"Just keep them. They're not worth much anyway." It's a common exchange I see when I stop at the gas station for a soda, or when I stand in line at a restaurant to pay the bill. People just don't value the penny anymore. Some give them away, a few even throw them in the trash rather than carry the coins in a pocket or purse.
There's even been a move in recent years to get rid of pennies altogether. In 2002 and again in 2006, a bill was introduced in Congress to stop production of the one-cent piece, which is viewed at least by the bill's sponsor as having no practical value and costing the government billions to mint. The initiative would have forced rounding prices up to the next five cent value, and I can imagine if such legislation ever passes, it will start a creep toward rounding to the nearest ten cents and so on, eliminating each successive coin as obsolete and unneeded.
But in all the discussion, the notion has been lost about the real worth of the penny. You see it isn't just a coin, but it represents the one one-hundredth unit of measure that is the fundamental value on which our economic system is based.
Yet, pennies are tossed aside as if having no value at all.
Increasingly, unborn children and the disabled are being treated as throwaways, too.
It's not much of a stretch to draw parallels between society's diminishing appreciation for the value of the penny — the least of the various denominations of U.S. coins and bills — and the culture's declining esteem for human life, especially the weakest among us. American freedom used to be defined in terms of "life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness," but now more often than not it is talked about in terms of a right to die and a right to an abortion.
In 1997, Oregon enacted a physician-assisted suicide law, and last year Vermont narrowly defeated a similarly patterned bill. Also, although recent data indicates America is experiencing a declining abortion rate, the killing of the unborn continues as a plague in the U.S. — on average 3,526 children in the womb are killed each day. Moreover, while the cause of the apparent decline is debatable, there is no denying that despite the drop in total numbers of abortions, there remains a particularly troubling and increasing trend in America to devalue or at least "selectively" value the unborn:
• Three states recognize "wrongful life" suits "on behalf of" a child born with defects, because, among other reasons, a doctor failed to give adequate information to the mother that could have been used to make a decision for an abortion.
• An Ivy League professor is hailed for his work to grant apes the same rights as humans, but the same voices in academia and the media largely are silent when he says he would kill a disabled baby "if that was in the best interests of the baby and of the family as a whole."
• Even unborn babies with Down Syndrome are being aborted at an astounding 90 percent rate — for no other reason than they are different from parents' expectations of what a child should look and act like.
Despite all the rhetoric by abortion rights advocates about making abortion "less necessary," the hard truth is half of all abortions in the U.S. are second, third, or fourth abortions for the woman. Indeed, three-fourths of mothers who choose to kill their unborn babies say it's because they can't afford another child, or that a baby would interfere with work, school, or care for other dependents.
The bottom line is our society simply doesn't value human life, but instead treasures arbitrary ideals of physical characteristics and other traits that define life in terms of a subjective measure of "quality."
Unfortunately, this is the one way our society differs in how we view pennies compared to our perspectives about the unborn and the severely disabled: a coin that is minted with a defect or unique marking becomes something to be treasured, a collectible that gains value. An unborn child with an abnormality is in peril of being destroyed, and a helpless American dependent on the whims of family or society for protection is in danger of being killed "with dignity."
Importantly, the "least of these" represent something fundamental about the value of life. And what has been lost in America is not an ideal in perspective, but the belief in a spiritual imperative to care for them.
God made man in His image, not physically, but in His likeness in intellectual and reasoning ability, and nothing else in creation reflects Him. Most importantly, man — every human — has a spiritual capacity to fellowship with God. Consequently, seeing any human, the crown of His creation, as something less than a spiritual being, denies the measure of every man's true worth. Moreover, it reflects a loss of reverence for Him. The sum of man is not the total of his physical experiences; but rather his value was fixed by God from the beginning as something He treasures, so much so that He sent His Son to die for all men in all our various defects, in all our spiritual corruptions.
Ultimately, God desires us to treasure Him as more precious than silver and more costly than gold. However, He also desires us to recognize the worth of every man as a gift from Him — His pennies from heaven establish a fundamental value for all life that reflects a love from God, and our response reflects our love for Him.
"Pennies from Heaven" is adapted from a manuscript for a book by the same name. Will Hall is executive editor of Baptist Press.