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Across the Pastor’s Desk: What is the value of a human life?

Across the Pastor’s Desk by Todd Walsh

What is the value of a human life?

It is the life of God’s Son for you and me. That is the central message of the Easter season — 50 days to celebrate the rising of Jesus. We celebrate the venerable words of John 3.16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.”

Todd Walsh

Easter welcomes us to take in what God has done for us. And that taking in means we realize God has shown us a new way to live that is heaven sent. It is a new way of life that shows us how to listen to our Lord and live for others. It is also a recognition that God’s way works and even our best efforts are cause to be wary.

The center of the new life of Easter is God’s message that human life is precious in God’s eyes and should be so in our lives.

Allow me to share with you an example of the failure of the best human effort and the wisdom of seeing human life as precious and worthy of our giving of ourselves for others.

Today is April 10. It is the 109th anniversary of sailing day for the unsinkable Titanic. Five days later the best of human effort would be at the bottom of the Atlantic and 1,500 people would suffer horrible death.

There is one story of that tragedy that illustrates my words.

Alexander Carlisle designed Titanic. He took the vision from the future owners and turned it into blueprints and then steel. He had been doing it for years for his employer Harland and Wolff and their chief client, the White Star Line.

Carlisle felt that passenger ships were getting too big too fast. And the regulations regarding life boats were not keeping up with technology. The regulations were based on a peculiar formula based on the size of the ship, not the number of souls on board. Carlisle addressed the problem by contracting for a new type of lifeboat davit that could launch four boats, not just one.

Chairman of the White Star Line Bruce Ismay made all the decisions about his company’s ships. His was the final word. He agreed to install the Welin davits Carlisle proposed. But his approval was not based on passenger safety. Ismay knew the rules would at some point change about the number of lifeboats. He reasoned his company would be money ahead to buy the new davits sooner than later when they would be necessary to comply with regulations.

Ismay did not approve additional lifeboats for the passenger and crew capacity of the ship. He decided to defer the expense until regulations required more boats. He also knew the extra boats would make Titanic “tender” — top heavy. That would mean extra ballast in the double bottom to stabilize the ship, which meant more weight, which meant more coal for fuel, which meant more money. So instead of 64 lifeboats with room for everyone, there were 16 lifeboats plus four collapsible lifeboats that at the best performance could only be called precarious.

We know the nightmare story of the demise of the “ship of dreams.” Bruce Ismay found a place in one of those lifeboats that night. He joined the 705 who survived and spent the rest of his life remembering the 1,500 souls who perished on Titanic.

Decades later, the grandson of the man who designed those revolutionary lifeboat davits talked about the story. It was family history. He raised a frightening question that speaks across the years and into the very issues of how human life is regarded and lived.

“You’ve got to realize that the ship owner has got to make his money out of the ship as well. And he’s got to comply with the rules and regulations that the Board of Trade lay down. And they are very strict and they don’t let them get away with it. So you’ve got to balance somewhere between the absolute minimum and how much money can you spend. Which comes down to a nasty expression, “What’s the value of the passenger … in money?”

What is the value of a human life?

The God who made the heavens and the earth and you and me set the price at the life of his only Son.  We believe that the Son of God rose from the dead. We are in possession of a treasure that makes new life possible each day.  That treasure sees each life as priceless and precious and deserving of the best effort of God’s people guided and inspired by the example of God’s Son.

Todd Walsh is director of spiritual care services at Thorne Crest Senior Living Community in Albert Lea.

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