I sometimes picture God watching us. Not like He’s stalking us, but, more like a parent watching His children. Not waiting for us to mess up, but, hoping desperately that we will succeed. Sometimes I imagine God as a proud parent. I think God smiles when two of His children join together in marriage—just the way He designed it. I think God is overjoyed when His children reach out to help someone who has fallen down, stand up again—just the way He designed it. I think God continues to marvel as a new child is born into this world—just the way He designed it. I wonder if that is how God felt in the very beginning…
In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. Genesis 2:4b-7 (NRSV)
God’s greatest gift to this world is life. Scripture is filled with references to life, and Jesus Himself had a great deal to say about life:
“For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7:14
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. Not one comes to the Father except through me.’” John 14:6
“In Him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” John 1:4
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” John 3:16
“Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes.” John 5:21
“For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.” John 5:26
“For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” John 6:33
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10
God created this world to give us life. Jesus came to this earth to give us life. Church, do you think we fully appreciate the greatness of this gift? I fear that like so many other things in this world, we’ve allowed “life itself” to become a pawn in a political game.
One cannot say the word “abortion” in America without conjuring up images of courtrooms and picket signs. The famous (or “infamous”) court case Roe v. Wade took place in 1973. But since that year, ten other significant cases centering on abortion have made their ways to the United States Supreme Court and too often, the debates surrounding abortion, I think, miss the point. The debates have centered on an individual's “freedom.” The debates have centered on trying to determine the exact moment a fetus turns into a baby. The debates have focused on trying to determine the last possible moment one can legally end a pregnancy. Sometimes we forget that this entire discussion centers on God’s gift of life to us.
But, abortion is not the only issue facing our society that centers on life. Since 1879, 40 cases have come before the United States Supreme Court, which centered on capital punishment. Instead of asking if mothers have the “right” or the “freedom” to end the lives of their unborn children, courts and Americans have been asking when we have the “right” or “freedom” to end the lives of convicted criminals.
These are two of the most politically charged issues in our country today. Abortion has impassioned people on both sides of the “aisle.” In America anti-abortion protesters have been guilty of kidnapping, assault, and even murder. On the other side of the debate, those who considered themselves “pro-choice” have also committed assault and murder against their adversaries.
Likewise, Americans become extremely passionate about their views on capital punishment. In 2011, as Governor Rick Perry was running for President, he was speaking before an audience filled with members of the Christian Coalition. Wanting to describe his tough position on crime, Perry celebrated his 234 executions as Texas Governor. Upon hearing his success, the predominantly Christian audience rose to their feet and roared in applause.
What is a Christian to do? Well, I guess we can go to the Bible to search for a quick answer. If you recall from a couple of weeks ago, we are part of a tradition that has read the Bible with a certain hermeneutic. If we can go to the Bible and find a command, an example, or a necessary inference, perhaps we can solve these issues. So, one person hoping to bolster his pro-capital punishment position goes to Exodus 21:23-24,
If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe…
But, before long, someone from the other side of the argument picks up her Bible and turns to Matthew 6:38-41,
Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second.”
Those who take the "pro-life" position in the abortion debates move almost immediately to Jeremiah 1:5…
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you…
But, lest some think "pro-life" advocates have the corner market on scripture, those on the other side of the aisle call attention to Jeremiah’s statement later in that same prophetic book,
Cursed be the day on which I was born! The day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father saying, “A child is born to you, a son,” making him very glad. Let that man be like the cities that the LORD overthrew without pity; let him hear a cry in the morning and an alarm at noon, because he did not kill me in the womb; so my mother would have been my grave and her womb forever great. Why did I come forth from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame? (Jeremiah 20:14-18)
Abortion clinic bombers could point to passages dealing with God’s justice on evil. Opponents of capital punishment could point to Jesus’ comments in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” As you can see, there are not quick, biblical answers to these tough questions.
May I ask you again: What is a Christian to do?
Well, to begin with, we must set aside our desire to offer quick solutions to this world’s difficult issues. Our world is not always black and white. Our world is filled with grey! Next, we must remember this: these issues are not just statistics and politics; they are real people: Our daughters. Our mothers. Our children. Our neighbors. Our enemies. There is a command from God that is appropriate to remember when discussing issues like these, and it does not come in shades of grey. We are to love each of these real people as God loves them, and we are to value their lives because God values their lives.
A Christian should be the hardest person in the world to convince that someone is worthy of death.
Whether that person is an innocent, unborn infant or, a fallen, sinful hardened criminal on death row. And we must never forget that the world sees a reflection of the one, true God not in our political alignment, but, rather, in our actions.
Richard Hays, in his book Moral Vision of the New Testament offered this advice for Christ-followers seeking to make a difference in a world like ours.
“We should recognize the futility of seeking to compel the state to enforce Christian teaching against abortion…It is because we recognize that the convictions that cause us to reject abortion within the church are intelligible only within the symbolic world of scripture.”
Instead of trying to coerce the world to adopt our worldview, which is based on a book to which they have no allegiance, we need to form a counter-community of witness. We need to summon the world to see the gospel in action through our lives. It’s not good enough to say we are “pro-life” unless we are willing to show the world what being “pro-life” really looks like.
Bill Tibert is a preacher for the Covenant Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs, CO. In a 1993 sermon, he challenged his congregation to put flesh on their pro-life position. He asked them an interesting question. “Let me ask you,” he said, “Which has more power? Ten thousand people who fill the streets in front of abortion clinics and shame those seeking abortions? Or, ten thousand people in California who take to the state capital a petition they have signed stating they will take any unwanted child of any age, any color, any physical condition so that they can love that child in the name of Jesus Christ?” The gospel speaks more loudly in our actions than it does with our words.
In 2006, Charles Carl Roberts IV walked into an Amish school in Nickel Mines, PA and shot 10 young girls. It was a tragic day in the life of that community. Five young girls died very quickly; five others were injured. Finally the gunman killed himself. What makes this story stand out, however, was what happened next. The Amish community immediately forgave Charles Roberts. They attended his funeral. They collected $4 million from well-wishers and gave that money to the Roberts’ family. Roberts had young children of his own and the Amish community wanted to make sure they were taken care of.
The country was drawn to this incredible act of forgiveness. Because the gospel speaks more loudly in our actions than it does with our words! But even in a story like this, we are tempted to see only black and white, aren’t we? Crime should be followed by forgiveness. Let’s just forgive and forget and everything will be OK. It has now been almost a decade since that shooting, and the community is still recovering from its wounds. 4 of the 5 wounded girls has recovered; one will have permanent brain damage. The entire community continues to wrestle with the aftermath of that day. Choosing “life” is not always the easy thing to do.
It certainly wasn’t the easiest thing for Michelle... Listen to her story.
“Overcoming Secret Sin” video (Rightnow Media)
In so many ways, God is calling to His children: “Can you hear me now?” and sometimes even when we hear his voice, it is extremely difficult to do what He says. Life is God’s gift to us.
But “life” is not always the choice we make. Life may not be the choice you made for your child.
And you may be living with the guilt of a secret sin (just like Michelle.) Probably because you are living in a world that is quick to judge, a world that is quick to label, a world that is quick to condemn, and a world that is quick to see political positions, but has a hard time seeing real people. I want you to know, however, that I forgive you. I want you to know that God forgives you.
As we struggle to deal with the complexities of this world, my prayer is that when the world throws statistics and court cases and controversies at us, we will see people. God-created, God-forgiven, Life-bearing people, and may we love all of them as God loves them.