How Much Is a Person Worth?

An image of a mother holding her child while the child sleeps with the larger caption in white that says: "How Much Is A Person Worth?"
Do you know how much you’re worth? Not according to your friends or loved ones, but to the rest of the world. How much is a person worth? What kind or amount of currency would society place on a scale alongside you and think, that’s a fair trade?

Throughout history, there have been many crooked scales used to define the worth of a human being. For example, according to a New York Times article from 1863, the price of a slave once fell between $18 and $3000. While we no longer find human slaves sold at our local markets, industries built on trading human lives for monetary gain still exist. Some of them have set up shop in our local communities. Today, anti-trafficking organizations report that, globally, the average price of a trafficked person is about $90. Similarly, research shows that an abortion, a procedure intended to take the life of a preborn child, can cost anywhere from hundreds to a couple thousand dollars.

These numbers are shocking, but we shouldn’t be surprised. Throughout human history, we find mankind attempting (and often grossly failing) to assign their fellow humans a proper value.

How to Calculate How Much A Person Is Worth

In the 1800s, elements that determined the price of a slave included any things. Their overall health, age, sex, the location in which they were being sold, and their usefulness to the buyer. Fast forward to now. We like to consider ourselves more educated and enlightened than the pro-slavers of several centuries ago. Still, much of the value we place on human life today is based on these same cruel assumptions.

A few years ago, headlines were buzzing with the news that Iceland had nearly irradicated Down syndrome. Sadly, this claim was based on their practice of aborting every child diagnosed with the condition. More recently, Canada’s disabled and special needs communities have had to push back against medical professionals offering MAID (medically assisted suicide) as a form of healthcare. Here, in the United States, we have our share of dehumanizing policies. The cruelest of these is regarding preborn life. Under the guise of being “progressive,” several U.S. states now allow nearly unrestricted access to abortion. Even after being presented with the fact that abortion takes a life, many pro-choicers will admit this fact is correct but irrelevant. In their eyes, the choice of a woman outweighs the foundational rights of her baby.

Our fellow mankind are receiving the messages loud and clear. And they’re not so different from those of our dark past:

You are equal to the power you hold. Your value is subjective to those around you. The smaller you are the less you matter.

Identifying the Crooked Scales

Imagine combining these messages with the glamour of Hollywood storytelling and the unforgiving gavel of cancel culture. In the end, we’re left with a scale for measuring human value that’s been stacked and tared with unfair weight.

For this reason, when we as a nation ask ourselves, “How much is a person worth?” we’re not allowed to say, “They’re priceless.” Instead, we must first play a sick guessing game. We have to estimate the potential of that person’s benefit to us, according to how we wish to be benefited:

  • Are you sick? If so, then you’re less valuable, because you cannot contribute as much as someone healthy.
  • Are you smaller or weaker than the person standing next to you? Everyone knows small and weak is less than big and strong.
  • Do you differ in appearance or thought from the powers that be? Is your skin the wrong shade? Are your parents poorer or is your IQ lower than desired by your government? If so, you have reason to be concerned.
  • Do you stand in the way of progress? Stand in the way of the powerful majority and you’re pretty useless, aren’t you?

Seems cruel and archaic, doesn’t it? Good call. These scales are terrible for determining human value but they’re nothing new. It’s this type of thinking that was used to justify some of the most horrific events in history. These events include happenings like the Crusades, the Salem Witch Trials, and the Holocaust. Today, these unbalanced scales are used to justify things like racism, ableism, and terrorism.

An Accurate Scale

Our culture is oversaturated with crooked and cruel scales. But, how do we find a just and fixed amount for how much a person is worth? Surely, there’s a baseline value we can all receive, simply for being human.

As Christians, we are blessed to have one of the best standards in history for determining human worth. The scale we use when weighing the worth of ourselves and others was created by Christ’s response to the question, “How much is a person worth?”

Jesus, when asked what he’d give in return for our freedom, placed his life on the other end of the scale.

How Much A Person Is Worth

A wise economics professor of mine once asked, “How much is something worth?” When no one offered a comment, he provided the answer for us, “Whatever you’re willing to pay for it.”

The world in which Jesus lived among men was not so different from our own. People of his time knew of slavery, racism, sexism, ableism, religious bigotry, genocide, and war. To most, human life was only worth what it could offer someone else. Why waste your time and money saving the life of a Samaritan? What good was a woman who couldn’t have children? Even Christ was belittled because of the town from which he came. The act of Christ paying for our lives with his own redefined, for the world, the value of human life. 

While we sold one another at a discount, Jesus offered to pay no less than his own life in exchange for ours. Suddenly, the human soul experienced an exponential spike in value.

The Price of A Life

To Christ, the price so that we “might be saved,” was worth his own life. Included in this deal were those that society counted as less than desirable. His heart was particularly bent towards those who had little or nothing to offer in return.

“He said also to the man who had invited him, ‘When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:12-14)

Christ also goes as far as saying when we serve those the world sees as less valuable, we are directly serving Him.

Honoring How Much A Person Is Worth

Upon becoming followers of Christ, we are called to do the same as Jesus: defend and cherish our family of beautiful misfits. By placing ourselves and others on a proper scale, by honoring the non-negotiable worth of every human, we are given a glimpse of heaven. We get to peer into a future where life isn’t driven by the fear of death or the thirst for power. Instead, the greater the individual’s struggle, the greater the joy we find in offering our support.

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