“Life” Over “Choice”

3.12.2007

I’ve heard and read a lot of arguments for and against abortion.

It appears that the issue boils down to whether an unborn baby’s right to live or a woman’s right to choose is more important. In my opinion, the Bible seems pretty clear that “life” is more important than “choice.” The implications of this statement are pretty crazy though.

When people say that a woman’s right to choose is important, this means she should be able to choose how her future plays out. An unwanted/unplanned pregnancy has serious social and economic implications. The social stigma of being a young, unwed mother is not a light thing, nor is the idea of supporting and nurturing a human life. Having a child at an early age will likely prevent someone from getting a college degree or pursuing whatever career they dream of because they must provide for their child. Then there’s always the knowledge that the child of an unprepared mother or a child sent through the system of foster homes and adoption will have a very difficult life.

Christians may say that many women are choosing convenience or their love of themselves (which includes their comfort, futures, and lifestyles) over the life of another. To a large extent I believe that is true. But make no mistake, we ask these women to do a very, very difficult thing. In order to care for this life, we essentially ask people to give up their own. And we have no right to ask this of them if we are not willing to sacrifice our own futures and comfort for the lives of others.

Christians often have a very clear stance on the issue of abortion. But the implications of our argument (“life” over “choice”) extend far beyond this one issue. We’re simply inconsistent when we ignore how the value of life ought to shape our daily choices. Even though we may not have had to deal with the issue of abortion personally, we would be foolish to believe we don’t struggle with the dilemma of “life” versus “choice”.

By the way we use our money, time, and energy we proclaim to the world whether we value “life” or “choice.” We value the choice to have financial stability, social status, and comfortable and convenient lives. Due to our exaggerated sense of entitlement, we believe our right to such privileges outweighs the value of one, ten, hundreds of lives in the third world.

To be “pro-life,” we don’t have to change the way we live at all. Maybe we’ll get a new bumper sticker for our car (though some do live out their convictions by adopting or supporting the cause). But to value “life” over “choice,” everything we do comes into question. What we do with the resources God has given us (money, education, talent) becomes a very serious thing because as we waste, others die.

Are we willing to give up our expensive toys, our financial stability, or perhaps even the hours we would otherwise spend on ourselves for the sake of life? Will we be outraged for the unborn and dismiss the millions who have been born and are suffering?

So often “outreach” and “social justice” are simply minor side issues we dabble in now and again to relieve our guilty consciences. Among university students, it has become trendy to be socially and politically aware. Yet our knowledge is rarely used for anything other than yelling at people who don’t know as many depressing statistics as we do. We speak so loud and accomplish so little.

The heart of the issue is this. We love very little. We simply don’t love enough to make a difference.  Now we can’t force ourselves to love, but we can acknowledge our tragic lack and ask God to give us new hearts. We can refuse to be self-satisfied, thinking ourselves noble, compassionate people for the one hour a week we “sacrifice.”

I don’t intend to guilt or discourage people. Good works fueled by anything other than love are not only hypocritical but ineffective. And being depressed at our humanness is entirely unnecessary because God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. He chose us because we are weak so that we would rely upon Him and identify with the downtrodden all over the world. We rejoice in our weakness because everything depends on the One who cares deeply about social justice and is strong enough to bring forth the kingdom.

But in order to be used, we have to acknowledge the true state of this world, our hearts, and the church. My hope is that you and I will wake up to what’s outside of our bubble. The world is dying and we cling to “choice.” May we finally admit that we are selfish to the core, so we can call upon our amazing God to change the world and change us so that we might be used for the flourishing of human life.

The need, as always, is great and our lack, as always, is great. Our God, as always, is greater.

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Able to Wait

2 Samuel 2:1-4 (ESV)

[1] After this David inquired of the LORD, “Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah?” And the LORD said to him, “Go up.” David said, “To which shall I go up?” And he said, “To Hebron.” [2] So David went up there, and his two wives also, Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel. [3] And David brought up his men who were with him, everyone with his household, and they lived in the towns of Hebron. [4] And the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah.

In an AT&T commercial, a group of kids is asked, “Is it better to be fast or slow?”  A little girl proceeds to explain how it’s better to be fast so you can outrun a werewolf and avoid being bitten and turned into a werewolf yourself.  It’s hard to disagree with that logic.  

We too prefer “fast.”  We want our promotions fast.  We want our kids to become perfect fast.  We want our dreams fast.  And if we were faced with a werewolf, we also would want to run fast.

After years of waiting to become king, David should have been rearing to go.  Saul had finally passed away and so now was the opportune time for David to take his rightful place.  Instead we find David patiently waiting on the will of God.  He asks whether he should go into Judah and if so to which city.  Once there, David simply waits.  It’s the men of Judah who come to him, not the other way around.

Now David is not lazily waiting for God to do everything for him.  In regards to obeying God and following His will, David is very active.  But in terms of securing his own future and blessings, David is surprisingly passive.  David is content to move at God’s pace.

When something is important to us, we often do our best to rush God.  Whether we’re looking forward to a dream job, getting married, or having good health, “wait” is not what we want to hear.

How did David have such patience?  I believe that it was through all those years on the run.  In those bleak times, David had learned to trust God.  Take a moment to remember God’s faithfulness to you.  Is there a time when his sovereign goodness to you was on full display?  How can your history with God encourage you to trust Him now?

Wonder and Awe

Hebrews 9:1-5 (ESV)

[1] Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. [2] For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. [3] Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, [4] having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. [5] Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.

In modern times, art is often seen as a form of self-expression.  The most important thing is to be “authentic” and to express oneself earnestly.  Worship is often seen the same way.  As long as we sing or serve with good intentions and genuine emotion, God should accept it happily.  How we feel and what we desire to do for God becomes the primary focus.  

The biblical witness regarding worship is shockingly different.  God gives Moses incredibly detailed instructions for where and how the people are to worship.  When Nadab and Abihu offer God “unauthorized fire” to the Lord in Leviticus 10, He consumes them!  When a well-meaning Uzzah reaches out to steady the ark of God in the midst of worship, God strikes him down for his error (2 Samuel 6)!

In these moments, God appears to be a petty, controlling deity.  Doesn’t He know that it’s the thought that counts?

According to our passage, for as long as there have been a people of God, there have been regulations for worship.  God cannot be worshiped just any old way and this does not restrict us, it frees us.  Worship has always been greater than anything the whims of man could conceive of. 

When God designs the worship, we are reminded that God is light itself and His very body is given for us.  When God designs the worship, we are amazed that the Holy One of Israel would allow us to worship Him at all.  When God designs the worship, we are more aware of God’s presence, provision, authority, and justice than our own.  When God designs the worship, we are awed by the One who sits on a throne of mercy and is worshiped day and night by the saints and angels.

Why would we waste our time focusing on what is inside of us, when we can wonder at the One who is set apart from us (holy) and who is beyond us (infinite, glorious)?

Limited Need, Limited Relationship

Powerful Evangelism for the Powerless
C. John Miller

There are many professing Christians who have never fully grasped how lost in sin they really were, and how low God had to stoop to save them.  The propriety and morality of their outward lives has made it hard for them to believe that their need to be redeemed was as desperate as anyone else’s.  Up to a point, they are convinced of their need for salvation, but the fact that their outward lives have been unmarked by scandal or blasphemy has caused them to feel as if they don’t need it quite as much as some other people they see.

This complacent attitude toward the gospel, unarticulated though it may be, has…effects on the believer.  The first is a distance between himself and God that, somehow, he is never able to overcome.  He doesn’t understand why; he believes the right things, he prays, he is active in church and is willing to serve.  But the problem came about when he first placed himself partially out of the reach of the gospel and of grace.  A person who has limited his need for God’s grace has inevitably limited his relationship with God.  God’s unconditional, unlimited love for him is something he has missed.  It is beyond the realm of his self-centered experience.  He doesn’t, at bottom, really understand what happened – for him – at the cross.  He feels a need for many things, but does not hunger for the grace of atonement.  And it is very likely that the gap he senses in his relationship with God is causing him either to try to earn God’s favor with good works, or to rationalize away the richness of other Christian lives as maudlin, pietistic, or imbalanced.

A Surrender of Human Autonomy

Powerful Evangelism for the Powerless
C. John Miller

Often we do not take the trouble to explain to people that “choosing Christ” is not an act of human autonomy but a surrender of human autonomy.  We often teach them little about God and His perfect righteousness and His demand that we be perfectly righteous ourselves.  We minimize original sin and our deeply rooted self-will.

From an Enemy to a Son

The Message of 1 Peter
Edmund Clowney

Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.

1 Peter 3:9

‘And I thank God that he has given me the love to seek to convert and to adopt as my son the enemy who killed my dear boys.’  These were the words of Korean Pastor Yang-won Son.  The year was 1948; the place was the town of Soon-chun, near the 38th parallel.  A band of Communists had taken control of the town for a brief period, and had executed Pastor Son’s two older boys, Matthew and John.  They died as martyrs, calling on their persecutors to have faith in Jesus.  When the Communists were driven out, Chai-sun, a young man of the village, was identified as one who had fired the murderous shots.  His execution was ordered.  Pastor Son requested that the charges be dropped and that Chai-sun be released into his custody for adoption.  Rachel, the thirteen-year-old sister of the murdered boys, testified to support her father’s incredible request.  Only then did the court agree to release Chai-sun.  He became the son of the pastor, and a believer in the grace of Jesus Christ.

A Chosen, Not Choice People

The Message of 1 Peter
Edmund Clowney

[9] But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. [10] Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

1 Peter 2:9–10

The wonder is not that God chooses some and not others (Abel, not Cain; Isaac, not Ishmael; Jacob, not Esau).  The wonder is that God chooses any.  Certainly God does not choose an elite.  Israel is a chosen people, but not a choice people.

Most Sinners Are Very Nice People

The Contemplative Pastor
Eugene Peterson

The word sinner is a theological designation.  It is essential to insist on this.  It is not a moralistic judgment.  It is not a word that places humans somewhere along a continuum ranging from angel to ape, assessing them as relatively “good” or “bad.”  It designates humans in relation to God and sees them separated from God.  Sinner means something is awry between humans and God.  In that state people may be wicked, unhappy, anxious, and poor.  Or, they may be virtuous, happy, and affluent.  Those items are not part of the judgment.  The theological fact is that humans are not close to God and are not serving God.

To see a person as sinner, then, is not to see him or her as hypocritical, disgusting, or evil.  Most sinners are very nice people.  To call a man a sinner is not a blast at his manners or his morals.  It is a theological belief that the thing that matters most to him is forgiveness and grace…

An understanding of people as sinners enables a pastoral ministry to function without anger.  Accumulated resentment (a constant threat to pastors) is dissolved when unreal – that is, untheological – presuppositions are abandoned.  If people are sinners then pastors can concentrate on talking about God’s action in Jesus Christ instead of sitting around lamenting how bad the people are.  We already know they can’t make it.  We already have accepted their depravity.  We didn’t engage to be pastor to relax in their care or entrust ourselves to their saintly ways…

The happy result of a theological understanding of people as sinners is that the pastor is saved from continual surprise that they are in fact sinners….

Simply to be against sin is a poor basis for pastoral ministry.  But to see people as sinners – as rebels against God, missers of the mark, wanderers from the way – that establishes a basis for pastoral ministry that can proceed with great joy because it is announcing God’s great action in Jesus Christ “for sinners.”

No One in Charge

The God Who is There Leader’s Guide
D.A. Carson

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”

– Psalm 14:1a

A little over a year ago the British Humanist Association ran ads on London buses reading, “There’s probably no God.  Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”  It is fascinating that the Association felt it wise to insert “probably”; if the person who says there is no God is a fool, I suppose this slogan represents cautious folly.  But why the British Humanist Association thinks that the nonexistence of God should reduce worry is more than a little puzzling.  If there is no God, it is hard to see how there is transcendent meaning.  Worse, no one is in charge, so there is no assurance that justice will be served at the end; there is no one to look after me, no one I can trust.