In her essay called “The Wreck of Time,” Annie Dillard references the idea that when a single person dies, we treat it as a tragedy. But when a million people die, we treat it as a statistic.
This unsettling observation shows how inconsistent we humans can be concerning the value of a life. On the one hand, if a friend or relative or some other cherished person is taken from us, we are moved to deep and abiding sorrow. On the other hand, if a million lives with whom we share no personal connection are suddenly wiped out by a viral pandemic or natural disaster, any initial sadness and shock we feel can fade within weeks, and possibly within hours. The one who is close to us seems more precious even than the million who are further away.
Our selective valuation of our fellow humans invites a haunting question: If the million don’t matter to us as much as the one, then can we honestly say that the one really matters at all? How precious are many lives, how precious is a single life, and how precious is my life… really?
Each of us living today is one in seven billion. Of all the people who have ever lived, we are one in 107 billion. David hinted at this relative smallness of ours when he cried out to God, “What is a human being that you remember him, a son of man that you look after him?” (Psalm 8:4).
Thankfully, Scripture provides us with a strong and sure answer. David continued, “You made him a little less than God and crowned him with glory and honor” (v.5). The poet-king after God’s own heart is genuinely awestruck by the truth about all humans and about each individual human: We are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Of all creatures everywhere, only humans are esteemed in this way.
This truth about our inestimable value becomes even more compelling when we realize that in Christ, we are the image of God but also much more: Scripture tells us we are the children of God. And as His children, He gives us life through His Word and teaches us His ways (Psalm 119:25–26). In his letter to the Galatians, Paul amplifies this astonishing truth by reminding us that through faith in Christ, God has adopted us, sent His Spirit into our hearts, invited us to call Him “Father,” and made us heirs of all that is His (Galatians 4:4–7).
As Brennan Manning has written, “Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is an illusion.”
The next time you look in the mirror, don’t for a moment think that you’re looking at a mere face in the crowd. Don’t for a moment think that you’re looking at a tragedy or a statistic. You have no true basis for looking at yourself in this way. Rather, you are looking at an esteemed crown of God’s creation, a beloved child of God, and a privileged heir of everything.
This is your true self. Every other identity is an illusion.
Written by Scott Sauls