Forty Long Years
Perhaps you’ve heard the old saw that goes like this. A man turned to his friend and said, “Do you know that the two greatest problems in our country today are ignorance and apathy?” To this his friend replied, “I don’t know and I don’t care.”
That is, perhaps, a most fitting assessment, and especially on this day. This day marks, among all others, the sins and failures of mankind. In this regard, it is not unlike other days. But this day marks a great darkness, a great evil, a great forwardness, a rebellion of the hearts of men against their Creator. This day marks what is most assuredly the darkest day of all in our American history.
Forty long years were God’s people in the wilderness after Moses led them out of Egypt. In fits and starts they followed him and obeyed his commandments. Sometimes, they honored him; sometimes, they complained against him, accusing him of injustice. At least once, they turned to worship a false God.
Likewise, for forty long years, the Church in America has largely ignored the darkness of the murder of innocents in our land. Too many Christians sit comfortably in their churches without regard to the blood of the unborn being shed around them every day. In fits and starts has the Church, too, honored the Lord’s commandments. At times, Christians have spoken plainly of God’s truth and honored him in deeds. At other times, and in critical times, we have preferred our own convenience.
Those of you who are older than I may remember the political struggle over abortion in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The argument was that abortion was a medical necessity. A handful of states began to legalize abortion. In 1973, the Supreme Court declared it to be legally acceptable to murder children in the womb. Since that time, the argument for medical necessity has virtually disappeared, while we kill children in the womb for the sake of our convenience.
For 40 years, the courts have declared acceptable that which God has condemned. Since 1973, more than 50 million children have been murdered in the womb. Our chief executive, before he took office, stated that he was in favor of killing children after they were born. (source) This is the state of our nation after 40 years. We have embraced a culture of death.
The culture of death brings about disrespect for human life across the breadth of our society. You may remember the death of Terri Schiavo in 2005. She was physically and mentally disabled, and her husband sought to have her put to death because she was an inconvenience to him. A state court ordered that food and water be withheld from her. After fourteen days without food or water, Terri died of dehydration. This is the culture of death we have in this country.
Every day, the disabled and elderly are neglected because they are inconvenient. I think of the nursing home where I lead service each month, of how many of the elderly are dumped there by their families. They are abandoned because they are inconvenient. Children shuttle off their parents to a place where they can die because it’s inconvenient to deal with them. This is the culture of death.
Murder Condemned, Life Affirmed
Abortion is an old sin that has been with us since the early days of mankind. It was spoken of in the Old Testament. References to it have been found in ancient texts.
Elsewhere in the book of Genesis, the Lord said unto Noah, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man” (Genesis 9:6). Here the Lord made plain to Noah that the life of every man is sacred. It is sacred because man bears God’s image.
From the time of the early church, abortion was condemned as murder. In the Didache, the oldest known catechetical document of the Church, written sometime around 100 A.D and intended as a summary of the Apostles’ teaching, are these words: “You shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill one who has been born” ([tooltip tip=”Didache, c. 80-140, as quoted in A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, edited by David W. Bercot (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 1998), 2.”]source[/tooltip]). We see that this sin has been around for a long time, and it is practiced with impunity in our own time. The Church has always looked upon this act as an offense against both God and man.
Tertullian, in about 210 A.D., wrote this, “Life begins with conception, for we contend that the soul also begins from conception. Life takes its commencement at the same place and time that the soul does” ([tooltip tip=”Tertullian, as quoted in A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, edited by David W. Bercot (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 1998), 172.”]source[/tooltip]). That is to say, at the moment when God causes two cells to combine–in that moment when he creates the body–he also animates the body with his own breath. Into a man fashioned from clay, the Father breathed life. Therefore, we honor life, not only because it came from that first receiving of God’s breath, but also because it is that continued receiving from God, that continued imprint of his image upon men.
Christ affirmed the value of mankind throughout his ministry. He did so when he declared them to be made whole by speaking words of healing or laying his hands on them. He did so when he called them to repentance so that they might be saved from destruction. He did so when he said, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14).
Likewise, when he said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10), he was affirming the value of life. He was affirming the value of human life in his eyes, both the life of that first breath and the new life that comes through the saving work of Christ our Savior. This is everlasting life given to those who repent of their wickedness and follow after Christ.
Instead of taking life, Jesus gave his life, saying, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). He showed the value of men in God’ eyes: not that men are worthy, but God has made them worthy through his first Creation and his New Creation.
Made in God’s Image
What does it mean to be made in God’s image? That has been an important question throughout human history, and it is no less important to us now. The answer to this question have tremendous implications for our understanding of God, of man, of how God has revealed himself to man, and, especially, our understanding of Jesus, the incarnate God, God in human flesh.
In seeking to explain this impression of the image of God upon the soul of man, we use a variety of terms. We speak of being made in God’s likeness, made in his image. We talk of the sacredness of human life, the dignity of men. The American Founders spoke of it in the Declaration of Independence in those words that are familiar to most of us: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
We speak of the inalienable nature of the right to life. This means that the right to life is inherent to our identity as humans. God made us such that this right is essential to our being. This right can neither be taken from us nor can it be given up; it is inalienable–we cannot be separated from it. This is the value that God gives mankind. We have value because he has deigned to leave his fingerprints in the clay with which he made man and woman.
What might we learn from the passage we read in Genesis 1? Firstly, that God has given man dominion. He gave mankind authority over every creature, every creeping, flying, or swimming thing. He gave man authority over the trees and other plants.
Insofar as this authority of dominion is practiced by man with uprightness, he reflects the image of God. Just as the Lord rightly exercises his authority over all things, so man rightly exercises his authority over those things placed under his control. Man may use the things of Creation for good purposes, just as the Lord has made them all for his good purpose. As God has exercised his creative power, man may exercise the power of creativity bestowed upon him by the Creator.
Secondly, we bear the image of God in our moral nature. That is, we are formed according to his character. The Lord has endowed each man with conscience, with some ability to discern right and wrong, to seek goodness. Certainly this desire for goodness, this ability to discern what is pleasing to God, has been marred by sin. We see with dimmed eyes; we stumble in the darkness because we have shut out the light. Our consciences are seared by sinfulness such that our minds are faulty and our wills given to that which is evil. Certainly, our natural tendency is toward sin and all that is displeasing toward the Lord.
Yet, however dimly we may see, and however vainly we may grasp at goodness without the illumination of God’s Holy Spirit, mankind is not entirely divorced from the goodness of God. Because of the mercy of the Lord, it is this indelible likeness of the Father upon us that gives us any inclination to do that which is good. It was of this impression of the Father’s character on us that Christ spoke when he said to his disciples, “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matthew 7:11).
Take Up the Tools at Your Hand
How do we address this sin of the devaluing of human life? How do we act in such ways as to affirm life?
Some years ago, I was seeking work through a temporary staffing agency. Reviewing the agency’s advertisements for jobs, I discovered one that was a bit cryptic. As I carefully read over the words, it became apparent that the temp agency was seeking a nurse to work in the abortion clinic in town. I spoke with the local manager of the service, who referred me to the corporate office. I spoke with the president of the company, who dismissed my concerns about the murder of the innocent, stating that they were supporting a business engaged in legal activity.
I called friends in the area and asked them to pray and to participate in an effort to stop the supply of nurses to the abortion clinic. After several days of standing on the sidewalk in front of the employment agency, greeting the folks who came in and out of that business and explaining to them what sort of services it supplied, we were able to impact the abortion industry in our town. People who sought help in finding a job through this agency were shocked to learn that it was working for the abortion industry in this way. Some learned for the first time that an abortion clinic even existed in the area.
Eventually, we were able to have an impact on the staffing of the clinic, and its hours were reduced after the prayers and faithful witness of many in the pro-life movement. Its sister clinic in another city was shut down by the state.
I think also of my friend who heads a ministry dedicated to teaching Ukrainian orphans about Christ and showing them compassion. He and his wife help coordinate the adoption of scores of children each year. These are children who would be abandoned; those who make it to adulthood often turn to prostitution and other crime to support themselves. Now, instead, they have the love of adopted parents. They have the love of Christ shown to them through the acts of men and women who understand the value of human life.
These are only some of the things that we can do when we take up the tools that are at hand. Perhaps the most important and the most expedient thing you can do to honor the sanctity of life is to teach it to your children. We so often spend time seeking magic solutions that we neglect the work before us. We do not live in a fairy land; there are no magic beans. Let us teach our children about the sanctity of human life.
Men who are not taught love as children will seldom love when full grown. We must speak the message of truth in our homes and in our churches. We must teach children about the dignity of all men. We should teach them how we are fearfully and wonderfully made–by God, in his image. We should teach them how to love others, that humiliation and ridicule do not show our appreciation of human worth. We should teach them that children are a gift from the Lord, not an inconvenience to be avoided or disposed of. We should teach them that God will hold us accountable for all our deeds, both good and bad. We should teach them that, in honoring the value of men, we honor the Lord.
Let us not forget prayer, that most important discipline of Christian life. Pray for the safety of children in the womb. Pray for the hearts of men in authority, that they will respect the value of life. Pray for doctors and nurses, that they will seek to preserve life, not to destroy it. Pray for all who suffer from abortion, the childless mothers and fathers who need the forgiveness of the Father. Pray for those in the nursing homes, the elderly and the disabled, that they will be comforted by the Holy Spirit in their moments of loneliness and distress.
Take up the tools that are at your hand and work in the Lord’s kingdom. Work to affirm the sacredness of human life. Work to glorify God by honoring his Creation.
In exercising dominion, we do not seek dominion over others. We do not seek to control them, to limit their freedom, to make them slaves. All of these things attack their dignity and show that we have no value for them. We do not dominate or subjugate others or murder them. We are to exercise dominion in goodness, in all that pleases the Lord. When we offend the dignity of men, we offend the majesty of God.
We may embrace the fullness of life by following after Christ. We show this by speaking and acting in accord with his word. We show this by affirming human life in all its forms, in all its locations, in all its conditions. We show our reverence for God by our respect for men–men who are created in the image of deity.
May we honor all men and so honor God.