Tuesday, August 26, 2014
When the apostle Paul writes to Philemon, some see a supposed parallel in Roman society. N.T. Wright points out, that over a century prior, the distinguished Pliny the elder writes to a friend named Sabinianus. He makes a plea for a "freedman" who has fled from Sabinianus, a man with whom Sabinianus is angry, one who has done obvious wrong in some capacity and is sorry for it. Pliny counsels Sabinianus to be merciful, but also adds: " ... because I've given him a severe talking-to, and I've warned him clearly that I won't make such a request again (This is because he needed a good fright ...)." A "freedman" is someone who has already gained freedom from slavery but is not a citizen with full rights.
There are two important observations N.T. Wright makes here. First, the literary structure at play is something with which Paul is well familiar, and uses easily. But second, and dynamically, the underlying reality for Paul is the biblical narrative that is radically different than that of the Roman storyline.
Pliny expects the freedman to stay within the social order as it exists, and reinforces it with a strict warning. But Paul radically undermines the Roman social order while not engaging in lawbreaking. First, Onesimus, though a slave, is to be received back by Philemon as much more - he is now a brother in Christ, regardless of what the Roman social order says. Second, Onesimus is to be regarded as Paul's assistant. And third, Paul implicitly but powerfully suggests to Philemon that Onesimus receive his freedom. In Christ, there is a deeper fellowship (koinonia) that transforms social orders for those who grasp its nature. We treat one another - regardless of social standing, race, sex, education etc. - as equals in the sight of Christ Jesus. As members of the Body of Christ, we work together in true unity.
Thursday, August 21, 2014
I am reading through the 1658 page magnus opus by Anglican scholar Tom (aka N.T.) Wright: "Paul and the Faithfulness of God." For any intrepid reader, if you set a modest pace of 10 pages a day, you will be richly rewarded. Here, in sequential blog posts - in pace with others - I will seek to progress through it with some summary observations.
Tom Wright begins with an overview of the letter to Philemon. Paul lives in a world intersected by Roman rule, Hellenistic culture and Jewish theology, and thus has much to negotiate constantly. Onesimus, as a runaway slave, is liable to the death penalty, that which his master Philemon can require. But Onesimus becomes a Christian in the process, and this changes everything. Paul uses his authority, in Christ, with Philemon, to cut far deeper than the rule of human law, but at the same time without becoming lawless. Namely, the fellowship (koinonia) shared between Christians is so profound and transformative that Paul can appeal to it and Philemon understands.
Paul is cutting through false social and political strata, and as he does elsewhere, in saying that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. He does not negate true complementarities in human nature and culture, but rather lays the foundation for the abolition of tribal and racial divides, slavery and sexism. The Roman Empire implodes, and within its remnants is the Christian Church with a radically different understanding of political power and only source of stability.
Monday, August 11, 2014
In these assemblies, we had several points of strategy. First was a visible presence augmented by banners and signs. Second was a peaceful and conversational presence where we sought to engage abortion-rights protestors, police, passersby, “escorts,” guards and others in honest dialogue. Third was worship, including song and prayer in various capacities. And fourth was the eventual development of The Jeremiah 19 Liturgy (see below). It all involved a specific embrace of spiritual warfare, where we were seeking to break the demonic forces present, and to see the Spirit of God touch the hearts and minds of all those involved with Preterm in any capacity, especially the women coming for abortions.
In the first element of our strategy, we had two large banners, each about six feet in width, and three-and-a-half feet in height. One banner was at the front of Preterm, on the sidewalk on Beacon Street, and the other on the side street near the rear entrance and parking lot.
The banners had white block letters against a green background (like a highway sign), and easily visible from quite a distance:
YOU HAVE THE POWER TO CHOOSE LIFE
We also had some signs (three by two feet in size) that said the same, with the same colors. Then we had ten (now twelve – #3 and #12 have since been added, with several also slightly edited, 18″ x24″) sets of yellow signs with black letters, that posed rhetorical questions, also designed to be clearly visible against any surrounding. These read:
AREN’T YOU GLAD YOU WEREN’T ABORTED?
WHY DO YOU FEEL NO CHOICE BUT ABORTION?
IS IT YOUR CHOICE, OR HIS CHOICE, FOR YOU TO ABORT?
HOW DOES HUMAN ABORTION ADD TO YOUR OWN DIGNITY?
MIGHT YOU REGRET THIS ABORTION SOMEDAY?
CAN ANYTHING GOOD BE SAID ABOUT HUMAN ABORTION?
DOES GOOD CHOICE NURTURE OR DESTROY HUMAN LIFE?
WHY DOES THE HUMAN FETUS FIGHT TO STAY ALIVE?
WHY DOES “FEMINISM” ABORT UNBORN GIRLS?
WHICH COMES FIRST? YOUR LIFE OR THE POWER OF CHOICE?
CAN YOU IMAGINE JESUS PERFORMING AN ABORTION? WHY NOT?
IS THE ABORTION INDUSTRY RACIST?
In the language of the banner, the first six words equal the centerpiece of feminist sympathies: “You have the power to choose ….” And pagan feminist thinking believes the concept of the power to choose is their formulation of an identity in stark opposition to a biblical worldview.
The words “you have the power” strengthens this language of acknowledgment, and in adding “power,” feminist yearnings find resonance. This is further symphonized with the addition of choice – “You have the power to choose ….” These six words are as central to all feminist theories as any summation can make. We know that the abortion choice is largely the result of male chauvinisms, and many feminists and abortion-rights activists are in painful reaction to having been so violated.
When the final four-letter word is added to the phrase, “You have the power to choose life,” the de facto feminist ethic of misinformed choice is revealed. The power of informed choice requires accurate definition of terms, it requires an acknowledgment of reality. When “life” is put in, the object of “pro-choice” is no longer amorphous. It takes on flesh, it becomes real in its consequences. The power to choose? The power to choose what? Are all choices equal (e.g., dualism), or are some good and some evil?
The questions were all designed to be intelligent and thought-provoking, and not accusatory. Over two years worth of Saturdays, we saw as many as 200 women turn away from their abortion appointments. Hundreds of honest discussions occurred with abortion rights activists and others who were there, and many anecdotes elsewhere.
Thursday, August 7, 2014
When “Operation Rescue” hit the national scene in 1988, it advocated a strategy of vigilante physical blockade of abortion centers. I argue elsewhere that is was unbiblical. For here, let me address how we sought to best protect the unborn in such a context during that season, where as many as 200 women walked away from their abortion appointments by their own informed choice.
In the spring of 1989, I initiated a Christian witness at New England’s largest abortion center, Preterm, in Brookline, Massachusetts, adjacent to Boston, which later I called the Sacred Assemblies for the Unborn (SAU). Preterm was then performing about 10,000 abortions a year. Over a two-year period we maintained a weekly presence on Saturday mornings. Usually we had from a dozen to three dozen people; on a number of occasions we had 50 or more, and several occasions we had large turnouts, including our first time on June 3, 1989, with some 225 participating. Activists from the Boston chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) were also there for the first nine months in equal numbers, but afterward called it off because, according to one of their leaders, we “were persuading too many of them.”
Tuesday, August 5, 2014
In prior blog posts (October, 2010) I focused on real life stories concerning the evil of rape and incest, and the ministry of the Gospel. Here I will look at the critical biblical thinking necessary to address such deep human pain.
The hatred for the evil of rape and incest is best embraced when the humanity of the woman and child are equally and fully embraced.
Since human abortion does not heal the evil and does not unrape the woman, the next question is where healing and justice are to be found. In order to move in this direction, the power to give and the power to forgive must be embraced, and they are rooted in only Genesis.
Courage is needed to overcome the adversity, but rarely is courage able to be grasped when someone is alone – especially if facing single motherhood with the painful memories of the pregnancy having occurred in such a violent fashion. The power to give trumps the power to destroy, and the raped woman needs love given to her so as to help her overcome such devastation. We love because God first loved us.
Thus the church must be an agent of that love to such a woman, giving her the time, love, counsel, spiritual, psychological and material resources necessary for her to become an overcomer. This is particularly a one-on-one woman-to-woman ministry, though men can be involved in supporting capacities. Here the ministries of Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) have done yeoman work. Healing is found in the church where Jesus Christ is Lord, where his people are self-giving to such women, where the necessary resources are made available, and where the raped woman chooses to accept such ministry, with her privacy being simultaneously honored.
We need to profile the nature of courage. It is a choice of whether we rise to the challenge or flee from it. In Revelation 2-3, Jesus addresses seven churches in the province of Asia – churches at Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. They were under severe persecution for their faith, from political and cultural opposition orchestrated by the devil, as well as direct assaults from occultic powers. Their lives were threatened, and they suffered many abuses and even death. In history we see the evil of rape in wartime, and for the Christians in these seven cities, it would probably be one of a list of many atrocities they suffered. We all know trials in our lives we need to overcome, whether an actual rape or another evil that strikes at the deepest core of our physical, social, psychological and spiritual well-being.
In the words to each of the seven churches, Jesus specifically calls them to be overcomers. He provides the wherewithal – if only we believe, and that is what he calls us to. The greatest literature in history, and its focus on true heroes and heroines, does not celebrate the cowardly, but the courageous. At the end of Revelation when it diagnoses those who are outside the kingdom of God, it mentions the “cowardly” (21:8).
To be courageous is not to summon human strength to overcome, and to be cowardly does not refer to the one who cannot summon such strength. The courageous are those, who in acknowledgment of their weaknesses, nonetheless place their trust in the goodness of God, and the cowardly are those who will not embrace such trust and belief. In fact, those with the greatest worldly strength and resources are oftentimes the biggest moral cowards. And the poor and humble are oftentimes the most courageous. The reversal of the reversal. Courage means doing what is right.
When a woman becomes pregnant by rape or incest, she is terribly aware of her weakness and vulnerability. Only a reversal of the reversal can minister to her, and if she embraces it, she is empowered to be an overcomer. Cowardly acts lead to a true loss of humanity, but courageous acts lead to a greater humanity, and it is the courageous whom history fetes. In the face of the destruction and dehumanization of rape and incest, the choice to give life to the unborn is an act of courage, and the church needs to be there to help the woman make this choice. Courage is never easy on the face of it, but it is the right thing to do, and in the long run it produces peace in the soul.
The unborn child is innocent, and if aborted, the child becomes the second victim. It is a question of power – if the child is aborted, the rapist prevails twice. He has succeeded in having one act of destruction lead to another act of destruction. He has succeeded in prostituting motherhood by causing a mother to forsake her child. This prostitution is his prostitution, not hers, but she is the one in whom the agony is deposited alongside his seed. He is the coward to begin with, and he poisons her with that same cowardice if she yields to an abortion. He has succeeded in having the power to take trump the power to give, he has served the reversal, he has advanced the agenda of the ancient serpent.
What about the woman’s emotions? Oftentimes, in pregnancy due to rape, the very thought of giving birth to a rapist’s child is repulsive, and even if she overcomes that initial repulsion, the memory of a rapist father will always be there. She cannot but view the child as the offspring of such a “father,” and cannot imagine loving such a child. This is why the love of God the Father is indispensable – he who has loved us, when through our sins we have become as unlovely as can the appearance of a rapist’s child to the mother, and as obviously hated by the rapist father. Only God’s love can reverse the reversal in this case, and with a grasp of the power of the cross of Jesus Christ.
Who has more power – the rapist or the woman? In 1 Corinthians 7, as we have looked at earlier, Paul is addressing the question of marriage and divorce, and in this context he says:
“If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy” (vv. 12b-14).
Here Paul says that the believer has more power than the unbeliever, especially in terms of influencing the children. Do we encourage victims of rape to believe this? Are they empowered in the face of the hell they are going through, to overcome the temptation to look at the child as a “rape child,” and instead to see him or her as an image-bearer of God in whose life the love of Jesus Christ can triumph? Does a rape victim view the child as her child, the one whom she will influence, or does she buy the devil’s lie that the rapist, and the painful memory of him in absentia, will be the primary influence?
The percentage of abortions due to rape is very small, and women who abort due to rape, abort at about the same rate as all women who abort their pregnancies. So the emotions and the trauma associated with rape do not produce a higher choice for abortion than women who get pregnant out of a chosen relationship. But because of the huge hormone changes in a woman’s body during the first weeks of pregnancy, a woman is emotionally vulnerable to being pressured into an abortion in the 8-12 week range – while her emotions can be reacting to that state of pregnancy, before her hormone shift is complete and she begins to identify with the growing child within her. This is why CPC ministries are crucial in how they stand in the gap, especially in cases of rape and incest.
Whereas pro-abortion ideologues say that an abortion is necessary to rid the evil of rape and incest, in truth, they take the pain of women so victimized, and employ it to their own ends. Abortion-rights proponents have long known that most all abortions are in reality a matter of choice.
In the early 1970s, an abortionist in California, Dr. Irvin Cushner, said that 98 percent of women who get an abortion do so simply because they do not wish to be pregnant at that particular time, as he testified before the U.S. Congress. They have college or career plans or other priorities. Now it is my conviction that male abortionists are the most chauvinistic men there are, so we need to be careful with Dr. Cushner’s diagnosis. Medically speaking, he understates the case. But he does not note the 93+ percent reality, as we have itemized [elsewhere], of all abortions being outside of marriage – where male chauvinism reigns (not to mention the fact that nearly the rest of abortions happen because the husband is on the way out the door). So the choice is never a planned choice or a satisfactory one – there are mediating factors. Women are often pressured into this “choice” by male chauvinists.
This is why the pro-abortion activists, in their ideological zeal, can actually hate women, despite their protestations to such a diagnosis. In the mid-eighties, I traced the data, as far as it was possible, to arrive at an estimate of the percentage of abortions due to rape and incest, and the figure came out to 1/10 of 1 percent, or about 1600 cases per year (out of 1.6 million total annual abortions at that time). The nature of forcible rape actually lessens the statistical norm for possible pregnancy, but whether the number of instances is small or great, it is nonetheless a real hell for those so victimized.
My point here is that upon the backs of these women do the pro-abortion ideologues market an ideology of sexual promiscuity and abortion-on-demand. Whereas some of them do genuinely care for women thus victimized, in large part it is the pain of the raped woman that is used to market the justification for abortion in all instances. The pain of raped women is employed as public rhetoric in service to Planned Parenthood and other abortion marketeers. Whenever they have need for political persuasion to keep abortion legal, they prostitute the emotional identification we all have for compassion upon a rape victim, so as to say that pro-life people hate women, and thus the pro-life argument must be rejected in total.
But the pro-abortion ideologues rape these very women all over again, using their pain as chattel. When we grasp this reality, we can see clearly how the abortion-rights language is in service to the reversal, and we as Christians are called to reverse the reversal. We do this by empowering rape victims to choose life equally for themselves and their unborn children, to embrace overcoming courage and to reject the male chauvinistic cowardice that only knows destruction. We do this by reversing the reversal of public language, and say “no” equally to the physical rapist of the women, and “no” to the spiritual and political rape of these same women by those who are the pro-abortion ideologues.
Another way we can look at this issue is pointing out that we are all children of rape, whether physically or metaphorically. In other words, if we were able to trace every act of sexual union that produced us, from our parents back to the Garden of Eden – how many of these acts were in true marital love with the planned embrace of children so conceived? How many of these sexual unions were in various states of turmoil, and how many were adulterous unions, acts of fornication, acts of rape or acts of incest? For all I know, and I do not know, a drunk fifty-year old man in the highlands of Scotland in the ninth century A.D. raped his thirteen-year old niece, apart from which I would not be here today.
We do know that William I of Normandy was an illegitimate child, known also as “William the Bastard.” He shaped history with the crossing of the English Channel in 1066, apart from which not only would I not be here today, but many tens of millions of others as well, including British royalty and most if not all of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. This returns us to my earlier observations about Genesis 5:1-3, the image of God and the power to pass it on as given to Adam and Seth, even in spite of their sins. Of course too, we know that such sexual sins have also produced evil people like Adolf Hitler (i.e. the ethics of choice). The point is this – none of us come from a lineage that is sexually pure. Thus, if we judge the child of the raped woman to be less than human, then we judge ourselves and our loved ones likewise. I would not be surprised to learn that the majority of or all of the human race has literal rape or tabooed incest in their lineages at some point.
If we can answer the question of rape and incest, the toughest of questions in the abortion debate, we can then win the largest portion of public sentiment possible. The tragedy of pro-life politicians who carve out an exception for the rare reality of pregnancy due to rape and incest, is that by side-stepping the question, they reduce their ability to tackle the real question of human abortion head on – the willful destruction of unborn children, which simultaneously assaults the humanity, psychological and physical health of their mothers. We can only succeed in the overall concerns if first we embrace the power to love hard questions in this regard.
In summary, human abortion is not an answer to the hell of rape or incest:
1. Human abortion does not unrape the woman – it redeems nothing and thus it is in service only to the reversal.
2. Human abortion does not restore the fractured qualities of the POSH Ls of the image of God (peace, order, stability and hope;to live, to love. to laugh, to learn).
3. Human abortion only adds further brokenness, since it equals the intrinsic power to destroy.
4. Human abortion is not compassionate to the woman or to her child.
5. Human abortion mocks the power of the woman to overcome the evil she has suffered, it excludes the power and redemptive effect of courage.
6. Human abortion mocks the nephesh of the unborn by killing the child – the other innocent party.
7. Human abortion allows the rapist to triumph twice – to assault both woman and child – to get away with “double murder.”
8. Human abortion allows the power to take and destroy of the rapist to vitiate the power to give of the woman.
9. Human abortion allows the pro-abortion ideologues to market “abortion-rights” on the backs of rape victims – it rapes the woman all over again.
10. Human abortion is a tool of the ancient serpent, who would abort us all, since all of us are actually or metaphorically “children of rape.”
Monday, August 4, 2014
There are two overwhelming realities to the debate over human abortion.
First, biologically discrete human life begins the moment a haploid spermatozoon fertilizes a haploid ovum, and a diploid one-celled zygote is formed. We all started this way, and there has never been a change in our DNA from that moment of fertilization.
Thus, human abortion destroys human life.
Second, and crucially, legalized human abortion is a quintessentially male chauvinistic prerogative. According to the Alan Guttmacher research arm of Planned Parenthood, International, a consistent 82 percent of all abortions in the United States since 1973 are performed upon unmarried women. According to data well known to the thousands of pregnancy resource centers in the United States, of the remaining 18 percent of abortions where the woman is married, in three-fourths of the instances the pregnancy is through adultery. Of the remaining one-quarter, the man is almost always on his way out of the marriage.
In other words, when the man refuses responsibility for his sexual intimacies, the woman too often feels no choice but abortion. His license, not her freedom. If the man were to be faithfully married to the woman, the consideration of abortion would be quite rare.
Thus, human abortion assaults women’s dignity.
Also, this means that the protection of the unborn cannot happen apart from responsible men honoring women as their equals and complements, and this means chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within. We all know brokenness from one angle or another, but what is the healthy norm for which we aim?
This also means that women are as equally vulnerable as their unborn children, and their equal dignity must always be affirmed.
Friday, August 1, 2014
Exodus 21:22-25 (prior post) is one of those very specific and otherwise obscure passages in the Mosaic law, and its use of terms is unusual, thus we do not have easy reference to immediately know its exact nuances. But I believe the exegesis of the text is overwhelming in its protection of the humanity of the prematurely born child. It is consistent with everything we have seen in Scripture so far, and inconsistent with none of it. Dr. Kline muses that it might be the most “decisive positive evidence” for the “living person” status of the fetus in Scripture. I think its positive nature lies in a case where the language of nephesh (the needfulness of the human soul as the definition of personhood from Genesis 2:7) specifically addresses the unborn almost by happenstance. In a more general use of the language, but in a better context, I think that Psalm 139 is the best specific and most thorough review of how the Bible regards the unborn. It reads:
O LORD, you have searched me
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O LORD.
You hem me in – behind and before;
you have laid your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand.
When I awake,
I am still with you.
If only you would slay the wicked, O God!
Away from me, you bloodthirsty men!
They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.
Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD,
and abhor those who rise up against you?
I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
This psalm is a fine example of parallelism in Hebrew poetry. The second line of each couplet reflects the first line, either by repetition of thought in different words, or by expanding on the same train of thought. In addition, each major section of the psalm is focused around one idea, and builds on it through the entire section. The psalm employs all these elements in service to its overall and defining theme – the presence of Yahweh.
David begins the psalm by saying that Yahweh has searched him and knows him. He concludes it by a prayer to continue this process – for Yahweh to search him, know him and deliver him from any sinful ways. After he introduces this idea in the first verse, he immediately embraces the theme of God’s presence. When he sits and when he rises, when he goes out and lies down, Yahweh is with him. At the conclusion of this theme, David says, “When I awake, I am still with you.” This language portrays the idea that the thoughts David reflects on in all the intervening verses were grasped while “lying down,” perhaps even in a dream, where he was meditating on the presence of God, and considering the impossibility of removing himself from that presence. This meditation focuses on good news – the faithful and sovereign presence of his covenant King and Creator.
It is good news to be hemmed in and protected by the presence of Yahweh, and this knowledge is “too wonderful” for him. This reflects the reality of Ecclesiastes 3:11 – eternity is in our hearts, but we cannot fathom its beginning or end. We who are creatures living in the boundaries of space, time and number which provide our human freedom, cannot grasp Yahweh Elohim in his eternal nature. Thus we worship him. David worships the Lord here, as he then muses on the impossibilities of fleeing from his presence.
Whether he flees to the heights of the heavens or to the depths of sheol (the Hebrew word for the abode of the dead translated by the NIV here as “the depths”); whether he flees to the farthest reaches of the eastern sky (“the wings of the dawn”) or to the farthest reaches of the western sky (“the far side of the sea”); and all to which David cannot conceptually grasp traveling – he knows Yahweh will be present with him. He is a member of Yahweh’s covenant community, and therefore God keeps his covenant promise to be with him. In terms of the New Covenant community of Jesus the Messiah, Paul reflects a similar conviction in 2 Timothy 2:8-13:
“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.
“Here is a trustworthy saying:
“If we died with him,
we will also live with him;
if we endure,
we will also reign with him.
If we disown him,
he will disown us;
if we are faithless,
he will remain faithful,
for he cannot disown himself.”
Paul’s language contains the balance of the power of informed choice along with God’s sovereignty, his power to give. In Psalm 139, David reflects this balance too, for as he meditates on Yahweh’s sovereign presence, his will is simultaneously engaged. In fact, his thought exercise in considering how to flee Yahweh’s presence is part of the power of informed choice and the power to love hard questions reflecting David’s creativity in his image-bearing status. Both David and Paul can disown God and be disowned – if they were to commit apostasy in the sense of Hebrews 6:4-8 or 2 Peter 2:20-22. But they know God’s goodness too well to do so, and their choices to serve God are sealed in the depths of their souls. They may act faithlessly, but God will remain faithful because he cannot disown himself. He is completely good.
This is all “too wonderful” for David to fully grasp, since it is rooted in Yahweh’s eternal nature and perspective. It is too wonderful for me to grasp, but its beauty is knowable in human terms and leads to worship and gratitude. I join David in his celebration of this knowable beauty.
Then David considers the contrast of dark and light. Can he flee Yahweh’s presence if he surrounds himself in darkness? No, for he is a member of the covenant community, and he cannot actually embrace ultimate darkness. And even if he could, Yahweh is still Lord over the devil’s domain. Where light is, darkness cannot abide. This is true in eternal ethics, the laws of physics and in spiritual domains. The power to live in the light trumps the power of darkness to interfere successfully in the lives of believers.
Thus, in beautiful poetic structure, David is examining the possible places to which he can flee and evade Yahweh’s presence. He chooses three possibilities, none to which he has or can reasonably conceive of traveling. Finally in this exercise of thought, David ups the ante and considers the womb from which he came. Like Nicodemus (John 3:1-4), he knows it is a place to which he cannot return, and when he was there, he was too young to cogently discern his surroundings. This meditation on the womb is the final example, in a parallelistic structure, of a remote location of which David conceives – indeed, the most remote yet. Is Yahweh present there too?
As David considers this scenario, he naturally returns to the context of the order of creation, sharing all its assumptions. So, as I began this chapter by referring to the order of creation, as we consider the status of the unborn in face of the abortion debate, David’s instincts were the same as he considered the status of the unborn. Yahweh was intimately involved in David’s creation through the procreation process. To refuse the goodness of procreation is to refuse the goodness of the order of creation itself. It is to mock the image of God. David affirms that his humanity was full, not only when he was visibly human, but when his body was unformed (an embryo), and even before conception, his identity was present in the eternal mind of God. Too wonderful for us to fully grasp, and as well, it affirms the complete humanity of the unborn throughout the entire biological process of pregnancy – from conception to birth. Also, when David reflects on how wonderfully he was made in his mother’s womb, he says, “I know that full well.” The literal Hebrew for “I” is naphshi, which equals “my nephesh.” Again, the testimony of the nephesh of God’s image in the context of the unborn.
In simplicity, and with the full force of biblical theology from its origins, it can be stated that to abort a human being is to abort a chosen presence of God.
How can any of us claim to be believers in the God of the Bible if we justify human abortion? (While noting the redemptively necessary exception of when a mother’s life is truly endangered.) It is the unwarranted destruction of defenseless human life, and if we seek to destroy God’s presence in any capacity, and willfully maintain a justification for having done so, how can we expect to be received into God’s presence at the end of the age? (Apart from the power to forgive that trumps for those who seek it.)
In the various times I have been in a public forum with members of the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights (RCAR), they have always challenged this passage. This was the case with Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, its former President (and now dean of Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA). She dismissed my exegesis of Exodus 21:22-25 in our two forums together, in February, 1994 at Yale, and January, 1996 at an Episcopal Church in Chevy Chase, Maryland. She did so, not by giving contrary evidence, but by simply saying it was nonsense.
This was also the case when I addressed a debate at the University of New Hampshire in September of 1989. There were three people on the pro-life side. And there were three on the abortion-rights side – a woman state legislator, a woman member of NOW, and a man who was a Methodist minister and member of RCAR. The NOW member was the only one who reciprocated any civility of attitude.
When in the course of the evening I alluded to Psalm 139, the RCAR minister began to ridicule my interpretation of the text. He said it was “poetry,” and had no relevance to the biology or moral status of the unborn. He evidenced his argument by asking me if I seriously thought that we were “woven together in the depths of the earth” as the text says. He said such a phrase reflected the primitive and unscientific basis of Israelite society, and as influenced by pagan religion. It was clearly the poetry of an unsophisticated society, he said.
I responded by asking if his seminary training included Hebrew, and knowledge of parallelistic structure. He said no. I then asked how he could make such an observation about a psalm written in a genre he knew nothing about. He did not respond. This response on my part is about as confrontational as I ever get. His question to me was both sarcastic and mocking in tone, as clearly evident to the audience and other panelists. I did not return any such attitude. Rather I treated him as an intellectual equal – since he brought up the question of poetry as a genre. I questioned him to see if he could sustain his point, and if he were qualified to do so. I knew it was pretense on his part, but I sought to first give him opportunity to defend himself or show some humility in recognition of having overstepped his expertise. Later in this chapter, we will see how Jesus models for us the wisdom on how to deal with such confrontations, as he faced elitists who opposed him.
I then explained the nature of Hebrew parallelisms in poetic structure, and summed up the nature of the psalm’s focus on the presence of Yahweh, along with the reason why David was looking at the subject of the womb. In so doing, I explained that all Hebrew poetry is in service to the assumptions of verifiable history, and science and the scientific method. Accordingly, David was free to use metaphor and hyperbole to underscore such realities. As David was considering the remoteness of the literal womb where his inmost being had been fashioned by God, he spoke of the “secret place” as a parallel expression to the womb, then of “the depths of the earth” as a parallel expression to the “secret place.” For David, the remoteness of the womb was both remote as a secret (unknown) place, and as unknown and remote as “the depths of the earth” (a different word than sheol is used here, in the sense of a place below the depth of a volcano). Thus, metaphor is in service to reality, as the poetic structure of this text so eloquently ratifies.
The RCAR minister did not challenge any of my exegesis. Later on in the evening, in response to something else he said, I began to refer to some exegetical background to frame my thoughts, and he interrupted. He complained that it was unfair for me to “get academic” again. How remarkable, and how consistent with living in the darkness. On the one hand he had enough temerity to challenge me academically by trying to dismiss the relevance of Psalm 139 to the status of the unborn, but on the other hand, once I accepted his challenge, he complained that I knew too much. Only those who embrace the power to live in the light can also embrace the humility and intellectual rigor of the power to love hard questions. It is not a matter of intellectual ability per se, but one of moral willpower to submit to the reality of God → life → choice → sex in the order of creation.
Once David finished his context of the womb, he goes into praise for the value of God’s thoughts, the One who perceived David’s thoughts at the beginning of the psalm. In this context we then see the reference to the enemies of the Messiah’s lineage, as we examined in Chapter Eleven. The beauty of the order of creation, and the presence of Yahweh as the covenant King, leads David to then make a contrast with those who despise Yahweh’s goodness. There is a war going on, and it is in the heavenlies between Christ and Satan, for the souls of men. David then concludes the psalm where he began, tying in its overall focus of knowing and being known by Yahweh, the One whose presence cannot be evaded. To abort a nascent human being is to abort a chosen presence of the Creator.