A reflection for January 17, 1016.
Today is “Sanctity of Life Sunday,” a day set aside to remember that all life is sacred. All people are created in God’s image and have value because he made and loves them, not because they have some worth to society, but because they have worth to God. This means that each person has, at least, a right to live.
Throughout history there have always been people to whom this right has been systematically denied. There have always been those who are considered “worth less”, “worthless”, or “less than human.” This was the case in Nazi Germany. It was the rationale for the destruction of the Jews. This was the rationale for slavery in the South and the racism that accompanied it and followed it (and continues today). This kind of dehumanizing tendency, even when not stated in such blatant terms, has led to the oppression of many groups throughout history. This grieves the heart of God. It ought also to grieve us.
There have been many groups, especially those who are weak, who lack power, who lack position, and who lack a voice, who have therefore been oppressed and have been denied justice by the strong. The Bible is clear, God is close to the oppressed. He takes the side of the widow and the orphan and the fatherless. Psalm 72:4 is a call to God for justice: “May he defend the afflicted among the needy among the people and save the children of the needy; may he crush the oppressor.” Again, the psalmist calls “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:3-4). The psalmist is confident in his prayer because he knows God “upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry” (Psalm 146:7).
God calls us to share that same concern. In the prophets he calls Israel to “Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). He calls down judgment on those who deny justice to the oppressed: “Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,
2 to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless.” (Isaiah 10:1-2)
There are many people in our world today who are denied justice, many who are dehumanized, and we should grieve in each and every case. But there is one group in particular for whom I want us to pray for today – the preborn. These are babies, little people within their mother’s wombs. Today it is legal to take away their lives. They have no voice. They are silenced. They are dehumanized. They are simply “tissue”. We learned this past year that they are dismembered, carefully, so that their little body parts can be sold. A human life is traded for convenience. Echoing Isaiah 10 the Word of God speaks to us today, “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees.”
What can we do? How can we think and act with the heart of God?
First, it is right for us to mourn and today is the right day to do it. On the one hand “Sanctity of Life Sunday” is a happy reminder that all people are created in the image of God and are therefore precious to him. Everyone here is precious to God. We are not just randomly put together clumps of matter. God made us. Christ died for us. He invites us to live in relationship with Him. But this makes it all the more sad when a person created in God’s image is killed and it is heartbreaking when this is done so at such a systematic and accepted level in our society. The reality is abortion is cause to grieve – for the babies who are killed, for the women who have abortions, and for our society as whole whose conscience has been seared.
Second, we need to pray. If you feel grief, turn your grief to prayer. The psalmists and the prophets regularly call out to God to protect the weakest and the most vulnerable in our world. God cares for these babies and so we call out to him for help.
Third, there are a number of quality “Pregnancy Resource Centers” in the area which are always in need of support. My wife and I have been regularly involved with Alpha Women’s Center for some time, both with financial support and with participation in their events. Pregnancy Resource Centers and other parachurch organization play a huge role in helping women with “unwanted pregnancies” make the decision to give birth and then support them throughout the whole process.
Fourth, we need to teach our sons and encourage the young men who we know to take responsibility for their actions. We need to teach a sexual ethic that is counter to what our culture teaches. As I’ve read through the psalms and the prophets I was struck by how often they show concern for the fatherless. In the context of abortion we need to realize just how much society’s chronic fatherlessness plays into abortion. First, girls who grew up without a father around, or whose father was always absent or abusive, are far more likely to have “unwanted” pregnancies. Second, women who are single are far more likely to have abortions. In other words, more often than not, it is women without a father who are aborting babies without a father. Our abortion problem is directly related to our father problem. The men in our culture need to step up. Big time.
Fifth, there is a proper place and time for political advocacy, attending rallies, and speaking up on behalf of the unborn. One of the prophetic roles of the church, I believe, is to publically expose evil. One of the compassionate roles of the church is to speak up on behalf of the oppressed and powerless. All of this needs to be done in love, but there is a place for it within the church.
Finally, we need to be a church shaped by the gospel. This is the most important thing of all. The gospel teaches us to love both the oppressed and the oppressor for Jesus’ sake. The gospel teaches us to extend grace and we need to be a place and a people of grace. If a young woman within our midst becomes pregnant out of wedlock we need to be the place she goes to for support, not from whom she hides in shame. The gospel teaches us that we are all the worst of sinners and it teaches us that forgiveness and healing is open to all of us. For some time we had a woman attending our church who had had an abortion and was leading support groups for other post-abortive women. She was, like Christ, offering these women both truth and healing. What a beautiful picture of the gospel. God’s love in Christ is amazing. His gospel is good news. It’s in that good news that we find justice and mercy, truth and love, and it is by that good news that we are shaped.