Nephesh

I know I’m in danger of turning this blog into an outpost of the Gordon Atkinson fan club, but I have to link to this:

Gordon’s latest Christian Century article, Another Inconvenient Truth, talks about the value of a human life. He writes, very eloquently, about the human soul, the Breath of God.

“Does anyone want to put a price tag on the nephesh, the human soul? …Here’s another inconvenient truth: if you believe in the nephesh, then one small child killed and registered as collateral damage in a war is worth more than the combined gross national products of both warring nations.”

I’ve long believed that the most significant part of the Gospel is Genesis 1: in a world where everything tells people they are worthless and insignificant, the bible tells us that we are ‘created in [God’s] image’ and ‘very good’. We have a God-given worth that means we are each “worth more than all the riches and all the kingdoms of the world put together.

We need to get our head round this reality. We need to see everyone, no matter how different, how alien to us they are, as loved and valued by God. We need to act towards every stranger, every faceless famine- or war- victim in foreign land as if they have infinite worth. As Gordon says:

“This much we can say with certainty. Christian people ought to be the most insanely radical peacemakers that the world has ever seen. Our view of human life should be so high that the rest of the world would stand in awe of us. Either that or they would point at us and laugh: Look at those crazy Christians. There isn’t anyone those nutcases won’t love. Murderers, terrorists, racists, rich people who steal from the poor—they love everyone!”

This is a hard reality. I’m a strong introvert, and I find it hard to look at anyone I don’t know really well as anything other than a faceless, scary and inconvenient anomaly. But then, this is a very inconvenient truth…

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3 thoughts on “Nephesh

  1. formerthings says:

    Sad reality is alot of Christians are introverts by their own choice. He told everyone to go into all the world and preach the gospel.

    Today Only 2% actually do it.

  2. There are a few things in your post which I would like to comment on. I guess I should go with the easy one first.

    I’m interested to see that you interpret the section about man being created in God’s image as something that justifies people not being worthless and insignificant. I am obviously not as familiar with the bible as you but why would you not interpret this as man being a poor copy of God? After all, man was only created in the ‘image’ of God and an image of something can never be as great as the ‘actual something’. If you are really feeling depressive you could even say that current people are copies of copies of copies since the process of reproduction copies on average around 50% of each parents DNA and any person who has ever tried to copy a video tape to another tape and so on in the same way will be able to tell you that you quickly end up with nothing but snow on the screen.

    I don’t agree that the world tells people they are worthless and insignificant. At least in western countries I believe we are starting to see a marked opposite view to that. With our ‘no win no fee’, state owes you a living, state is to blame for the behaviour of me, my children and my family, I have no culpability in anything I do culture we are encouraged to think that the universe should and does revolve around ourselves. I don’t think this is a good thing.

    I think the inconvenient truth in not that all peoples are created equal and that the price of a life or soul or ?nephesh? – whatever you call it is priceless. It’s the truth that in practice this worldview does not work and a person has a very finite and often well understood worth. This might be the value placed on a life insurance policy or the trade-off between the safety of people using technology to how much you spend on safety. That’s the ‘inconvenient truth’. (I know you know this through your engineering degree but for those readers who are not…) Without this calculation just how much should we spend on safety? Is it worth it to spend £1 million each year if we save one persons life? What about £5 million to save one persons life. How about £1 billion? I’m not saying that these are easy decisions to make but in most areas of the technology industry where people interact with technology someone, somewhere, has done these calculations for that industry and has come up with a number. If thinking of people as money is too crass how about a toss-up of lives? Is it worth one life to save the life of another. If I am a soldier is it ok for me to shoot and kill 1 enemy in order to save 1 non-combatant? Is the non-combatant ‘worth more’ so I can kill 3 enemies to save 1 non-combatant?

    How would the world work if people were really priceless? Personally I don’t think it would work at all but I’m interested in your thoughts.

    I do so like discussing things with you Andy… 😉

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