Last Tuesday was the National Sanctity of Human Life Day, an observance declared originally by U.S. President Ronald Reagan in 1984 and several subsequent Presidents who opposed abortion. It is typically proclaimed on or near the anniversary of Roe v. Wade (the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized most abortions). There is no small amount of controversy surrounding this day because of the political nature of the proclamation and the division in our country surrounding abortion rights. What does the Bible have to say about it?
The National Debate
It’s amazing that we would be divided over a proclamation as basic as the sacred nature of human life. Obviously, we are a house divided against itself.
Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall” (Luke 11:17).
The issue, of course, is complicated.
The concept of the sacred nature of human life has become exclusively and inextricably tied to abortion rights. As such, the fight is political and centers around a person’s individual and personal rights — more specifically, a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body — even when there is another life in her womb, competing with her personal rights. The law increasingly sides with the woman, over-against the baby.
Many pro-choice advocates admit that every abortion is a tragedy. However, they do not believe the tragedy warrants the abrogation of a woman’s rights.
The state of New York recently passed legislation that cleared the way for a woman to choose abortion at any point up to the birth of the child. This legislation was mainly a preemptive strike — a safeguard against the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade. If that were to happen, the legality of abortion would fall to each state. New York wanted to go on record.
The Biblical Witness
I’ll leave the legal debate to politicians and legal experts who are far more qualified to argue the finer points of the sociopolitical issues. I want to address the biblical-theological basis for the Sanctity of Human Life, including but not limited to the life of a developing fetus.
To say that the Bible teaches the sanctity of every human life is a gross understatement. The Bible throbs, from cover to cover, with God’s commitment to human life. In fact, you could make a viable argument that the overarching narrative of the Bible is God’s unconditional, unending love for human life.
The meta-narrative of the Bible — the creation of all life, humanity’s rebellion against God, and God’s passionate pursuit and ultimate redemption of humanity — is a grand testament to the inherent and infinite value of all created life, especially human life.
Three Points to Ponder
A detailed biblical analysis is beyond the scope of this brief essay. I’ll offer only three points to ponder.
1. God set the highest value on human life from the beginning.
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27).
God created human life in his own image. Although we are not exactly sure of the nature of this likeness (the narrator doesn’t explain), one thing is sure — that claim is made uniquely of human life. Clearly, the goal of the narrative was not to explain but to differentiate human life from the rest of creation.
The creation of the man and woman was the crowning jewel of God’s creation. The rest of the biblical narrative will focus on their relationship with each other and his relationship with them.
From the beginning, human life was precious to God because, unlike the rest of creation, it was created in his image.
2. God is constantly creating and communicating.
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Ps. 139:13).
God never stops creating. The Poet-Songwriter was attempting to describe the intimate nature of God’s relationship to us. He is not some transcendental shylock demanding his pound of flesh. On the contrary, he is a loving Father (Abba; Mark 14:36; Rom. 8:5; Gal. 4:6), and the one who sticks “closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). He is the God who bent down and breathed life into his human creation (Gen. 2:7).
God is always speaking to his creation (Rom. 1:20). The history of the Hebrew people is the story of God speaking again and again to his people.
The great narratives of Genesis and Exodus — the wisdom literature of the Proverbs and Ecclesiastes — the poetry of the Psalms and Songs of Solomon — the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah — all the Bible sings with the great and wonderful voice of God, speaking to those who have ears to hear (Isaiah 6:9; Mark 4:9).
God speaks through his creation. He speaks through those who love him. He speaks through little children (Matt. 21:16).
God even speaks from the womb — “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice, she exclaimed … As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy” (Luke 1:42, 44).
His voice throughout the ages is a consistent testimony to the supreme value of human life.
3. God sent his son to die for human life.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
The ultimate sign of God’s sanctification of human life was the incarnation of Jesus Christ. God sacrificed his own son because human life was both of infinite value and in eternal peril. The sacrifice demands both.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
No matter what you might think about a woman’s rights to make decisions about her body — no matter what our society decides about her laws (and I suspect those laws will increasingly side with the woman, over-against the baby) — no matter how many babies are aborted each year — NOTHING can erase God’s love for us, his ultimate justice, and his supreme sanctification of human life.
The biblical testimony is that ALL human life is sacred and should always be treated as such.
This means that we must stand with those who have no voice — we must stand with the widow and the orphan — the poor and the oppressed — the sick and the uninsured — the immigrant and the prisoner — and, yes, the baby growing in her mother’s womb and the woman who has gone through an abortion. The sacred breath of God flows through each of them (Gen. 2:7).
If we fail to stand for even one of the “least of these,” we fail to stand for all of them and we undermine the very faith that gives us life (Matt. 25:45).
This is a universal, bedrock truth of being human. We break it at our own peril.
The New York State Senate came out 38-24 in favor of the bill affirming the legalization of abortion with no restrictions. The Assembly, which has passed versions of the bill for a dozen years straight, voted 92-47 in favor.
When the vote was announced, the gallery, filled with supporters, stood and applauded.
According to man’s laws, a woman has the right to abort her child. According to God’s laws, no one should ever applaud that.
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