The Forbidden Files are buried from view somewhere deep beneath stacks of “to do items,” “worthy projects” and “topics of immediate pressing concerns.” They are a listing of topics which, at best, are inconvenient to address. If tension is regarded as undesirable, any discussion that strikes a raw nerve charged with deep emotion, such as can occur with abortion is certainly inconvenient.
Furthermore, a strong tradition within Churches of Christ has been to avoid mixing politics and religion. The list of reasons why this matter might be quietly slipped into the Forbidden Files could go on. However, when politics impinge upon spiritual matters, and even though emotions might run very deep, the church, as salt and light, does not need to retreat from its message because of the surrounding culture. Indeed the church must not allow human culture to reshape its God-given message.
Like most conflicts, this one also revolves around colliding values. In this case, the freedom to determine what will happen to our body clashes with the principle of preserving human life. In some conflicts where one option is wholly malicious, the path God’s people ought to pursue is obvious. What about the values being sought in abortion? Are either of the stated values in this polarization unworthy of being pursued? Is there anything inherently evil about self-autonomy, that is, humans defending their freedom to govern what they will do? Or on the other hand, might there be nothing so special about preserving human life?
God created us with the capacity of choice and then perceived his creation as being very good./1 Obviously there is nothing wrong in promoting our God-given ability to possess choice. The principle of self-determination is not evil.
We also learn from the account of creation that human life is especially valuable since it has been made in the image of God. Even after sin successfully infected human lives, God still affirmed humanity’s value by condemning the taking of human life since “in the image of God has God made man.”/2
Both maintaining our freedom of choice and preserving human life are worthy endeavors. If the crucible of decision were to always involve the simplicity of choosing between intrinsically good and inherently evil principles, appropriate decisions would be easy to determine.
How are God’s people to navigate godly-decision-making when two noble principles clash? A general observation is instructive. Whenever some worthy or valuable principle conflicts with an even more important principle, to choose the lesser involves making the wrong decision. For example, to choose to be devoted to one’s family is good. However, whenever a person elects to serve a family’s desire that runs contrary to Jesus’ teachings instead of choosing to honor God’s will, such familial dedication is misplaced./3 Or consider the situation where the goal of obeying both the governing authorities and God might clash. Although both should be obeyed, the Christian response involves choosing to follow the higher authority./4 The need for Christians to recognize that a hierarchy of principles exists and that we are to honor the more important value is illustrated throughout Scripture.
For the person who has made the commitment to live for Christ by dying to self,/5 the question regarding abortion is: “Does our Lord desire us to place greater importance upon our freedom to choose what we will do with our bodies or for us to choose to preserve human life?”
Can there be any serious doubt as to which is more important to our Lord? When Jesus faced the dilemma of deciding whether he would do what he wanted to do with his body or opt to provide others with life, he cried out, “Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will but your will.”/6 Although Jesus faced a deep emotional struggle to relinquish what he wanted to do with his body in order to choose life, he chose the greater. In fact, for him the stakes were even higher than what is typically the situation with abortion, since for him to choose to provide others with life did not just entail a dramatic change in his lifestyle or a prolonged inconvenience, but rather a grizzly and shameful death.
The Christian lifestyle, furthermore, involves recognizing that there are principles more important than simply promoting the freedom to do whatever we desire with our bodies. For example, issues of morality are more important. As Paul wrote: “Flee from sexual immorality … You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your body.”/7
How are God’s people to navigate godly-decision-making when two noble principles clash? First, determine which principle is more important and follow it; however, if either position involves doing wrong, then it is not a godly option. For example, while God’s people are to be generous and do good, this end is not justified by the means of robbing banks. Stealing is condemned. To later do good with what has been stolen does not alter the fact that the Christian should not steal. Accordingly, when we factor into the abortion discussion that it is God, not some government, who gives life, who determines when life begins and who in the last day will demand an accounting from those terminating human life, God’s perspective appears to be clear. Accordingly, those who have been raised with Jesus to serve God should pursue God’s will in their life.
Where do we go from here?
When it comes to Pro-Choice or Pro-Life, a Christian’s position ought to emerge from scripture. Should a Christian find these thoughts threatening because they imply guilt about past decisions? God can cleanse us and free us from whatever wrongdoings might be in our past. Paul claimed to be the worst of sinners because he had killed and persecuted the church. Yet, later this past only caused him to praise God more, because grace had been poured out toward even him. What we do need to do is to seek to allow God, through his message, to shape our beliefs, values, and behavior into the image of Christ for how we will live today and tomorrow. While we can not change what we did in the past, God can erase our guilt from the past. What we have power over is to choose for God to direct our present and future.
I suspect that for Jesus to teach about his being lifted up to die was much easier for him than to personally encounter the emotionally charged decision he made in Gethsemane. God has given us the freedom to choose to lie or tell the truth, to cheat or deal fairly, to kill or love, to follow or rebel. What we decide reveals who we are serving. Without diminishing the difficulty that can be involved in favoring life instead of the freedom to do with my body as I desire, as those following Christ, may we likewise submit to the Father’s will over our own comfort and desires.
1) Genesis 1:31
2) Genesis 9:5,6
3) Matthew 10:37
4) Acts 5:29
5) 2 Corinthians 5:15; Luke 9:23,24
6) Mark 14:36
7) 1 Corinthians 6:18,19,20