By any measure, Hurricane Harvey has been a disaster. The financial damage is an estimated $180 billion. The destruction has spread over 300 miles and damaged about 200,000 homes. But the greatest damage is clearly the estimated 47 people who have died. The physical destruction is substantial, but the human loss is unmistakably the most significant.
As we move on from the initial stages of this tragedy, certain things become clear. While we do mourn the loss of buildings, it’s not for the sake of the buildings themselves. We mourn the loss of buildings because of how this affects people. We mourn the physical damage to neighborhoods because this is where people live, relate, eat, sleep, and share memories. We don’t mourn for the buildings themselves, but for the people who have died and for the lives that have been deeply unsettled.
And on the flip side, we are inspired by the Texas residents with boats who jumped to the rescue of their neighbors. And we are especially moved by the sacrifice of Sergeant Perez, the Houston Police officer, who lost his life in service to the city of Houston. One thing seems clear to me in this tragedy: We all realize that people matter most.
Professor Greg Ganssle explains what this means for how we view the world:
“That people matter most is something we rarely consciously think about. It is a deep commitment that almost everyone shares. Reflecting on this commitment suggests a question about reality. What kind of picture of reality makes room for the fact that people matter most? I suggest that the Christian picture of reality makes good sense of this aspect of our lives. In other words, the picture of reality presented by Christianity grounds and explains our values and aspirations concerning the importance of people. A simple observation is enough to show this claim to be true: In the Christian story, the most fundamental reality is personal.”
In the Christian story, ultimate reality is personal. God himself is a personal being. In fact, God is tri-personal. There is one God who eternally exists as three persons.
In the Christian story, God is not a force, as in the Star Wars saga. God is not within the universe, as in the New Age story. Rather, God is the creator of the universe who constantly sustains it. God merely spoke and the world came into existence (Genesis 1:1). The universe, and the people it contains, are the intentional creation of a personal God.
Human beings are designed to be in relationship with God and other people (Mark 12:28-34). As beings made in the image of God, we each have infinite dignity, value, and worth regardless of our race, income, age, or any other secondary factor. Our lives matter because we have been made by a personal God who gives us both meaning and worth. Even if we don’t feel like it, or live like it, our lives have real value.
Persons In Atheism
But this is not true in all worldviews. For instance, in the atheistic worldview, humans are nothing but accidental products of blind forces in nature. Bertrand Russell famously said,
“That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms.”
On Russell’s view, the most basic part of reality is physical matter—not personhood. In fact, persons arrive late on the scene through an accidental, valueless, material process.
Persons In New Age
The same dilemma exists for New Age. On this worldview, everything is spiritual "stuff." Distinctions are artificial. There really is no difference between you and me, right and wrong, mater and spirit, as well as personal and impersonal beings. All is one. As with atheism, pantheism fails to account for human personhood.
As Hurricane Harvey has revealed, we all know that persons matter most. The match between the Christian worldview and our belief in the value of persons, as demonstrated in Harvey, is remarkable.
So, please keep giving and sacrificing for those who have suffered through Hurricane Harvey. But just remember why you’re doing it—because people matter most.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.
 Bertrand Russell, “A Free Man’s Worship,” in Selected Papers of Bertrand Russell (New York: Modern Library, 1927), 2-3.