I was a sophomore in college when my friend Mari called me, frantic because her husband Ken had locked himself in a $25-a-night hotel with one too many bottles of cheap liquor alongside one too many thoughts that he had nothing to offer this world.
When Mari and I arrived at the dingy hotel, Ken stumbled to the door and let us in before sitting on the edge of the bed with hopeless eyes. I’ll never forget Mari sitting next to him as I held his face in my hands. I didn’t know what I was going to say, so I said the one thing I knew to be true: “Ken, your life matters and you have so much to live for. I see value in you, and it’s worth so much more than these bottles you run to.”
Ken wasn’t fully alert due to the alcohol, but he heard enough to produce a single tear. He needed to hear what I knew of him, but more than that, he needed to hear what God knew of him—his life is sacred and he has a purpose in this world.
Those words came few and far between for Ken. And sometimes those he needed to hear them from the most—the church people who would talk to him on the street—were his harshest critics. He often felt like a problem to be fixed rather than a person one could call friend.
Ken and Mari were two of the homeless friends I came to love in college, and they were the first people to truly teach me about the way Jesus values life.
January is Sanctity of Human Life Month, and as I write this with a 10-week-old baby resting his head on me, those words have fresh meaning. But as I look into his baby blue eyes, I often think of Ken, and am reminded that for believers, the sanctity of life stretches far beyond the womb—in fact, it must if we are to truly say we are for life.
If we want to understand the depths of the sanctity of life, we should start with the giver of life Himself. In the Bible, life is introduced on the very first page. In Genesis 1:26, God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…” In fact, the 10 times God spoke in the first chapter of the Bible, everything He said and did gave life and helped it flourish.
The sanctity of life is grounded in believing that every person is made in the image and likeness of God, along with letting our words and actions be life-giving while helping others flourish. Psalm 139:13-16 gives us a good picture of how to do this:
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
There are three truths the writer of Psalm 139 comes to understand about God as the Author of life. These truths also inform the way Christians see, celebrate, and dignify life.
1. “I am fearfully and wonderfully made…”
Celebrating the sanctity of life means committing to the truth that every person has significance and worth. Do our words toward other people reflect the reality that they are fearfully and wonderfully made?
To be made implies intention and purpose. Paul, in the book of Acts, wrote that “in Him we live and move and exist.” God has dignified the lives of the born and unborn, because He has made us. We first dignify the lives of the unborn by recognizing they exist. We continue by making a way for them to live abundantly in this world.
To value life from the womb to this world means our beliefs can’t contradict one another. We must love and fight for the mothers who find themselves with few options just as much as the babies wrapped within their frame.
My sister found herself pregnant in high school and desperately in need of compassion rather than condemnation. The Church reflected the sanctity of life in its fullest—that both my sister and her daughter had purpose, value, and dignity—when it came around her to meet her needs and silence her worries.
But that isn’t always the case, and it’s our opportunity—and privilege—as believers to offer up everything we have for the sake of life—both the mother’s and the child’s. As followers of Jesus, believing that every person we meet is fearfully and wonderfully made means doing whatever we can to help those we cross paths with experience a life abundant.
2. “My frame was not hidden from you…”
The writer has come to believe something deeply profound about God—that God has come close to them in their most vulnerable state. Close enough to understand the intricacies involved with their living. Close enough to understand the complications and concerns. Close enough that nothing could be hidden, and because of that, nothing can be assumed.
As believers, to hold life sacredly means to come close to the homeless on your street, the single mom who needs help, the prisoner behind bars, the refugee who feels alone, the unborn without a home. It’s easier to make statements and judgments about a person we’ve never seen with our own eyes than it is to come close enough to really know them.
We celebrate the sanctity of life through doing the hard work of understanding rather than assuming.
3. “Your eyes saw…”
Nothing can be more unseen than the unborn, but the writer recognizes that God sees them even in their most unseen moment of life. And God sees you.
As believers, we celebrate the sanctity of life by seeing the most unseen and noticing those often overlooked. My grandfather did this. While he would have a line of important people wanting to speak to him, you’d always find him talking with the person most likely to be ignored. But he didn’t just talk with them. He saw them, leaned into their story, and made them feel valued.
If we are to hold the sanctity of life to its highest regard, we must seek out, listen to, and speak up for the unseen. We must dignify, come close, and see.
Nobody modeled the sanctity of life better than Jesus. Jesus Himself said that this was His purpose for coming (John 10:10 ESV): “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” And with one life at a time, that’s what He did.
Every encounter with Jesus moved toward the trajectory of life. Everything about Jesus moves in the trajectory of life. Even the cross, which would take Jesus to His death, was to bring about life.
Unleashing our lives means loving the vulnerable, unseen, and overlooked one at a time. Unleashed living holds the sanctity of life in the highest regard, by bringing life and flourishing through words and action.
Ken and Mari showed me that every life is sacred, valued, and cherished—whether in the womb or walking the streets. But it was Jesus who taught me—and is still teaching me—how to live that out.
As believers, embracing the sanctity of life means following the one-at-a-time example of Jesus, living with a willingness to lose our very lives so that one more person can find life abundant.