What is the value of a human being? You might question why I even ask the question. I mean if I need to ask does it imply I don’t value human beings? No. I have two reasons for raising the issue. Firstly, it appears to me that it is at one level obvious that human beings are inherently valuable, and inherently valuable out of all proportion to scientific evaluations of ourselves. In which case it is either irrational to value human beings so much, or it is irrational to view human beings from ONLY a scientific perspective. Secondly, it appears to me that the persistence of prejudice requires addressing. There is a common assumption that the solution is just to stop being biased and unreasonable. The problem is that no-one thinks their prejudice is unreasonable or unfair. The Bible contains a story of a person who was so confident about his negative evaluation of a group of people, that he disagreed with God about it.
God sent the Israelite prophet Jonah to go to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, a major national enemy. Jonah sailed away in the opposite direction instead. After some fairly serious fish related digestive discipline, Jonah heads to Nineveh and passes on God’s message in a minimal and token manner. The people of Nineveh repent and God forgives them. What is really interesting is then Jonah gets really angry. Even though he himself has been forgiven by God for his deliberate disobedience, he thinks it is wrong for God to forgive the Ninevites. So then God causes a plant to grow to shade Jonah, followed by a worm to eat the plant. Then Jonah gets angry about the plant.
But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it gr ow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:10-11)
What is the point of this comparison? Jonah is concerned about the plant because of what it does for him. It seems he cares nothing for the Ninevites because he sees no value in them for him. Does he have the right to value in this way? No. Jonah did not tend or make the plant grow. God made the plant grow. So God has the right to care for it, and the right to remove it. How much more is God concerned for the people, and also the animals, who he has created and cared for, and caused to grow.
God values people not because of what he can get out of us, but because of what he puts into us.