January 16, 2009
This Sunday Christians across America will mark a very dark anniversary. The occasion? It’s one responsible for nearly as many deaths as Hitler and Stalin combined — Roe v Wade. To date, the legalization of abortion has resulted in the extermination of nearly 50 million young lives in this nation. Sunday we’ll give pause to consider this gruesome reality as we “celebrate” the sanctity of human life.
Many causes and factors figure into the rise and sustaining power of the pro-choice, pro-death movement. In spite of thirty plus years of battles and protests, in spite of the efforts of three American presidents whose terms total nearly two thirds of those years, abortion continues.
Over the years the abortion debate has been framed in the language of choice. One is either pro-life or pro-choice. Recent years has seen a transition in the nomenclature. Now one can be either anti-choice or pro-death. The terminology changes according to the rhetorical needs of the speaker or writer.
The problem, however, is bigger than the choice of language. It goes beyond pro-life or pro-choice. The issue also extends further than simply asking whether abortion is murder (or infanticide or genocide). The root of the debate reaches deeper than determining the moment of conception. Those questions and a multitude of others just like them are important. Moreover, I believe the Bible answers them in favor of those who believe that abortion itself must be put to death. Yet, in the end, many Christians fail to count the theological costs that come with abortion.
Humans are created in the image of God. Animals don’t have it. Plants don’t have it. Even individual human cells and organs don’t have it. Only man as a whole, as God created him, possesses the image of God.
Of the image of God, John Calvin said,
[T]he likeness of God extends to the whole excellence by which man’s nature towers over all the kinds of living creatures. Accordingly, the integrity with which Adam was endowed is expressed by this word, when he had full possession of right understanding, when he had his affections kept within the bounds of reason, all his senses tempered in right order, and he truly referred his excellence to exceptional gifts bestowed upon him by his Maker. And although the primary seat of the divine image was in the mind and heart, or in the soul and its powers, yet there was no part of man, not even the body itself, in which some sparks did not glow.
Though man has fallen through Adam’s sin, the image of God still exists, though distorted, in all human beings. Abortion results in the extinguishing of those sparks, that exceptional gift that God gave only to mankind.
Later theologians echoed Calvin’s sentiment. Puritan William Ames added, “The excellency of man was fixed chiefly in this, he bore the image of God.” Thus, the death of an unborn child is more than the removal of an unwanted mass of cells. It is a denial of the excellency of a human being.
The relationship of man and the imago dei (the image of God) reaches still further than simply an acknowledgment of human value. According to Jonathan Edwards, the endowment of humanity with the image of God was more about God than man. He said,
The special end for which God made mankind, is something very diverse and very superior to those ends for which he mand any parts of the inferior creation. Because God has made man very different from them; he has vastly distinguished him, in the nature that he has given him, and faculties with which he has endowed him, and the place he has set him in the creation.
That is, every human, by reason of the image of God in him or her, has been created for a special purpose. That purpose extends beyond the parents’ desire to procreate and enjoy familial blessings. God created man for Himself. To that end, God gifted man with His image so that man could relate to and glorify God. Edwards added,
‘Tis evident, that man was made to behold and be delighted with the excellency of God in his works, or in short, to be made happy by beholding God’s excellency; as it has been shown that intelligent beings, the consciousness of the creation, must be. But if man was made to delight in God’s excellency, he was made to love God; and God being infinitely excellent, he ought to love [God] incomparably … .
God has created man for a great end: the enjoyment and worship of Him. When we take the life of a human, born or unborn, we deny them the opportunity to fulfill that creative purpose. The death of a human life denies God another worshiper who might “love him incomparably.” Abortion denies God His rightful praise.
So, the abortion debate is practical. What is life and when does it begin? The abortion debate is biblical. Is the taking of an unborn life the taking of life at all? But, we must remember, the abortion is also doxological. It’s about worship. Those who take the life of another human being deny God the glory due Him through those who image or reflect Him. All other issues aside, the Bible is clear on this. Denying God His proper worship is a sin.
Abortion is ultimately about worship. So please join me this Sunday in praying that God would receive all the praise due His name by working through His church to stem the tide of abortion in America and around the world.
Peter Beck (Ph.D. Southern Seminary) is assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University in Charleston, South Carolina and a former Senior Pastor. Dr. Beck also writes at his Website, Living to God.