Life Is Worthy of Life
Scripture: Psalm 139:1–24
When does life begin?
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, […] then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature (Gen 2:7). So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Gen 1:27).
Descriptions of God’s creating work abound in the word. His formation of man manifests his intricate glory in the people he makes in his image – what we know as the Imago Dei – an image unique to humans, not shared by any other creature. While the composite material making the body was earthly, the source of life was divine: it is the breath of God that institutes life when he says: let there be life. Any system of thought, government, religion, or worldview that denies this falls short of the glory of God.
This Imago Dei carries tremendous consequences regarding the protection of human life, born and unborn, and regarding abortion, the care of embryos and babies, and the ethical practice of medicine, including fertilization and stem cell research. God grants dignity to every person made in his image regardless of stage, age, gender, ethnicity, ability, viability, size, or dependency; and every life is worthy. Psalm 8 tells us that he grants glory and honor to people and regards them but little lower than the angels. This is reason for high honor and sober humility. The same Psalm also confirms what God declared in his covenant with Noah that humans have dominion over animals, but they are not allowed to take another human life, for every human life is sacred, a sanctity announced in Gen 4:8-16, before the giving of the law in Exodus. From the moment of fertilization, every life is worthy of living, and the right to life is an absolute right.
Abortion Is an Old Sin
Such a sanctity has been recognized throughout history. But abortion is an old sin. The problem of disregard for human life in general, and of newborn life in particular is not a new phenomenon. From of old, God warned his people not to act like the nations around them who sacrificed their children and practiced infanticide. Unfortunately, we see that the practice eventually happened to and in Israel. In 1 Kings 11:7, Solomon turns away from the Lord and builds an altar to Molech whose worship included child sacrifice. The practice later spreads to Moab (2 Kings 3:27), then to Judah when the evil king Ahaz burnt his own son as an offering (2 Kings 16:3), then to Israel in burning both sons and daughters (2 Kings 17:17). The prophets campaigned against abortion and mourned the evil practice. In 2 Kings 8:12, Elisha weeps when he foresees the king of Syria ripping open pregnant women in Israel. Amos speaks judgment against the Ammonites who did the same in Gilead (Amos 1:13). Isaiah (57:5), Jeremiah (7:31) and Ezekiel (16:20-21) condemn this slaughter and call for repentance.
Extrabiblical history reveals that abortion has also been a problem for millennia in many cultures, with plenty of warnings against it. The first recorded abortion was in Egypt about 1550 B.C. The Greek physician Hippocrates, one of the fathers of modern medicine, is famously known for his oath from 400 years B.C. which remains the standard of ethics for all physicians, and includes a resolution against both euthanasia and abortion: I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan; and similarly I will not give a woman a pessary to cause an abortion. The pessary was a device known to have been used to induce abortion. Then came the Romans who took violence to another level. Cicero (106-43B.C.) noted that according to the Twelve Tables of Roman Law “deformed infants shall be killed.” Plutarch (46-120A.D.) recorded what appeared to be the brutal killing of babies as a sport. Contrast this with early Christian practice and history which records teachings against abortion and infanticide, counter-cultural to the predominant Roman stream.
The practice of inducing miscarriages unfortunately continued throughout the Middle Ages, often tied to choosing an heir, after adultery, or to prevent sex workers from losing livelihood. It was also understood that to save the life of a mother during a complicated breach presentation, a termination was inevitable. Thankfully, C-sections became safer through the years, and succeeded in saving the lives of many a mother and child.
Abortion Continues to This Day
In reality, infanticide was a much more predominant practice than abortion, which was dangerous to the mother until the 19th century. But then came the modern age with the spread of eugenics, inspired by Darwinism, promoted by Margaret Sanger – the mother of Planned Parenthood, practiced by Nazi Germany under the guise of life unworthy of life (Lebensunwertes Leben), and continuing today with sex-selective abortion, of children with defects or chromosomal anomalies, or undesirable traits, or merely an undesirable child. Many Scandinavian countries are celebrating the eradication of Down Syndrome through the practice of abortion.
In the USA, while statistics vary because of different reporting patterns, the reality is that more than 63 million lives have been snuffed by abortion since the Supreme Court’s miserable decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973. Today marks 50 years since abortion was legalized – a dark year of jubilee of death. This unjust statute was not insulated from the other signs of erosion of morality like hedonism, sexual promiscuity, other loosening of mores including easy divorce, alcoholism, and drugs – all of which contributed to warping the culture. But for a nation that prides itself in its Judeo-Christian origins, killing more than 60 million people in 50 years, with a disproportionately higher percentage of African American (30%) and Hispanic (19%) women victimized by abortion, is appalling. In the year 2000 alone, more children died from abortion in America than Americans died in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World Wars I & II, the Korean, Vietnam and first Gulf Wars – COMBINED! The most dangerous place for a person in America is inside the womb.
This is where returning to the word of God and to the eternal truth delivered to us is of extreme importance for Christians. The Lord delights in giving life, and ordains from eternity past the beginning of our days and their numbers. He hates abuse. He abhors wrong sacrifices. He detests those who offer their children to idols or make them pass through fire for Molech. What do you think he senses when the kingdom of this world sacrifices its unborn upon the altars of autonomy, money, equality, career, sexual pleasure, and convenience?
In light of this, we come to Psalm 139 which renews our awe at God’s work of creation through conception. The word “know” could summarize this Psalm. We see it in v.1, 2, 4, 6, and 23 referring to God and in v.14 referring to the soul. In a world of confusion without certainty of being known or loved, v.1-6 remind us that by faith we worship a God who knows us intimately, who has made all things, whose eyes are ever watching, so that nothing and no one is hidden from his sight. This thought should be scary to the unfaithful and might be scary to you. But David reminds us that the believer finds delight in being known – and as such, loved – by God. His searching of our soul is a cornerstone of our sanctification. His knowledge of our times and actions should be a source of comfort. It should also be a reason for a healthy fear of the Holy One who knows every inclination of our heart and every thought of our mind. Nothing takes him by surprise, but this should take us in awe of the One before whom nothing is hidden, even as he gently lays his hand upon us and protects us from what may come.
In v.7-12 we see that God’s knowledge of people is intimate and all-encompassing, in both vertical and horizontal dimensions. The believer finds delight in being led by our Shepherd, taught, known, and protected by him even in the darkest and scariest parts of the world. God’s omniscience and omnipresence enlighten every inch of this universe. The Lord reigns supreme and shines the light of his knowledge as far as no one can see and none can go. The darkest place and farthest area are not hidden from his sight.
And so we come to v.13-16. In the depth and darkness of the womb, and away from prying eyes, the exquisite artistry of the Creator God in creating new life is done silently and intimately. What he said was “very good” when he made Adam, he continues to call “very good” in the creation of every new human life, regardless of how it is conceived. Within or without a marriage, incest or rape, in vitro or in utero, the fertilized egg – the conceived child – is the image of God: precious, worthy, innocent, and has an absolute right to life – whether desired or undesired. From before the foundation of the world, God had written the names of all peoples in the heavenly royal register and numbered all their days. He relates to human beings and to the unborn in a personal way, even before they are formed. He tells Jeremiah at the inception of his ministry (1:5): Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations. Isaiah proclaims (49:1): The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name. Paul reminds the Galatians that he was set apart before he was born (1:15). We have the prophecy that the virgin shall conceive and bear a son (Isaiah 7:14), signaling the beginning of life at conception, including the earthly life of the incarnate Son of God. The Son that preexisted all things was now conceived as a child in the womb of a woman, soon to be given to the world at his birth. He was an unborn baby, yet he was from everlasting truly God, and now truly man, with his own unique genetic code, capable of feeling, of pain, and emotion. At 6 months of pregnancy, while in Elizabeth’s womb, John the Baptist leaped for joy at the news of the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary who was visiting (Luke 1:41,44). Babies too can rejoice in the Spirit!
These verses should renew our wonder at God’s work of creation through conception, and should lead us to praise and worship. Could you imagine that at one point there exist, in the womb of a mother, 3 different DNAs, each encoding a unique individual made in the image of God? The DNA of the mother, that of the father, and at one instance, the weaving of strands from each making a completely new DNA that will code every single cellular nucleus of a new human being then, at birth, after birth and until death? Think of these strands coming apart from the mother and father and now being knitted together in the mother’s womb into a new person, intricately woven, oh so fearfully and wonderfully made! And God does it all in the secret place, where nothing is hidden from him.
All his works are wonderful and sing his praise (cf Ps.145:10). And the crown of his works is every human being made in the image of God who can truly sing praise from hearts full of wonder. He makes their bony frame and weaves them together. At 4 weeks he gives them a heartbeat; at 5, faces and budding arms and legs; at 6, brain activity; at 8, fingers, toes and a working digestive system; at 10, fingerprints, nails, and functionality in most organs; at 11, complex facial expressions and behavior including thumb sucking; at 16, the ability to respond to stress and feel pain; at 18, soccer skills and leg kicks; at 23, a sense of motion and hearing; at 24, taste buds and responses to the mother’s diet and to light and sound; at 27, lung maturity; after 28 weeks, dreams; at 34, more brain learning and softening of the skin; at birth, breath in their lungs and volume to their vocal cords while the image of his glory is revealed through the pains of childbirth as they proclaim the greatness of our God in that what was formed in secret is now made manifest to all, and it is very good.
All this is reason for the psalmist (v.17-18) and for us to marvel at the mind of God and his thoughts that are vast beyond any of our comprehension. Have you ever pondered the thoughts that God thinks until you were utterly exhausted or fell asleep? I dare say none of us has done so, to our own detriment. His thoughts are holy and good and are worthy to be meditated on. His word is full of his revelation which, if we immerse ourselves in, reveals that God makes no accidents. Everything he does is intentional, and for the good of his glorious will. Every life he creates has a purpose. Every life is worthy.
No wonder then that v.19-22 speak of hatred toward the wicked who shed innocent blood. To deliberately take the life of a human is to incur the wrath of God and to forsake one’s life. Psalm 94:20-21 says: Can wicked rulers be allied with you, those who frame injustice by statute? They band together against the life of the righteous and condemn the innocent to death. Friends: a culture is judged by how it treats its weakest and neediest and the innocent: a baby in the womb is one. Job says God fashions people in the womb, and he holds in his hand the life and breath of all beings (12:10; 31:15). Paul repeats this image in Acts 17: in [God] we live and move and have our being. In the law in Exodus 21:22-25, there is a provision given that if one hits a pregnant woman and the child comes out and there is harm, life is to be paid for life, regardless of the week of gestation. Every human life, regardless of its age, health, ability, productivity, ethnicity or geography is endowed with honor and dignity by the One who has made it fearfully and wonderfully in his image, and is worthy of such respect by all other image bearers.
Our Responsibility in Action
The issue of worth and sanctity of all human life might cause controversy like the issue of racial justice. But our moral stance must be clear, because this issue is at the core of the word of God and the kingdom of Christ, which includes justice, morality, ethics and medicine; theology, anthropology, and biology.
Abortion is a direct insult to any physician-patient relationship. It is a direct attack on religious and scientific principles that have been standing and defended for millennia, reasons why I and many have decided to pursue a lifetime career in medicine. It undermines trust when the person who holds the power to treat, would also hold the power to kill. Abortion is a failure of proper care for all people, in particular women who suffer from duress, distress, abuse, and dire need. The urge should be to comfort, to care, to preserve life, to promote health, to help those in need, to protect the weak, the widow, and the fatherless. Abortion replaces all these measures with murder. Many abortion victims have asked for this option because of the fear of suffering, of not being able to care, of not having enough to survive, of being stigmatized. Many have done so even at the request or push of those who otherwise would publicly claim they want to uphold life. There are plenty of examples of politicians who in the public eye were stalwart defenders of all things conservative, yet in truth were wicked rulers who led promiscuous lives and pushed women toward abortion. Murderous ravenous wolves who care not for the sheep one iota! Let us not accept their miserable failures, nor the failure of those who turn a blind eye, including ourselves, and rather transform our practice and our disposition by killing sin and refusing hypocrisy rather than killing a fetus or refusing a struggling mother.
I can only start to imagine the grounds for abuse this has made room for. Relatives might push toward this end if they harbor ulterior motives or financial incentives, or they are in duress. This is all the truer if the mother is dependent on others. And even if that's not the case, a mother might feel so overwhelmed by emotional or financial burdens imposed on herself or loved ones that she feels it's her "duty" to abort to abridge those burdens. No one in reality cares for such women. If they did, they’d believe the evidence that abortion increases the risk of future miscarriage, of breast cancer, leads to psychiatric illnesses and to early mortality. And the risk increases with more abortions.
In places like Sub-Saharan Africa, organizations I once highly respected like Médecins Sans Frontières (Physicians without Borders) are known to practice population control in many villages by placing IUDs and offering to perform 1st-trimester abortions to all mothers who had more than 2 children. I firsthand discovered this while counseling a nurse who was struggling with this organization teaching her to perform such atrocities. This might be a small example of what many organizations are doing around the world, in the name of healthcare, and in the name of affordable options, where they present abortion as a duty toward one’s tribe, village, family, nation, and economy.
What about stem cell research? There are plenty of ways stem cells can be taken from adults without having to create embryos solely for the sake of then putting them to death to use their cells for research. What about IVF? Every fertilized egg is a human being with its own DNA and its own Imago Dei that cannot be discarded or left frozen somewhere in a lab. Please seek wise counsel in these decisions. What about contraception? Brother and sisters: please seek enlightenment regarding what can prevent ovulation or fertilization and thus does not lead to abortion, compared to what prevents implantation which is abortifacient.
I believe every woman has a moral and ethical right to be protected from abuse, from bullying, from rape, from any violence done to her be it physically or emotionally. And I believe we all have rights to our own bodies, but I do not hold those rights absolute or unlimited. There is a very important ethical principle called graded absolutism, which means that some things are to be held more absolute than others. For example, it is wrong to lie, but it is permissible to lie to save a life as some did in the holocaust. In a similar way, our rights must be weighed against the rights of others, and restraints must be put in place. That’s why we have no right of killing another human, or of mutilating ourselves or others, for it is categorically wrong to kill innocent human lives. Our bodies are not our own but the Lord’s, and the temple of his Spirit.
In light of this, is the unborn child a part of the mother’s body or a separate entity? It is true the child inhabits the womb within the mother, but we have established that this child is its own body, mind, person, genetic code, and image of God. Its right to life is absolute. The child is a separate human being that deserves protection and the imposition of restraints on people who interact with this child so as not to be the recipient of mutilation, abuse, or murder. There is no difference in worth of living between a baby above the 6-inch-long birth canal or a baby below it. Dependency is not a basis for killing. An embryo is no more dependent on its mother for sustenance than a newborn is, or a sick child, or an ill adult who depends on a ventilator or a dialysis machine. And they all have the same dignity from the Creator.
Brothers and sisters, my desire for us is that we are not known merely by what we oppose, but by what we uphold. I do not want us to be only known as anti-gay marriage or anti-LGBTQ legislation, but as people who uphold Biblical truth, like the union of one man and one woman in a lifelong holy matrimony that perseveres through difficulties to seek uniting two wills in one under Christ, and forsake all fleeting pleasures. In a similar way, I do not want us to be known merely as anti-abortion, but as people who delight in the life that God gives, who seek to uphold struggling mothers, who are willing to adopt children, who spend time, money, effort and gifts to counsel, care, support, and be inconvenienced from our American individualism to see other people having life, and having it abundantly. And we better be ready to accept the consequences, knowing that our allegiance is to the kingdom of God, not to the kingdom of this world.
Brothers and sisters: it is very likely that in a group this size, someone had considered or had an abortion, or someone might have suggested or pushed this lethal option on another. Along the line of the final 2 verses, I am calling on us to be searched by God, our hearts to be known by him, our thoughts to be tried by him so that he may lead us away from such grievous ways in repentance and humility by his mercy toward forgiveness and hope and the grace of eternal life. This is not the unforgivable sin and Jesus stands ready to receive all those who call on his name. You might carry a heavy scar for life, but I pray you find us ready to weep with you and hold you as you do. Even when doctors have to make the hard decision to induce labor in order to save the life of an ill mother such as I’ve had to make, the burden is heavy in knowing that a human being is dying at 13 or 18 or 22 weeks so that another can live. While good doctors do the right thing, we have to live with such consequences and heavy burden. Time limits me from telling you all the story in details, but my belief in the truth preached today and in the word of God is one of the main reasons I am here in Oklahoma. The place I was training at in NY had already offered me a job to stay as faculty, but retracted the job offer because of my Christian worldview regarding the sanctity and worth of every life. Christian living comes with consequences, but what people mean for evil, God turns for good.
It’s been 50 years since Roe v. Wade; more than 63 million abortions in America; an estimated 1.5 billion abortions worldwide since 1980; and more throughout history. In addition, women have suffered miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies and stillbirths, including some of our sisters in this very congregation. Even as we weep for these lives, we pray: come Lord Jesus and put an end to this! Until then, let us cling to the promise that one day we will stand before the throne and we will see the faces of all those children who were fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God, innocent, recipients of God’s grace, now a nation made up of thousands upon thousands from every tribe, people and language, whose voices were silenced before they were able to speak, but now having no less days to sing God’s praise than when they first begun.
References and Further Resources:
Drife JO. Historical perspective on induced abortion through the ages and its links with maternal mortality. Best Pract Res Clin Obstet Gynaecol. 2010 Aug;24(4):431-41. doi: 10.1016/j.bpobgyn.2010.02.012. Epub 2010 Mar 26. PMID: 20347398. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/abortion-and-contraception-in-the-middle-ages/