Saturday, January 17, 2015

Some reflections about Christians' responses to abortion on the occasion of Sanctity of Life Sunday

Tomorrow is Sanctity of Life Sunday. 

Many evangelical churches across the United States will devote their Sunday messages to addressing our national shame of abortion.

The occasion suggests a few reflections:

(1) The act of aborting a child arises out of a fundamentally pagan, "this-worldly" philosophy, which assumes that this life is all there is, so that our aim ought to be to maximize our personal pleasure during this life and to minimize our pain and inconvenience. A belief system such as this is the polar opposite of that of Christianity, which teaches that it is our eternal destiny that ought to govern our thinking and our choices in this world. Christianity teaches that each human being faces one of two destinies: either endless life in a world of glory, goodness, and love, or endless misery and undying death. Although Christians know that they do not earn the right to heaven, but are given it as a gift, and that they receive this gift only by means of trusting in what Jesus Christ did for them, they also know that no-one whose destiny is heaven can continue to live in a way which is characteristic of those whose destiny is hell. Christians know that they have been, are being, and will be changed, from being consumed with themselves and their own needs to being consumed with God and with love for others. The act of abortion does not arise out of this Christian way of thinking and being. Abortion is sin against God, who is the giver of life.

(2) Much of the debate about abortion centers around the question of the point in time at which life begins (that is, the point in time when it is no longer just the rights of the woman which must be considered, but also the rights of the child). Much ink and many words have been spent trying to justify different points of view on this question. But this way of framing the debate arises out of a basically naturalistic/scientistic misconception: that it is possible to draw a line at some point in the natural development of a fertilized ovum into an adult human being and to definitively assert "Here is where life begins." 

From a Christian perspective, life begins at the point when, if the natural process is not disrupted in some way, a living human baby will result. If humans must force the process of the development of a baby to end, then what they are doing is taking into their own hands the judgment that the gift of life from God to the child should not have been given. Christians understand that God is the creator of life, that He creates through the natural process of fertilization and gestation, and that the artificial "termination" of this process at any point takes away from the child-to-be the life in this world that God gave. To draw lines in the process of gestation is to usurp a power whose legitimate use God has reserved to Himself alone: the deciding of the question of when life begins and ends. The taking of life from an unborn baby, regardless of the stage of development, is entirely equivalent to the taking of life from an adult, and God, since He is absolutely just and fair, must judge the crime of taking another person's life.

(3) Many people, having been brought up in Christian homes and thinking themselves Christians, justify the idea of abortion to themselves by telling themselves that God will forgive them even if they do it. This is a way of thinking which is radically wrong. Although God does indeed forgive all manner of sin, He does so to those whom He has made truly repentant of their sin. Forgiveness is not given to those who still justify their sin and presume on God's mercy to overlook things that they would do again if they were back in the same situation. God is not some "kindly old gentleman in the sky" who clucks his tongue at evil and will overlook it as soon as it is committed. He is a perfectly fair and just God who hates all sin. God does not favor the rights of the parents over the child. He is a just God. In fact, if God takes any side, Scripture is clear that He takes the side of the oppressed and the powerless. 

And yet, it bears repeating, it still remains true that those who truly do trust Christ and submit to His Lordship are forgiven from every sin - including abortion - and receive forgiveness and healing.

Isn't this a contradiction? How do we reconcile the fact that God is absolutely just and yet that God forgives? The only place these two facts can be reconciled is at the cross of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. If God winks at sin, then ultimately there is no justice in the universe. But if God does not forgive, then no human has any hope, because all have sinned and God cannot just pass over sin. But the fact of sin and the fact of God's graciousness are reconciled in Jesus' death. Jesus suffered the penalty of sin in His own person on behalf of those to whom it is given to trust Him and submit to Him as King. Forgiveness of sins is only given to those who trust and submit to Christ.

This is why deciding in advance that you will commit a sin and that God will forgive you afterward is such a totally wrong way of thinking. To even think in this way may very well mean that you have not trusted Christ at all. Deciding in advance that God will forgive you for the sin you plan to commit intentionally is a defiance against God's grace. This type of sin will harden you. It tends to the destruction of your soul.

(4) The church of Jesus Christ is the place where the good news of the forgiving and healing grace of God in Jesus is proclaimed and embodied. We Christians, because we know that God has forgiven and healed us, do not withhold grace and forgiveness from those to whom God has extended His grace. If God no longer calls our sins to mind, we are to be like Him in utterly forgiving the sins of others who follow Christ. We may not personally hold against others that for which God has forgiven them. Any "church" that condemns repentant sinners is not really a church at all.

(5) Christians not only oppose abortion: they hold all life to be a sacred gift of God. It is because of this that we cannot just tell people not to abort - we must also help to provide options and care for those who choose to bring life into this world. To do otherwise would show that we don't really think life is sacred. We must show that we treasure the life of children already born as well as unborn ones.

(6) Abortion presents a uniquely difficult challenge for Christians to communicate with unbelieving friends and neighbors for two reasons: (a) our worldview arises out of completely different worldview assumptions than those held by the non-Christian world, and (b) the fact that Christians believe that the life of a baby is taken in abortion implies that they are morally obligated to act on behalf of an unborn baby in the same way they would be if they were to see one person about to murder another.

First, believers cannot expect unbelievers to completely understand their conclusions, because unbelievers do not reason from the same presuppositions. If a person believes that the physical world and this life are all that there is, and that there are no rewards and punishments except those experienced in this life, then it makes complete sense that one would try to maximize pleasure and minimize inconvenience in this life. Of course, it's worth pointing out that this worldview, if followed consistently, doesn't actually support the idea of "rights" at all - if the universe is a blind, godless, place, then there are no such things as rights, of a woman or of a child. All there is is seeking one's own advantage.

Second, since believers believe that abortion is the killing of a baby, it is implied that they will try to stop abortions. This will inevitably be perceived by an unbeliever as coercive and intrusive. That is, unbelievers will rightly see the effort to prevent abortion as the effort of a believer to impose his or her worldview on the unbeliever. Abortion is not like some moral issues which Christians would relegate to the realm of "being between the unbeliever and God." It falls in the realm of public evils in which the Christian worldview requires intervention. If Christians believe they can leave the decision to abort a child up to the individual, it logically follows that they believe the decision for one person to murder another ought to be left up to decision of the individual. To distinguish between the case of the murder of an adult and the abortion of a child is to acknowledge the very distinction on which opposition to abortion is premised. If you once concede that there is a difference between these two cases, you are admitting that humans get to decide when life begins (and ends) - and this decision can ultimately only be made on considerations of the "value" of a life - considerations which are completely alien to a biblical worldview.

To hold a Christian worldview on abortion, then, inherently involves us in a certain level of moral obligation to "impose" our worldview on unbelievers. In the same way and to the extent that we would seek to prevent the murder of an adult we are to use all appropriate means to prevent the killing of an unborn child. This may seem to be a radical statement, but to think otherwise is to concede the argument in advance by effectively saying that an unborn baby is not a full human being with full human rights.

(7) What, then, are the "appropriate" ways in which Christians may to prevent the killing of an unborn child? Aye, there's the rub. Certainly, Christians ought to be involved in efforts to roll back evil laws and judicial rulings which permit murder, just as they once worked to do away with slavery. Christians, too, ought to be deeply involved in providing good options for mothers who don't wish to be mothers to give their children to parents who will love and care for them.

But what about taking action beyond this? After all, it is true that Christians, where human law conflicts with the Law of God are required to obey God rather than men. Should we take this as implying our obligation to protect the unborn in the same way that we would feel we were morally obligated to take action to prevent someone with a gun from killing someone else? For example, although the rulings of the judges in our nation make it illegal to prevent women from entering abortion clinics, are Christians obligated to disobey these laws? Clearly there are some very thorny issues here that need to be carefully thought through. It is not sufficient to just fall back on the fact that Christians are in general commanded to obey the laws. There are times when to do that involves us in disobedience to God. 

Of course, it is always wrong for Christians to try to right wrongs by committing evil themselves. It is always wrong for Christians to take such actions as bombing abortion clinics or shooting abortion doctors. Even to the extent that Christians are to take actions which prevent people from getting abortions, they must not violate God's Law in doing that.

I can propose no easy answers to the question of how far Christians ought to go, or what actions they ought to take, in preventing people from getting abortions which are legal in this nation. There are no easy answers to this question (although, as noted above, there clearly are some actions which Christians cannot take). Each Christian is obligated to think through these issues carefully in the light of the Word of God, and in His Presence. But Sanctity of Life Sunday is a good day to stop and consider the question.

May God see fit to change the hearts and minds of many in our land so that this evil practice disappears and many come to recognize the sacredness of life which God created in His image.

No comments:

Post a Comment