The Worth of the Human Soul
“Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” Jesus (John 7:24)
What is a person worth? What is the value of the human soul? How important is a single soul? How much should we trouble ourselves for a person in need? Who has the right to decide the relative value of one life over another? On what basis do we make these decisions?
The Road to Death and Hell
Answers to these questions are essential and necessary if we are to treat humans properly. In one form or another, in large and small ways, these questions are being asked in our society today. And the answers inform our actions. At one extreme, some people would say that humans are simply accidents of millions of years of random chance, and that time on earth is our span of life: we are born, we live, and we die. That’s it. There is no real objective meaning, there is no final consummation, there is no human eternity. All is random, and thus, all is meaningless. Life, in this view, is a short stay on earth where one must reap all the pleasure and comfort he can during the few years he has. And, in this view, the approach to decisions about other people becomes very short-sighted, pragmatic and subjective. Utilitarianism and functionalism rule, and individual persons are not really significant (unless that person happens to be one’s self!). Convenience is key. No one is really ultimately important, but subjective thinking allows for a differential scale of value, and by that scale, some are viewed as more significant than others. The powerful trump the weak, the wealthy rule the poor, and the intelligentsia lord it over the simple. People are assigned their relative value based on their assessed worth to the strong, the wealthy, and the self-proclaimed wise. The results are predictable.
If the individual person is not of value except as assigned by certain powerful groups, then anything can happen. The eugenics movement of the 1900’s brought us Hitler and his extermination of Jews and others who did not fit his criteria for the super race. The same movement, from another branch, brought us Planned Parenthood, with its evil racist foundations and continuing advocacy of abortion. In our day, the issue of abortion of unborn babies is a prime example of the devaluing of life by many. (In the US, since 1973, there have been almost 50 million aborted babies- 50 million!! The number is almost unimaginable.) Some are even saying that a child does not achieve true personhood, or is not fully human as others are, until a certain age, maybe two to five years old. Here, as in Hitler’s day, a single human soul is seen as unimportant, or less important than others, in certain specific cases. In contrast, Scripture clearly teaches us that from conception, an embryo is human, a person with a soul. It is ironic that some advocate late-term abortions at gestational ages at which, if these babies were born prematurely, they would be heroically saved (usually) at immense expense and effort. This thinking is schizophrenic, at best. And to think that a little child is not of equal value to any other human is almost unimaginable.
Otherwise serious and intelligent people advocate physician-assisted suicide, or euthanasia (both euphemisms for murder) as if they were credible and logical positions to take. And, they are, if all we have is individuals who are here by chance with no externally given value, and nothing on which to make to decisions except the subjective, pragmatic opinions of the day. So, where do we draw the line? If one says that an unborn baby and a sick, old man can each be killed, how about those children who are developmentally delayed (think Down Syndrome or cerebral palsy) and will never contribute to society, but will drain its resources? What about those who are chronically ill? How about the weak, the poor, the below average student? How about those who believe differently from the majority? Those that are racially or culturally different? What if it is just plain inconvenient to have someone or some group around? It may seem far-fetched, but if we take the position that the powerful can kill the weak, using only subjective and pragmatic thinking, the foundation will shift ever downward, becoming less solid and more fluid, and the killing will include more and more. And, people will say it is good for society, for the greater good. It happened in Hitler’s Germany.
The Almost Infinite Value, Depth, and Vastness of the Human Soul
How would we answer the questions about the value of a human soul if we look at God’s perspective on life? The answers and conclusions should guide our actions. All we need to know is God’s mind on the subject, and then we will have an external, objective, consistent basis for making decisions, for viewing people, and for properly treating other people in large ways and small. God has given us his views in the Bible, his Holy Word, so we know clearly how he thinks. In the Bible, and in his Son, Jesus Christ, he has revealed all we need to know.
1. God created humans in his image.
And God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)
Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being (soul). (Genesis 2:7)
Humans are living souls created in the image of God. He gives us life, and he had made us to live forever into eternity. He gives us the ability to think, plan and communicate. He endows each human with the capacities to give and receive love, to enjoy God and others, and to create. God has given each human dignity and eternity, and we are qualitatively much different from any other organism in God’s creation.
Because we are not mere accidents in time and space, but are specially created as living souls in God’s image, each person is of great value. The human is God’s greatest creation. Each of us is made a “a little lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor” (Hebrews 2: 7). There is no such thing as an ordinary, insignificant, unimportant, uninteresting, expendable person.
… the LORD … stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him…(Zechariah 12:1)
2. The soul of a person is vast.
… the inward thought and the heart of a man are deep (unsearchable). (Psalm 64:6)
Each human soul is a vast, deep, unsearchable region. “There are few things in the universe as vast as the human soul,” says Ray Ortlund Jr. We are often surprised at the creativity, the inner strength, the adaptability, the perseverance, and the self-sacrificing love we see from people. God gives us a near-infinite capacity to know him, the infinite God of all eternity. We are often amazed that we cannot plumb the depths of another person’s inner being. And, we are often unable to understand even ourselves, including the depth of our sin. “The heart is more deceitful than all else, and is desperately sick; who can understand it?”(Jeremiah 17:9)
3. Each human soul is of almost infinite value.
For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?
For what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? (Mark 8:36, 37)
Jesus here asks two rhetorical questions. It is obvious to all of us that no one would want to forfeit his soul (equivalent to going to hell and being separated from God forever) for all the riches, property, power, in sum, the entirety of the whole world. Jesus asks us to make a value judgment. What is worth more, a human soul, or the whole world? The answer is self-evident: the soul. What can possibly ransom a human soul, what can one give to buy back his own soul? The answer is plain and stark: I have nothing, even if I could give the whole world, that I can give that equals the worth of my own soul.
No man can by any means redeem his brother, Or give to God a ransom for him–
For the redemption of his soul is costly, And he should cease trying forever–
But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol; for he will receive me. (Psalm 49:7,8, 15)
What can possibly ransom my soul, what can be given in exchange for my soul? I cannot redeem or ransom another, or myself. Even the whole world will not do the job. And, if the whole world is not at least an even exchange, what is of greater value than my soul, and can redeem it? Only one thing, or I should say, one person. The answer is found in Mark 10:45 where Jesus says,
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.
The human soul is of such value that, in order for even one of them to be ransomed, the payment required the death of the Son of God. Jesus came to die for our sins, the perfect Son of God offering his life in exchange for ours, willingly being slaughtered on the cross to take away the sins of those who will receive his redeeming gift. The blood of Jesus Christ is the only thing in the universe capable of buying a single human soul. The blood of Jesus Christ is more than sufficient to cover the sins of each human soul who receives his offer of ransom, redemption, forgiveness, and salvation. His love and grace exceed the cost of our redemption. And since his blood is of infinite value, and only God is infinite, the individual soul Jesus died for is of almost infinite value
4. The human soul is far too great to be satisfied with anything less than God himself.
All a man’s labor is for his mouth and yet the appetite (soul) is not satisfied.(Ecclesiastes 6:7)
Our own experience teaches us the seemingly sad truth that all the world will never satisfy us. We may receive a temporary and superficial satisfaction from wealth or things, from power and ambition fulfilled, from recognition and prestige. How many of us try to fill our lives with meaning from careers, family, friends, success, sports, busyness? They never ultimately satisfy us. We even often mistake as means of ultimate fulfillment the many good things God has given us when these are simply loving tokens from the loving God, gifts given to us to whisper to us that God loves us. Yet, behind the gifts is the Giver, the Reality. So whether we attempt to find our ultimate satisfaction in good things or evil things, we still miss being fulfilled, and find ourselves empty. Why is this? It is because God alone can fill us and satisfy us. He alone is able to give us deep, inner satisfaction, peace and joy.
The truth is that we can never be satisfied with anything less than God himself. If God created us in his image, and our souls are almost infinitely vast and deep and valuable, it stands to reason that our souls need far more than the good gifts of God in this created world, or than things we selfishly grasp for ourselves to fill our deep need for joy. We need God in our souls. We were created for him, and to know him. We were never meant to be filled with anything but him, and nothing else can do it. We were made to glorify him and enjoy him forever.
They were hungry and thirsty; Their soul fainted within them.
Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble; He delivered them out of their distresses. (Psalm 107:5,6)
For He has satisfied the thirsty soul, And the hungry soul He has filled with what is good. (Psalm 107:9)
“Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And delight yourself in abundance.” (Isaiah 55:1,2)
Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the LORD, and he will have compassion on him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.(Isaiah 55:6,7)
I cannot improve on God’s Word. Only God can satisfy the human soul, and he freely offers himself to us in a relationship that will fill what cannot be filled with anyone or anything else. He is near. All we can do is call upon him for Jesus’ sake and ask for him to fill us. When we do, he never rejects us, he never despises or mocks us, and never sends us away empty.
5. Even a single human soul is worth a lot of trouble.
Jesus came to earth to free human souls. He came to free us from our sins, our guilt, our slavery, our misery, our deadness. He had to die for us to accomplish his mission. To greatly understate the fact, he went to a lot of trouble to free us, coming down from heaven, taking on himself humanity, living with us, and then dying for us. And even one soul is important to him.
Jesus and his disciples cross the Sea of Galilee in Mark 4 “to the other side.” The disciples probably think to themselves, “Oh, boy, another great adventure!” After a horrific storm, they wind up in in country of the Gerasenes where they immediately meet a man who is demon-possessed, who lives among the tombs, who is fearsome to all his neighbors, and who himself is in constant misery, torment, and the bondage of self-destruction (Mark 5). Jesus heals this man and frees him from his demons. And then, to our surprise, Jesus turns around and goes back across the lake to his hometown. To our way of thinking, this does not make any sense. Let’s get this straight: Jesus crosses the lake, he encounters a storm that scares his disciples out of their minds, he rescues one man from slavery to the devil, and then he goes home. No one else was saved. It doesn’t sound like a very successful evangelistic campaign, does it? Yet, Jesus saw the near-infinite value of one soul, and he went to that soul, freed him, and considered his mission accomplished. That man’s salvation was what Jesus had planned to accomplish, and that was enough to cause him to hazard the storm, to go to that man, and spend his time and energy on his behalf. The salvation of one soul was a success in the eyes of Jesus. Our thinking is so far from that of our Lord’s.
Finally, consider Jesus’ teaching in Luke 15 where he tells the parables of the lost sheep the lost coin. The emphasis is on the value of the single animal or coin, and Jesus concludes in verse 10 that “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
One soul matters to God, and should matter to us. One soul is worth a lot of trouble.
The human soul, even one human soul, is vast, deep, humanly immeasurable and unsearchable, and almost infinite in worth. There are no unimportant people. There are no insignificant people. God’s Son, Jesus, died for human souls, and he gave us his life in exchange for ours.
How does this alter our thinking and actions?
1. We must think of people as God does, each one being of great value, and even one being worth all we can do to give them the gospel. We must be willing to suffer, and actually suffer, if we are going to give the gospel to people. It will cost us something, but they are worth it because Jesus Christ is worth it.
2. No human soul can ever be satisfied with anything or anyone but God himself, and he gives himself to us through Jesus. We are fools if we believe we can ever be fulfilled by anything else, no matter how good or innocent it may seem. We must every day seek God alone, and call out to him to be our joy and satisfaction. We must help others see their need for him as the only source of full and eternal joy.
3. Followers of Christ must be in the vanguard of those who speak up for and defend the rights of the weak, the helpless, the poor, the crushed, the sick, the disenfranchised, and the hopeless. Every human soul deserves life, freedom, peace, and joy. There are many more specific areas, but to mention only two, abortion and physician-assisted suicide are blights on our nation. These concepts have become sanitized and legitimized only as we have turned from God and his objective Word. If we continue to turn from him, our nation could experience the same horrors as Germany. It is bad enough already. Jesus came to give life, not death. Cultural attitudes about death and life are the markers for the direction our culture is taking.
4. Be amazed at the vastness of your own soul and of those of others. Explore, with the Holy Spirit as your guide, your own soul. Cultivate the greatness God has given you. Give great honor to others. Treat other human beings in a manner worthy of the dignity God has given them, offering grace, mercy, love, patience, and kindness in our dealings with others. It is often easy to say we love the worth of the human soul when those souls are “out there” in our thinking, outside our day to day experience; but, in our routine relationships with friends, family, and others, we show them little of the honor they deserve as human souls created in God’s image, often damaging their souls rather than offering them a taste of the gospel of Jesus in our actions and words.
“There is a prospect greater than the sea, and it is the sky. There is a prospect greater than the sky, and it is the human soul.”
Victor Hugo, Les Miserables
Copyright, Jerry Miller, Jr., 2009. All rights reserved.