Tag Archives: death

Is a Baby a Relative Value or an Absolute?

One of the huge areas of difference between Christians and secular thinkers is the way we set our standards for behavior. Secular thinkers determine their values relative to a setting, and their values are always subject to evolve with changes in time and setting. Christians determine their values by studying God’s revelation in the written Bible. As a consequence of the very different approach to determining the values, it is commonly agreed that secular values are relative and Christian values are absolute. Christians do not believe that values evolve or that they should be different depending on the situation. Christians also believe that the Creator has written his most important values in the hearts of all men, even men who reject his very existence.

Recently the Florida legislature was treated to an exposition of the way secular thinkers apply a relative value to human life. Alisa LaPolt Snow, a lobbyist for Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates testified before the legislature in opposition to text in a bill proposed to regulate abortions in Florida. Ms. Snow objected, on behalf of Planned Parenthood, to two clauses in the bill which she called “surrender” and “transport.” Having not seen the actual text of the bill, I must rely on the comments in the video clip I saw, but I recommend you view the clip for yourself and draw your own conclusions. The comments led me to conclude that the ‘surrender’ clause required the woman who had sought an abortion to relinquish control of a baby born alive in the process of attempting an abortion. Likewise, the ‘transport’ clause appeared to require that a baby born alive be transported immediately to a hospital for life-sustaining care.

Ms. Snow stuttered a bit in her attempts not to use the words ‘baby’ and ‘mother’ when she was asked why she objected to a requirement that a doctor provide advanced life support to a baby born alive during an attempted abortion. She almost said ‘mother’ on one occasion and quickly switched to the word ‘patient.’ During this exchange with one of the legislators, the legislator asked if the baby were not, in fact, the ‘patient’ at this point. Ms. Snow was repetitive and persistent in her claim that the person who had requested the abortion was the patient, and that the patient and the healthcare provider should make the decision about the disposition of the baby.

This discussion is enlightening:

“So, um, it is just really hard for me to even ask you this question because I’m almost in disbelief,” said Rep. Jim Boyd. “If a baby is born on a table as a result of a botched abortion, what would Planned Parenthood want to have happen to that child that is struggling for life?”

“We believe that any decision that’s made should be left up to the woman, her family, and the physician,” said Planned Parenthood lobbyist Snow.

People who believe that the gift of life is given by God do not see this situation in the same way as Ms. Snow. Christians look in the Bible for guidance on issues of faith and life, and everywhere in the Bible they see respect for life. The Ten Commandments include a law protecting life, and throughout the Old Testament there is a consistent teaching of respect for human life. The New Testament, the record of the New Covenant in Jesus’ own blood, is even more consistent in its regard for life. In fact, eternal life is considered to be the greatest gift God gives to people. If life is something a doctor and a reluctantly pregnant woman can decide to end because it is inconvenient, then life isn’t worth much.

A search for the word “abortion” in a concordance or in the Bible will produce no results. In such a case, some Christians jump to the conclusion that if the word is not mentioned, then the Bible has nothing to say on that subject. This is a mistake easily made by both secular thinkers and biblical literalists. Both groups miss the whole purpose of the Bible. The miracle of the Bible is that even though each text was inspired and written down within a social, political and historical context, the message God gave was timeless. The texts themselves span thousands of years, and the last text written for inclusion in the Bible was written nearly two thousand years ago. Yet the Bible is not limited only to issues of the eras in which its texts were produced. In every case the purpose of the text transcends its historical setting. Likewise, terminology has changed over the time, but biblical principles have not changed. A careful study of the Bible will show that the God revealed in the texts is completely consistent and his teachings are consistent over a body of text produced across thousands of years. People sometimes stumble over issues that are, in fact, limited to a time/space setting that no longer exists, but always, the deep principles transcend any era or individual.

So it is with the issue of “abortion” which is actually an issue about the value God sets on human life.

The secular view of abortion starts with the assumption that from conception until birth, the entity contained within a woman’s uterus is not human. Some people in comment threads on the internet even question that this entity is alive! Obviously it is living or it would not grow. However, the secular way of thinking views this entity as an impersonal bundle of cells. Secular thinkers will use the term “fetus” for that entity, but they are unlikely to use the term “baby” unless the mother voluntarily permits the birth and accepts the baby. Then it can be a baby. In this whole process, the secular view avoids giving any value to life itself – the driving force of living things. Secular thinking treats a human being as an object whose transformations along the path from conception to birth are valued no more than a geometric theorem. The entity within the womb is something not quite human.

It cannot be a baby, of course, as long as it is subject to “a woman’s right to choose.” If a woman has a right to choose, then it could be a lump of cells, it could be “products of conception,” it could be a fetus or a blob, but it cannot be a sweet pink baby with bright eyes and a rosebud mouth, with silken skin, with tiny eyelashes and fingernails and ten chubby little toes. Whatever it is that lies upon a cold table after a botched attempt at late-term abortion, the secular thinker cannot call it a baby. The secular thinker must refuse to permit abortion to consist of a mother’s decision to kill her own baby.

This was Ms. Snow’s dilemma as she testified before the Florida legislature. She paused and stuttered and choked a bit before mumbling that she didn’t have the information they wanted. She claimed that she really did not know if Planned Parenthood had a policy for the disposition of the product of a failed abortion.

One might almost believe that she never asked and nobody in Planned Parenthood ever answered the question the legislators kept asking – except for the fact that Ms. Snow testified that Planned Parenthood objected to the wording around ‘surrender’ and ‘transport. She insisted that the decision about the disposition of the product of a failed abortion was in the hands of the ‘patient’ and the ‘healthcare provider.’ All this careful choice of words and obvious hesitation to acknowledge the real question betrays a lot of previous conversations about the way to avoid speaking the truth: that Planned Parenthood is absolutely committed to the death of every aborted baby, even if the baby is born alive.

One legislator did make the point that a newborn baby struggling to live was obviously the ‘patient’ in this situation, which leads any thinking individual to ask how that ‘patient’ could more clearly speak his desire to live. One might also ask if it is actually appropriate to say that the other party to the decision has been involved in providing ‘healthcare.’ How can it possibly be healthcare if the intended outcome is somebody’s death?

This is the sort of thing that happens when values are relative. In this case, Ms. Snow is testifying that the value of the baby’s life is relative to the desires and convenience of the mother and the doctor. In fact, Ms. Snow studiously avoided calling the woman from whom this baby had been ‘precipitated’ (the term used to describe the process of evicting the baby from the uterus) the ‘mother’ of the ‘baby.’ In order to preserve legal distance from the human beings involved, Ms. Snow was compelled to contort the language. It seemed quite obvious that she felt incapable of making her heartless demands if she actually recognized that she was suggesting that a physician, who had sworn an oath to “first do no harm,” could really participate in the necessary actions to kill a baby whose mother rejected him or her. Relative morals clearly require human beings to avoid recognizing the humanity of any party to a moral decision.

Secular thinkers reject what they call the tyranny of absolutism. Yet, the Bible teaches Christians that there are absolutes. Life is one of them. The Bible does not cover up human behavior that shows no respect for God’s gift of life; you will find plenty of evidence in the Bible that Ms. Snow’s callous attitude toward human life is not a new development in history. Rather the Bible shows that God himself values human beings immensely. Christ came to earth and died, because God loves and values people. They are his ultimate creation. Human beings contain in themselves God’s own creative image, and they are the only beings completely free to choose between right and wrong. They are his beloved creation, and God grieves every bad choice they make. He was willing to sacrifice his own Son for them, because he values human beings with his absolute love.

God’s commands, revealed in the Bible, tell us a lot about him. His command to refrain from murder is a clear evidence of the value he places on human life. He did not say, “Don’t murder any human being, except the unborn.” He said, “No murder.” Period. No qualification. No conditions. When humans, in the course of assuring public safety and international security, must murder others, that behavior comes with a terrible cost. Men who have shot other men in the course of police work or military battle are nevertheless changed by the experience. Something breaks in a person who has taken another person’s life, by accident or design. Life is precious. God doesn’t want us to squander that gift. Those who must kill a person in the cause of justice or military action are not permitted by God to move past that event as if it were trivial.

Life is better when people try to live by God’s absolutes. Notice the word “try.” None of us can really live up to that standard, but our lives are richer when we hold to that standard and keep working at it. Our lives are richer when we give every newborn baby a chance to live, the best possible chance we can provide. When we show respect and value for God’s gift of life to a newborn baby, it becomes easier to show respect and value for an aged man dying in a nursing home. We will give honor to the life of that man until God himself takes that man home to be with him. When we show respect for God’s gift of life, it will be easier to decide what to do when an unexpected pregnancy enters our lives. When we show respect for God’s gift of life, it won’t be so hard to decide how to treat our aged parents or our sick children. Life has a value all by itself. Life is a good thing, all by itself. God’s absolute is “no murder,” or to put it another way, “life always.”

God himself puts it in the human heart to respect human life. Every human is born knowing that murder is wrong. God writes his complete aversion to murder on the heart of every human being at the moment of creation. Cain knew it was wrong; why else did he lure Abel away from their parents? Primitive tribes in South America know it is wrong; every primitive tribe has created complex cultural mantras and practices to prevent murder and surround even just or military murder with social protections, guides and penalties. Ms. Snow knows that murder is wrong, but as long as she can sustain her semantic cover-up of the reality of murder in the course of abortions, she can sustain her sense of self-respect. Every primitive tribesman and every twenty-first century lobbyist has God’s values written on his (or her) heart at the time of creation, and every one of them knows that murder is wrong.

Ms. Snow knows it, too. She can’t say it, however. She is captive to her work as a lobbyist. She pays her bills and buys her fine clothes and jewelry with money earned by saying, in essence, that black is white. Christians who are praying for the Florida legislature to do the right thing in their law governing abortions must also pray for Ms. Snow. Why? Because Christ loves Ms. Snow and Christ died for Ms. Snow. Christians must pray that she will be filled with God’s goodness and blessing, and to be given clear vision of the precious value of God’s gift of life to newborn babies. They must pray the same for the Florida legislature. And while they are at it, let them pray for all the mothers for whom unplanned and unintended pregnancy seems like a burden they cannot bear.

Abortions are not simply the knee-jerk reaction of people who have never given any thought to the logical outcome of sexual activity. They are the blasé reaction of people who consider that adults have a right to the joy of sex without any obligation to care for the life it creates if they didn’t want that life. In their minds, the baby in the mother’s womb is like an ingrown toenail or a splinter in the finger; that baby is an unwanted alien object inside a woman’s body. When Christians pray that abortions will end and babies will be treasured, they must pray that generations of adults will have a change of heart about sex and about babies, and they must pray that forthcoming generations of children will learn the power, the beauty, and the responsibility of sex.

Ms. Snow’s convoluted arguments about who should decide what to do with an unwanted baby who somehow gets born alive despite everyone’s best efforts to kill it only make sense if you believe that it really isn’t anybody’s fault that this baby appeared. It is a completely unintended and unwanted complication to somebody’s life. Two adults wanted the love and the fun of sex, and then along came this bunch of cells that would be a baby if it got born, and then it does. What to do?

Ms. Snow is trying to tell us that everything is relative. Relative to the two people who had so much fun at sex some considerable time ago, this baby is an unwanted and unneeded complication. Ms. Snow is trying to say that the baby’s life only has value to the mother now, and if the mother considers it trash, then trash it is. Christians must pray that people who think like this will meet Christ face to face and discover that life is a treasure, that sex is not a toy for self-indulgence, and that a baby is not a problem but a gift. Christians could pray all day every day about only this problem and do a great deal of good for the world, because when Christians pray such prayers, they enter into God’s redemptive work for humankind. We can do all the political activism we want. We can sign petitions and write letters and vote for senators and representatives, but when all is said and done, Christians must pray. We must trust that God cares enough about humankind to save these babies, because God cared enough about humankind to send Christ to die for all of us. Pray.

Me First!

Gospel Text: Mark 10:17-31

In the story immediately preceding today’s text, Jesus tells the disciples what will happen to him in Jerusalem. They were walking together along a road that would ultimately take them to Jerusalem, and you might think that the first thing the disciples would suggest is to go somewhere else.

Not.

The reaction of the disciples is to start scheming for pre-eminence in Christ’s kingdom. He has already told them that they will all sit on thrones, but that is not good enough. They may even be sitting in a circle on those thrones, but everybody actually wants to sit near Jesus. James and John are the first to bring it up, and in Matthew’s report of this occasion, he says that their mother got into the act. They have all listened to Jesus predict his own death, but their first concern is to figure out who can be the most important among the survivors.

The disciples don’t get the message. They don’t really know what Jesus is about. They have all heard Jesus preach about giving people more than they ask for, and they heard Jesus preach about loving the neighbor more than self, and they heard Jesus tell the rich young ruler that he needed to let go of everything but Jesus in order to be a follower, but none of it has sunk in. They still believe that Jesus, the celebrity who is surrounded by people night and day, is going to be a big shot in Jerusalem, and that they will be big shots along with him.

Jesus did not leave his throne in heaven in order to be what passes for importance on earth. He was already creator and ruler of the universe. He left his throne to show people God in the flesh. He came into our world in order to show us his world.

Jesus came to be a servant. He gently rebukes his disciples by telling them that he has come to be a servant. If they want to be like him, they need to be servants, too. The gospel record makes it clear that they did not understand what he meant, not even when he washed their feet on the night before his death.

We don’t understand, either. We think that a person whose name is known nationwide must be more important than everyone else. We think that a pastor who is famous must be a better pastor, because everybody knows his name. We think that a pastor whose church has thousands in the audience on Sunday must be a really good pastor, even though we know that football teams have even bigger crowds any day of the week.

The word service is quite popular right now. The secular culture emphasizes the word probably as much as Christian teaching does. However, the usage and meaning of the word is different in a secular context than in a Christian context. Because Christians live in the culture, and because the word used is the same, Christians get confused sometimes. They believe that they are performing Christian service by doing kind things such as feeding the poor or by giving up time to help paint a classroom in the church building. These acts are certainly service, but anybody, secular or Christian, could perform these actions.

When Christ spoke of service he was not referring to mere voluntarism. When his disciples argued over who got the best seats in heaven, he didn’t say that the ones with the most hours on record in the homeless shelter would get the reward. He challenged them to serve others the way he himself came to serve – “to give his life a ransom for many.” This challenge is the same challenge he gave when he asked the rich young ruler to let go of everything he owned. Jesus wanted that young man to stop thinking about himself. He wanted the man to follow him in service to others, and that is what Jesus wanted from his disciples. Jesus could have shouted, “Don’t you see how I give up peace and quiet, comfort and convenience, even my meals, so I can serve people? And this is only the beginning. I’m going to give up my life for them. Do you think you can do this? This is how you get to be important in my world.”

In another place, Jesus talked about the difference between good deeds, the content of secular service, and service to God. He said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) In other words, good works as a response to good government or as a commitment to environmentalism or even just to assure somebody a roof over his head is not the kind of service Jesus is talking about. Jesus expects his followers to be servants whose work points people to God. If a Christian helps to build someone a house, the person served needs to know it is for Jesus’ sake. If a Christian serves a meal to a hungry person, he needs to give it in Jesus’ name. If a Christian serves others, and they say thank you, the right response is, “Don’t thank me. Thank Jesus.”

There are many situations in which that response may be tough. Jesus did not say it would be easy. A new Christian in a Muslim community in southeast Asia walked to school with three friends. On the way to school, they asked her if she would be willing to give up Christ and return to the faith of Islam. She refused. They asked again. She refused. By the time they reached the school, the girls were starting to push her and pull her hair, because she refused to renounce her faith in Christ. At the school, others joined in the fight. Eventually, a bystander rescued the young Christian and sent her back home. In our secular culture, we Christians may not be shoved or beaten for our faith, but we may hear scornful words. If you tell a homeless person that you are serving him a meal for Jesus’ sake, either the homeless person or other bystanders may accuse you of trying to “force” your faith on other people. Yet Jesus said that when we serve him by serving others our work should point to him, not to ourselves. This is not a case of “forcing” anything on anyone. It is simply being faithful to our call to serve Christ by serving others.

When Jesus told his disciples that the road to greatness was the road of service, he told them something else. He said that he would “give his life a ransom for many.” This announcement was a repeat of the warning that had instigated the disciples’ argument over who would be the greatest. Jesus tied the knot on this warning around a loop of service. There is the real truth. If any of us wants to be first in God’s kingdom, we have the wrong goal. We won’t get there by pushing others out of the way. Instead, we must turn away from the head of the line and look for the last spot. We must give the bread and fish we brought for lunch to the person in line ahead of us. When some big Satanic bully comes along and starts hurting people, then we must be willing to die for them. It makes a few scornful words from someone who doubts the very existence of God sound rather feeble. Jesus said that neither he nor his disciples have the leisure for popularity contests. For the love of many, we all have work to do, service to perform, even if it costs our whole lives. Not to worry. Jesus also said, “Those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25)

Why Was The Cross Necessary?

I used to ask myself why Jesus had to die such a brutal death. It is hard to imagine a death more cruel than this one. If a death were required in order for humanity to be redeemed, why couldn’t it be more like a lethal injection, or why couldn’t he simply drink hemlock?

I think Christ’s death had to be brutal in order for human beings to take it seriously. After all, Bible could have said, “Jesus fell asleep one Friday afternoon, and he was declared to be dead, so they put his body in a cave. Then on Sunday morning, they discovered it was gone. Christ had risen from the dead.” This story might be the truth, but who would believe it? Who would take it seriously as a sacrifice for all of us? Even if God did not require blood, people do. Plenty of people doubt the death and resurrection of Christ to this day. The story would be even less compelling if the death had been painless and comfortable.

There is more. Christ’s death had to be brutal, because Satan had to be shamed. Satan is, above all things, proud. There would be no way to defeat him with finality without shame. The brutality and inhumanity of Christ’s death was among other things shameful. It was intended by the Romans to be shameful. Humiliating. Cruel. Satan needed to know that God cared for humanity so much that God himself would lovingly endure this shameful death to set people free from Satan’s grip.

And the resurrection? Without the brutality of the death, the resurrection would have meant little. Jesus brought people to life many times during his ministry, but none of those resurrections did anything for humanity. The deaths may have been painful and miserable, but when those people came back to life, Satan simply grinned. When Christ endured the horror of crucifixion and then took up his life again, Satan was done. He still had his freedom to afflict us here in time and space, but that freedom has limits. The world where Satan runs free will come to an end, but Christ’s kingdom has no end. The resurrection promises us that life here and now is changed forever by the resurrection. Those who follow Christ live in time and space, but they live at the intersection where eternity pierces the envelope and redeems creation.

Mike Glenn writes, “In the resurrection Christ brought into reality all the promises God had given to his people.”

What promises is Mike talking about?

Start with Abram in Genesis 21:2-3

I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

The deaf shall hear and the blind shall see Isaiah 29:18

On that day the deaf shall hear the words of a scroll, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see.

Nobody needs to go hungry any more 

Isaiah 55:2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?

John 6:35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.

God is the God of life

For thus says the LORD to the house of Israel: Seek me and live.

God will never leave us here at the mercy of evil, all alone

To Joshua in Joshua 1:5, I will not fail you or forsake you

To Joseph in a dream foretelling Jesus’ birth Matthew 1:22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”

And many more.

Some people say that Jesus was a great teacher just like other great teachers. However, if he rose from the dead, then he is very different from all the other teachers. He knows things no other teacher knows. If he says we must love our enemies, then we need to listen. A man who suffered on the cross, died and rose again, knows things about both enemies and love that we need to learn. The beautiful thing about the resurrection is that it not only showed us that Christ has power over physical death, but he also has power over “all other forms of death in [our] lives, such as relationships … and opportunities.” Furthermore, “the Risen Christ is not limited by time and space, so he is with us in the present, and he waits for us in the future.”

Some might try to argue that God could have arranged for Christ to die a less brutal death than the crucifixion, and I won’t argue, but I will say that anything less would not get our attention. Human beings are cruel. We don’t like wimps. Jesus was no wimp. He faced death in the most brutal fashion, and then he overcame it. He faced Satan, with love and grace, and then he overcame Satan. From the moment the first nail was hammered into Christ’s body, Satan’s last days were begun. The image of the great dragon lashing his tail and sweeping stars out of the sky in the book of Revelation reminds me of a three-year-old’s tantrum. Satan is much more dangerous and vicious than any toddler, but he felt as impotent as a toddler when Christ faced the brutality of the cross, and won. Because he did that, we all can join in that great crowd of people, myriads and myriads of people in the new heaven and the new earth at the wedding feast of the slaughtered lamb, the One who suffered shame, excruciating pain and death in order that we might live with him forever and ever.

Jesus said “Yes” to death in order that he might say “Yes” to life, “Yes” to redemption, “Yes” to transformation. Without the cruel cross and the resurrection, we would all be subject to Satan’s permanent “No.”

A Hymn for Meditation

Precious Lord, Take My Hand

 Precious Lord, take my hand
lead me on, let me stand,

I am tired, I am weak, I am worn.
Through the storm, through the night,
Lead me on to the light,
Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.

When my way grows drear,
Precious Lord, linger near,
When my life is almost gone,
Hear my cry, hear my call,
Hold my hand lest I fall,
Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.

When the darkness appears
And the light draws near,
And the day is past and gone,
A
t the river I stand,
Guide my feet, hold my hand.
Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.
George N. Allen

 Questions for prayerful thought:

Why does the hymnwriter believe that the Lord will respond when he asks the Lord to take his hand?

 Do you think dying is scary? Does the hymnwriter think dying is scary? What worries the hymnwriter about the approach of death?
To what is the writer referring when he says, “the light draws near?”

Why does the writer speak of standing beside a river?

How does the writer relate the infinite and eternal realm of God to his own world in time and space?