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Be Strong, Stand Firm
What Price Human Life?
“I Can't Breathe”
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Praise the Lord, O My Soul
The Blood of Jesus
You'll Never Walk Alone
How Changed Are We?
A Sunday Morning's Meditation on Psalm 24

 

WHAT PRICE HUMAN LIFE?
(Sunday, 21 June 2020)
by Ong Kok Bin

 

What price a human life? What price will you give to your own person, your own life? Your spouse's? Your child's? A loved one's? A best friend's? A neighbour's? A stranger's? Someone who is of a different race or nationality or creed than you? Seriously, try to attach a price tag to each of these and more.

What is the worth of a human life, a human being, a human person? Does one person have more worth than another? Mind you, we are talking about humans, not animals, not beasts, not wild and dangerous creatures. And certainly, not monsters.

A young woman expectantly and lovingly carries, for nine months or so, a conceived egg to foetus to a fully formed being with all the features and qualities of a human person. In time, she gives birth to a child, a son. She beams with joy, thankfulness and pride. Her husband and all in the family rejoice with her. She cuddles her son for the first time and it gives her tremendous satisfaction and accomplishment. She gives her son his first feeding with her breasts; and for two or more years, mother and child will have that tender bond of giving and feeding. She gives and he feeds. She gives and he takes. She gives more and he receives more. Soon, he becomes a young man. And now, he gives and she receives. He gives and she takes. She beams with more pride, joy and satisfaction than ever before as she sees her baby now fully grown, a graduate to boot, and a promising future ahead of him. But one day, a bullet – one bullet – changes all that. He is gunned down from behind by a white police officer!

A life which takes twenty-seven years to nurture and grow and an incalculable amount of pain and love, frustration and satisfaction, not to mention the financial cost, is in a moment taken. Doesn't his life matter? It should; but it didn't to that white officer with a gun in his hand.

LIVES MATTER
Black lives matter! Coloured lives matter! White lives matter!

Several years ago, when I was still fairly active on Facebook, a friend posted on his Facebook page a poster with three very prominent words on it: BLACK LIVES MATTER! Without thinking too much and sort of a kneejerk response, I replied, “All Lives Matter!” The next day, I saw an angry expletive-laden reply to my message from another person. I was quite puzzled then. What had I done wrong? After all, wasn't it true that ALL life mattered? I reflected on the matter for quite a while and I realised that I had not quite understood or was fully aware of the sensitivities behind that slogan, “Black Lives Matter”. I had not gone behind it to see the anger, the emotion, or the history of killings of black people at the hands of white police officers. Blacks form a minority to whites in the population ratio in white countries. But more blacks (and, natives) are incarcerated, brutalised and killed than whites.

Why is there such a disproportionate number of deaths of black people at the hands of white police officers? Why is there such cruel brutality and disregard of rights of life towards blacks? It is not only happening in the States, but also in Australia, Britain, Canada, and other places where whites are in the majority and have the political power and control. Indigenous Aborigines and Red Indians and coloured people alike have suffered the same brutality, violence, discrimination and disregard of their basic rights to life. It is muddling to the decent human mind to think that such violence and brutality can be meted out by one human person against another human person. When my neighbour was beating his dog and the dog was yapping in pain, I couldn't help but to feel sorry for the dog. And so, it hurts, it stupefies, it sickens, to see in the media that a man could lose his life for falling asleep in his car or for using an alleged counterfeit $20 bill.

Didn't the police officer think that he would be taking another human life when he fired his gun at his fleeing target? Didn't Derek Chauvin know that George Floyd would die when his knee was pressed on the latter's neck for so long? They knew. They must have known. But they couldn't care less. The man running away was a black. The man pinned to the ground with a knee to his neck was a black. And black lives didn't matter! Not much anyway!

All of a sudden “BLACK LIVES MATTER!” rang out again; this time, not only in the States, but also in Australia, Britain, Canada and elsewhere across the world. The whole world was convulsing at its own mistreatment of its own kind. Blacks, coloureds of every shade (including whites), Aborigines and native Indians rose up and stood side by side, marched side by side, sang and hollered together. They have one motive, one message only: “BLACK LIVES MATTER!”

BUT WHY THE BLATANT DISREGARD FOR HUMAN LIVES?
How has our world reached this sorry state of affairs? This blatant disregard for human lives? The senseless use of brute force; the easy trigger of a gun; the nonchalant blows of a baton; the lynchings; and all the ugly violence that one community inflict upon another?

The answer is not easy to find. There probably is not a single answer. All we know is that when someone has a big stick in his hand, he is more likely to swing it. When someone has a huge fist, he is more wont to punch it at someone else's face. Or, when someone has a firepower, he cannot resist but to use it at the slightest provocation. And when all these are in the hands of a person of authority who has a short fuse and a hatred which has no regard for life, the outcome is not too difficult to predict. But this alone does not provide the answer. Rather, it begs another question: How does such a person come about? And another: Why does he not have any regard for another human life, especially someone who is differently coloured than him? And another. And another … ad infinitum!

We are, in more ways than one, the product of our history. And history has consistently shown that it is the one who is superior, the one who is more powerful that dominates over the inferior and the less powerful. The strong overpowers and the weak submits. There is no middle ground of equal co-existence or the powerful caring for the powerless. There is always one who domineers and one who is domineered. And in the last four hundred years or so, it is the whites from the European nations who have the superior firepower, the superior knowledge and the superior cunningness to dominate over the rest of the world.

We know from the time Columbus discovered America, European countries had rushed to colonise the rest of the world and carved out property across Asia, Africa, America and Oceania to add to their own backyard. What we do not know is the degree of exploitation, the brutal treatment and the arrogance of superiority of these white colonisers that made them disdainful of the local natives. So disdainful that they did not attach much value to native human lives. “BLACK LIVES MATTER!” has opened up a vista to this black history that has been hidden from us common folks for so long.

In the wake of the defacement and pulling down of colonial era statues in the “BLACK LIVES MATTER!” protests, writers have dug deep into the dark history to expose the misdeeds of the colonial rulers. For example, King Leopold II of Belgium has been blamed for the deaths of as many as ten million Africans (by one estimate) in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. His rule over Congo was so bloody that even other European colonialists condemned him for his brutality. He would have the hands and feet of the locals chopped off if they did not meet their quota of produce. A five-year old girl's hand and foot were cut off and shown to the father because the village was unable to produce the amount of rubber required. She was eventually killed.1

But what is more pertinent to our discourse is the psychological factor of the mind of these white colonial rulers which made them so inure to their own acts of brutality. They thought of themselves as vastly superior to their colonised natives. And when this supremacist view is coupled with superior weaponry, it is a powder keg for wanton cruelty and total disregard for human lives. Winston Churchill, voted the greatest Britisher who ever lived, once said, “I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.”2 In another instance, he said, “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes (italics in both quotes, mine).”3 These quotes have to be read in their contexts but they go to show the psychology that bred brutal supremacists who have no regard for human lives except their own kind. Adolf Hitler became what he was because he believed his German race was the Nordic Aryan race, a superior and master race to be protected from contamination, especially from the Jews.

Congo! Holocaust! Tulsa, Oklahoma! George Floyd! And now is added Rayshard Brooks!

What has become of the human race that we have become such brutal brutes? Does a human life matter — regardless of the skin colour, religious creed or gender orientation?

If we have become brutes it is because we have lost touch with God our Maker who made us in his image. We have taken our eyes off him and off his word of instruction to us.

WHAT IS THE WORTH OF A HUMAN LIFE?
The psalmist in Psalm 144:3-4 asks a different form of question but related to our issue at hand:
     O Lord, what is man that you care for him,
     the son of man that you think of him?
     Man is like a breath, his days are like a fleeting shadow.


The psalmist is befuddled by the loving and tender care of the great Almighty God. He is thinking that he is too insignificant, his life is too fleeting, just like a breath of air, to deserve the attention of the Yahweh God. And yet, as insignificant as we may be, we are loved by God. We are God's creatures. And if God does not love us, who is to love us?

IT IS WORTH GOD'S LOVE
     For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,
     that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
     For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
     but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned,
     but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because
     they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.
(John 3:16-18)

IT IS PRICELESS
The psalmist may have got his assumption wrong: that life is too short and not worth very much to be deserving of God's care. The Lord Jesus straightens this and puts it in the right perspective. He asks:
     What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?
     Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?
(Matthew 16:26)

What price a human life? Jesus says it is immeasurably worth more than all the riches of the world. A human life is not only body but soul too. Yes, the body is like a breath; but the soul is an eternity. For this reason alone, a human life is priceless. And for this reason, too, a human life is loved by God with the love of his one and only begotten Son Jesus Christ.

AN EXHORTATION FROM APOSTLE JOHN
The apostle John exhorts us:
     Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
     We know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.
     And we ought to lay down our lives for [one another].
     If we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
(1 John 4:11, 3:16, 4:12)

Again, what price a human life? Mother Theresa, while she was alive, would go into the slum streets of Calcutta and if she found an abandoned baby, she would bring it to her home to care for the child. Our Lord Jesus Christ has come down to our slum streets of sin and he is calling, “Come home, come home, Ye who are weary come home … O sinner, come home!”4

What price a human life?tiny

Notes:
1https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-53017188 (accessed 19 June 2020)
2https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-29701767 (accessed 19 June 2020)
3https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-53033550 (accessed 19 June 2020)
4Part of the chorus to the hymn, “Softly and Tenderly”, lyrics by Will L. Thompson.

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