Alabaster’s Ink Well dwells in the lift of Beauty, Imagination, and Truth. Today’s guest writer gives us a fresh perspective on Truth and the preciousness of human life. Abdu Murray is a speaker and writer with Embrace the Truth.
The Preciousness of Truth
By Abdu Murray
The stairwell was dank and poorly lit, dramatically echoing every step and sound we made as we ascended. The muddy remnants of snow traipsed in by boots and shoes from the outside gave the atmosphere and even gloomier feel. And that was unusual, especially for Jerusalem, which hadn’t seen that much snow in 60 years.
Two companions and I were at that apartment complex for a short visit with a Palestinian Christian woman whose husband lost his life some years ago as he attempted to prevent some attackers from killing a blind neighbor. When she opened the door to her humble apartment, all gloominess scattered away like roaches exposed to the light. She had a brilliant smile that matched the stark brightness of the lamps in her home. She welcomed us in typical Middle Eastern fashion, saying “hello” and “welcome” in the myriad ways Arabs have come up with over the centuries. As we sat down, we had to refuse her offer to make us dinner because we had a later dinner appointment. So, once more in typical Middle Eastern fashion, she brought out what she called “a light snack” of bananasapples, pears, soft drinks, and coffee.
I hadn’t heard the story of how her husband—who many called “Uncle”—had come to know Jesus and eventually lose his life trying to protect a neighbor who was being beaten. Before becoming a Christian, Uncle was a very hard man. He had very little patience for the weak or helpless and even less patience for spiritual matters. He was notoriously self-centered, gruff, and ill-tempered. He would never have risked his life to save another’s. But after becoming a believer, Uncle would habitually—perhaps prophetically—quote Mark 8:35: “Whoever would save his lifewill lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” As his widow told the story of how he lost his life, she began to weep. But then her tears gave way to her characteristic joy as she recounted how Uncle’s sacrifice was proof that the Lord had truly changed him.
There is something about Uncle’s act of sacrifice that speaks to about what is truly precious in objective sense. It may seem oxymoronic to talk about “objective preciousness” because we often speak of something’s preciousness in subjective terms. Something or someone is precious to someone else. But that same thing or person may not be precious in another’s view. What I might consider rubbish could be a treasured family heirloom to another person. So, one might argue, preciousness is merely subjective.
But, there are things that are objectively precious, aren’t there? What I mean is that there are some things that are precious regardless of the vagaries of human opinion. Truth, for example, is precious. In the context of war-time strategies and secrets, Winston Churchill commented that truth is the most valuable thing in the world, so valuable that it needed to be protected by a bodyguard of lies. Should someone dispute that truth is precious, we need ask only one question: why bother to dispute that? If my claim’s truth-value is not precious, then a doubter would not bother to disagree. And, of course, we can look at a more practical and personal aspect of existence to see if things are precious objectively. Each of us (I hope) has a moral intuition that human beings are precious in an objective sense, even if destitute,
uneducated, abandoned, ill, or given to addiction.
But how can we make sense of the distinction between subjective preciousness and objective preciousness? From a purely naturalistic worldview, I don’t see how. If there is no God and human beings are the sole determiners of value, then preciousness must be subjective in the sense that it depends on human preference or opinion. And human opinion, history teaches us, is terribly fickle when it comes to valuing others. But if there is a standard for preciousness and value that transcends human preferences, the distinctions and our moral intuitions about objective preciousness make sense. This is not to say that those who don’t believe in God can’t or don’t act in a way that reflects a sense of human preciousness. It is merely to say that our knowledge of our preciousness makes sense only if there is a transcendent source for it. And, I would argue, that transcendent source must be personal because only personal beings hold something else or someone else to be precious. And a transcendent, personal being is who most theists describe God to be.
The final act of Uncle’s changed life is an expression of objective preciousness. I have to believe that Uncle valued his own life as precious. But he also understood that his real life was not measured merely by earthly time. His true life was connected to Christ. That connection is precious. And Uncle saw that the life of the man he was protecting was precious because that blind man was made in the image of God. No physical, mental, or emotional disadvantages could change the fact that Uncle’s blind neighbor bore God’s image and that he was valuable. The men who were trying to kill that man certainly didn’t view the blind man as valuable. And that is likely due—at least in part—to the fact that they failed to see God’s image imprinted upon him. They saw him as a means to their own ends; they did not see that man as an end in himself.
The idea that every human being is precious because they bear God’s image comes, of course, from something else that is extraordinarily precious—the Bible. I realize I say that at the risk of sounding trite or cliché, but its preciousness really becomes apparent to us when we consider the Bible’s message (its history and the sacrifices made by others to guard it for our sakes is another topic altogether). As I show much more thoroughly in my book Grand Central Question (InterVarsity Press, 2014), the Bible uniquely and credibly tells us that human beings have objective value—a value that does not depend on human opinion—because a transcendent value-giver, namely God, has created us on purpose and for a purpose. From the beginning of God’s interaction with humanity, we read in the Bible that God has placed on us the stamp of objective value when He said “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). That image is the relational, rational, and creative qualities each of us has. The evidence of universe’s design (Link: http://www.reasons.org/articles/fine-tuned-stellar-nucleosynthesis-of-carbon-and-oxygen) and the evidence of our biological design (link: http://www.reasons.org/articles/fyi-i.d.-in-dna-deciphering-design-in-the-genetic-code) shows that we are created on purpose. But the Bible’s description of our beginning is not the only place where we see our value affirmed. As the incarnate God, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection from the dead—as historically verifiable facts—demonstrate that God values us to an immeasurable extent. And Jesus’ resurrection as a historical fact proved that His sacrifice truly purchased our salvation.
This message is told to us in the Bible. And I’m convinced that the historical, archeological, scientific, and philosophical evidence corroborates that message and the Bible’s accuracy. The Bible’s central message is that we are objectively precious. And that very message – the content of the Bible – is what makes the Bible the most precious book any of us can read.
During my trip to the Holy Land, one of my companions showed me a very short video that brought me to tears. He explained to me that the video showed Chinese believers who were training to be missionaries in their country, despite its hostility to the Gospel. None of those believers had ever owned a Bible. They had only heard the Bible’s message in sermons or over the radio or internet (despite government efforts to halt such access). The video simply showed someone open a suitcase filled with black Bibles wrapped in plastic. The Chinese missionaries literally swarmed the suitcase, snatching up Bibles like Wal-Mart shoppers on Black Friday. But what caused me to pause—what caused the tears to fall from my eyes—was their reactions once they held those Bibles. Their initial euphoria gave way to tears that I can’t really describe. Every one of those Chinese believers—every one of them—was crying as they held the Bibles to their chest, kissed them, and thanked God for the precious gift of His word. They had never had a Bible of their own. Suddenly holding one was like holding a piece of the divine. I likely have more than 20 Bibles in my home and at least 45 Bibles on my computer. In the West, Bibles are easy to come by and we treat them that way. We leave them on the floors of our cars. I’ve even seen them in bathrooms. We have lost a sense of the preciousness of God’s word that early believers and believers in other countries have preserved.
Photo by Aaron Burden on Onsplash
The emotional reactions of those Chinese believers are evidence of the subjective nature of how preciously they held the Scriptures. And so their reactions are not evidence that the Bible is objectively precious. But their reactions should, at least, get us thinking. Their reactions were not about the paper, ink, glue, and leather they were holding. Their tears streamed because they were holding a book that manifests the message that they and everyone they are trying to reach with the Gospel is objectively precious. Human beings are objectively precious. Most of us regardless of our beliefs acknowledge that. But to be so, there must be the transcendent value-giver who holds us precious.
Yes, the source of our preciousness must be both transcendent and personal. As already mentioned, that sounds a lot like who theists would call God. But the Bible goes further than theism’s abstract way of describing God as the source of objective preciousness. The Bible tells us of a designer, who create us for a purpose, and who holds us so precious that he took on flesh, died to satisfy the payment for sins that our actions deserve, so that we could spend eternity with him. That’s what every Christmas and Easter season is about. We have celebrated the One who holds us so precious. We celebrate the fact that our preciousness is not a mere opinion subject to change as society evolves but a divinely-ordained and unalterable truth. We celebrate the fact that God “demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5.8).
Abdu Murray is a speaker and writer with Embrace the Truth ((https://embracethetruth.org/). He has authored several books, including his latest, More Than a White Man’s Religion (Zondervan, 2022).
Apocalypse Later (Kregel, 2009)
Grand Central Question (IVP, 2014)
Saving Truth (Zondervan, 2018)
More Than a White Man’s Religion (Zondervan, 2022
Abdu Murray (JD, University of Michigan) is an apologist and evangelist who leads debates, dialogues, and open forums around the world for churches, college campuses, and business and government gatherings. He is the author of many articles and books, including Grand Central Question, Saving Truth, and his most recent, More Than a White Man’s Religion. You can find out more about his ministry, Embrace the Truth, and his podcast, All Rise, by visiting embracethetruth.org.