on this earth. Life is, of course, a precious thing. All life comes from God, and thus it is valuable. The finality of death only drives the point home even more. Once life is over, it is over. There is no going back, there is no second chance. We get to live once, then we die.
Of course, these considerations drive most of us to put quite a premium on being alive. Life is short, and you only get to do it once, and so there is no time to waste. The New Testament exhorts us to make the most of our time (Eph 5.16) and warns us that “it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed” (Rom 13.11). Opportunities must be taken when they come along. For many people, however, this degenerates into a kind of hedonism which says “I’m going to do what I want (regardless of what anyone says or thinks), because I won’t get another chance at life.” Still others, and especially those who pay no attention to God, turn the rarity of life into a perspective in which being alive is more important than anything else. For the unbeliever, perhaps the worst thing imaginable is not being alive.
What is the true perspective on life? Consider the following illustration. Notice the picture. Of course, the moment you see it, your first impression is that it looks like a diamond ring. With diamonds selling for about $1500 per carat, the ring in the picture would probably cost several thousand dollars easily.
However, the stones in the ring are actually a material known as cubic zirconia. They are crystalline, clear and colorless, hard, and optically flawless. They look like diamonds, but they are not equal to diamonds in value. The ring in the picture would only cost you about $200.
Most people think that life is a diamond: beautiful, precious, tremendously valuable, and worth every effort to retain. The fact is, however, that life is a cubic zirconia. It is not as precious or valuable as people think it is, and losing it is not the worst thing that can happen to you.
Of course, it is still a beautiful thing, just like a cubic zirconia stone is a beautiful thing. Life is still wonderful, and it does indeed have value. It’s just not as valuable as it is commonly made out to be.
[Let’s be clear: this is no ways means that the taking of life is inconsequential. The fact that life is not as valuable as some think in no way means that it is allowable to take another person’s life such as in an abortion or murder.]
This lesson about the value of life comes from the book of Ecclesiastes. Of course, if you have ever read it, it seems to be a depressing book of the Bible. There is much talk about the vanity of earthly pursuits – including possessions, money, education, and having a good job. On top of this, the author speaks repeatedly of the fact of death and how it levels both poor and rich, fools and wise. Nothing in this life (which the author calls the world “under the sun”) provides lasting satisfaction. Everything comes to naught. Additionally, there is much that we will never know, and this limits our activities and the possibilities before us.
His point is that life – every life – is a limited thing, and every life contains a mixture of good things and bad things. “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven. A time to give birth and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted. A time to kill and a time to heal; A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance. A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace and a time to shun embracing. A time to search and a time to give up as lost; a time to keep and a time to throw away. A time to tear apart and a time to sew together; a time to be silent and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace.” (Eccl 3.1ff). The author’s point is not that we should do all of these things in life, but that all of these things will happen in your life, whether you want them to happen or not, whether you like it or not. Every life is a mixture of the joyous and the sad, the easy and the hard. Quit searching for a utopian life on this earth — there isn’t one to be found.
Knowing this about life should affect the way we view it. Life is a limited, imperfect thing. That’s the way God made it — so that we don’t fall in love with it! There are worse things than death, and there are more important things than being alive. What we need to do is make sure that the lives we are living now are preparing us for our meeting with Lord. The Preacher (the pen-name for the author of Ecclesiastes) says “Follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes. Yet know that God will bring you to judgment for all these things.” That is the important thing.
A related idea (also from Ecclesiastes): Wall St. Journal article on the misery of the super-rich