The Gift of Life, The Gift of Choice
1986 Brochure for the New England Christian Council (NECAC)
John C. Rankin (founder and executive director)
A Polarized Issue
Clearly, the subject of abortion is the most painful and divisive issue in the United States today. The rhetoric and scare tactics abound in all directions. The chances for reconciliation between the opposing camps seems slim or none. And yet, as believers in Jesus Christ, we know that his whole mission was to reconcile us to God.
The question is then: does the Gospel address the subject of abortion, and is it possible for us to be people of reconciliation and effectively win the protection of the unborn?
I say yes on both accounts. But first we must start with the foundational truths of Scripture.
Creation, Sin & Redemption
Too often, we as Christians adopt some cause or issue, then we search for a “verse” or “passage” to support the endeavor. But this is backward and does not honor the authority of the Bible.
In everything we do, we must first root ourselves in Scripture, then gain its perspective on the world, on any given subject. There are three cardinal doctrines in Scripture — creation, sin and redemption. They are established in the opening chapters of Genesis, and thus set the stage for the rest of biblical history and revelation. They are the only true means to interpret the Bible.
These doctrines may be pictured by either of two metaphors. First, we may think in terms of direction: the order of creation, the reversal, and the reversal of the reversal. God ordered his creation to progress in a certain path, sin has reversed it, and redemption reverses the reversal and sets us back on course. The second metaphor is an organic one: the wholeness of God’s creation, the brokenness of sin, and the restoration to wholeness.
As sin breaks apart the wholeness of God’s creation, as it breaks our lives apart, so to is abortion an expression of sin. It breaks into the mother’s womb and destroys the life of the unborn. Indeed, the Latin roots for abortion (ab + oriri) mean “to cut off from rising.”
The Image of God
But before we can understand the impact of sin (or abortion), and before we can grasp the height of God’s redeeming love, we need first to understand the central aspects of the order of creation. We need to understand human nature as God intended it to be.
Yahweh made us male and female, as his image-bearers. An examination of Genesis 1 will show that to bear his image is the definition of human nature, the reason why we seek order, peace and stability — the reason we have a sense of hope, purpose and destiny. We were made by God to live, to love, to laugh and to learn, to express our creative uniqueness in this world. Nothing good was withheld from us. And thus, there was never such a thing as [abandoning hope, of breaking good trajectories]. The wholeness of God’s hope and purpose was to rule every aspect our our lives from creation to eternal life.
God — The Author of Choice
Genesis 2:16-17 is a key text. “And Yahweh God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.’ “
First we see the blessing — God commanded us to be free. This is the gift of choice. And apart from such a gift, we could not exercise the image of God. Apart from the gift of choice, we would be no more than the animals, no more than puppets on a string. But since Yahweh desired so much for us to share the joy of his nature, he willingly risked the loss of those who would choose “no,” for the sake of those who would choose “yes.”
This is the toughest point of biblical theology for me. Tough, because we can interpolate John 3:16 into this verse, and come up with the following: “For God so loved the world, that he gave us the freedom to choose hell.” Our Creator will force nobody into eternal life. He offers the incomparable gift, but he leaves the choice to us.
This leads us, secondly, to see God’s caveat, his warning. He gives us the freedom of choice, but he establishes boundaries which protect such freedom. Freedom is no good if it leads to death. Thus God says, metaphorically, we must obey him, and his boundaries, if we wish to enjoy the goodness of choice.
Everyone knows this reality. We obey numerous boundaries that protect our freedom to live and grow, such as driving on the proper side of the highway, not in the middle, not against a one way sign, etc.
Thus, we are free, but we are commanded to choose life. We are responsible and accountable for what we do with our gift of choice. And if we do it according to God’s will, choice will yield abundant life. If not, it will lead us to death. And the biblical ethic which governs human relationships is the sanctity of all human life. To obey God is to protect his image-bearers, from beginning to end. A biblical exegesis of nephesh (Hebrew term for “soul,” “life” or “being”) will reveal that we bear God’s image from the point of conception in our mother’s womb. So much Scripture celebrates this reality. Yahweh is the Lord and Giver of life, and in faithfully reflecting his image, we will always nurture human life, no matter how weak or defenseless that life might be.
Sex and the Boundaries of Freedom
As choice is God’s gift to his image-bearers, so too is human sexuality. It was ordained from the beginning as good, but like choice, it too has boundaries of freedom in order for it to nurture life — namely marriage. The text that follows in Genesis 2:18-25 follows the gifts of life and choice, and as sexuality is defined here, it follows the same theme. Sexuality in marriage reflects the unique dimensions of God’s image, and it involves the whole person, not the just the physical aspect.
In the cultural mandate for Adam and Eve to “fill” and “subdue” the earth, God intended a completion point to their task from the beginning. There was no brokenness in God’s order of creation, and so God intended it for marriage — no divorce, no fighting, no promiscuity, no abortion. The balance of Scripture makes this explicitly clear. Yahweh is the Lord and Giver of life, and all of his creation, and our image-bearing status, is meant to nurture not destroy. Therefore the gift of life is excellent and it is our purpose for being created. But choice carries the inherent risk of wrong choice. So God has warned us out of his love, and he has established simple boundaries to protect the goodness he created for us to enjoy.
Motivations for Choosing Abortion
As we understand the order of God’s creation, then we more clearly grasp the depths of sin and the havoc it has caused all humanity. Sin is hell. Abortion is no fun.
But by the same token, sin by itself is not a motivating force in human affairs. If it were, then the human race would self-destruct quickly. Sin has broken the image of God within us, but not wiped it out. And it is those shattered remains of God’s image that reflect within us the desire for peach, order and stability. And it is to the shattered remains of God’s image that Christ’s love can appeal and lift us up into his resurrection.
Why do women choose abortion? Or why do they often feel no other choice and allow themselves to be cornered into it. [To what extent does her abandonment by the man who impregnated her factor in?] Nobody plans an abortion ahead of time and no woman gains any sense of fulfillment or joy out of it. Rather, abortion is viewed as a way out, as an attempt to restore some order to a life that feels threatened by a pregnancy. But it only digs the hole deeper.
Such women are seeking order and wholeness in their lives, as we all do. And because God’s redemptive love is not known well enough, they choose a wrong attempt to rectify a crisis, or to advance an agenda that does not include children.
The Idolatry of Choice
In the face of such brokenness, it is idolatry that it turned to. By that I mean to underscore the nature of idolatry — the nature of worshiping something good which God has created to serve us, instead of worshiping the God who created it. Like pantheism where nature is worshiped instead of the God of nature, so too is choice worshiped instead of the Author of choice. Here is where choice is exalted over life, where choice no longer serves life but instead destroys it. This is the twisting nature and morbid irony of sin: it honors something which is good, namely choice, but then pushes it beyond its true boundaries of goodness into ugliness.
The gift of life, the gift of choice. Only in that biblical order can either be enjoyed.
The idolatry of choice is indeed the very ethic that defines such groups as the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights. I have critiqued them directly with such a biblical exegesis (in far greater depth than I can do here), and their response is silence. Again, this is the nature of sin, of abortion: they are acts of hiddenness and their only persuasion is the hyperbole of fear.
The Redemptive Reality
Given this definition of abortion, and as we understand the mixed-up motivations and human pain that feed it, we as Christians must be sure to address it, not with condemnation, but with God’s redemptive love.
The Gospel of John puts it this way: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son ” (3:17-18).
Jesus came to save us out of an existing condemnation — we are already victimized by it, and his thrust is to grab hold of willing lives, to reverse the downward slide of our lives, to reconcile us to our Creator. This is why Jesus faced the vulnerability of conception in Mary’s womb, this is why he died naked on the cross, he took on the sin of us all is that we no longer have to be ruled by the brokenness of it. And as he rose from the grave, taking on an eternal wholeness in the face of death, so too he promises the resurrection to all who believe.
Abortion is an existing condemnation for all who taste its bitter herbs. God alone is the Judge. Our calling is to imitate the redeeming love and servanthood of Christ. Jesus had a positive agenda in his ministry, and so too must we. Sin is sin, and we can never overlook that. But if we truly understand its reality, then we will embrace God’s positive thrust of redemption,, we will experience it in our lives, and we will seek to share it with others. We have all murdered others in our hearts (Mt. 5:21-22), and if we have accepted the forgiveness available in Christ, then we will express that same offer of repentance and forgiveness to women who have [been forced] to kill their unborn children. This is the power of the Gospel. Forgiveness starts now. The question is — does the daily washing of God’s forgiveness so govern our lives that we can share it with victims of abortion?
Abortion and redemption are truly opposites. The only time abortion can ever take on a redemptive quality is when it is employed to save a mother’s life, when there is no other way except to lose one or both of the lives involved.
A Christian Agenda to Protect the Unborn
We as Christians should have three priorities as we seek to protect the unborn:
- to be open, honest and accountable in all we do;
- to motivate by appeals to hope; and
- to affirm the dignity of women as image-bearers of God, seeking to empower them to choose life for their unborn children.
Only on such a basis can we hope to win the hearts and minds of this nation. Only in such a manner can we silence the false, fearful and negative rhetoric of many “pro-choice” activists. And only when we have done this can we dare hope for the legal abolition of abortion (making exception, of course, to save the life of the mother). This agenda involves not just being “pro-lifers” focusing on a single issue (as foundational as the sanctity of human life is), but it involves being Christian pro-life advocates in agreement with other Christians who labor for quality of life issues such as poverty, hunger, discrimination, pollution, war, pornography, etc.
The New England Christian Action Council
The priorities for the New England Christian Action Council include the following:
- Teaching the half-day seminar in churches on “Abortion and the Ethics of Hope.”
- Other teaching and preaching engagements.
- Public debates and open forums on college campuses and similar arenas.
- Personal contact with “pro-choice” leaders.
- Establishment of local Christian Action Council chapters.
- Lobbying, whether one on one, through letters or in attending public legislative sessions.
- Interaction with hospitals, seeking to persuade them not to perform abortions.
- Public marches to celebrate life as God’s gift, and pockets of abortion clinics in a fashion that is loving, not caustic.
- Counseling people facing the dilemma of abortion in all contexts.
If you say amen to this ministry, and wish to be involved, you can contact us for further information at [now dated and moot information]: the New England Christian Action Council, 11 Pleasant Street, Gloucester, MA 01930. (617)283.4575 or 546-9229.