“Life Is Sacred”: What That Means, and Why It Matters in a Post-‘Dobbs’ World

  The Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overruled Roe v. Wade, has brought an old, familiar accusation before Christians around the United States: “The Bible doesn’t say anything about abortion.” That is true, but only in the strictest sense. The Bible never once uses the word abortion, nor does it refer to the practice of abortion as we know it. But it’s not true that the Bible has nothing to say that’s relevant to the devastating decision to terminate a pregnancy. Scripture teaches clearly that all human life is sacred to and protected by God and that He knows us even before He forms us in the womb. Society thus has a responsibility to guard human life—at all of its stages—from those who would seek to harm it. Of course, the topic of abortion is—to state the obvious—a controversial one that’s fraught with stories of abandonment, pain, shame, regret, fear, and grief. But there are also stories of hope, reconciliation, love, forgiveness, and hope. In the wake of Dobbs, much remains uncertain, including how believers can best rise up to support new life, new mothers, new fathers, and the communities in which they live. The challenge before us is immense. Even so, above all other helpful and productive facts and arguments about abortion, believers must remember, cling to, and unapologetically live out these helpful words from the Westminster Confession: “The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture” (1.6). The Confession then goes on to remind us that God’s Word is “the supreme judge by which all controversies of religion”—including views on abortion—“are to be determined” (1.10). Because the Bible is God’s Word to us and therefore the greatest guide for true, God-honoring human flourishing, it is crucial for us to understand what the Scriptures have to say about life in the womb and how that challenges and convicts the cultural assumptions that have made abortion prevalent in our day. What the Bible Says about Abortion As the Confession points out, we know some things are right or wrong not because the Bible says so simply and explicitly but because the Bible’s clearest truths often have further implications. There is no single text we can go to if we want to say that abortion is a moral evil. Instead, we need to understand two important principles that the Bible clearly teaches: first, that life is sacred, and second, that children in the womb are alive. Life Is Sacred To begin with, the clear and unashamed testimony of Scripture is that human life is sacred and that God therefore protects it. Life is sacred first because it is God’s gift. Genesis 2:7 tells us that “the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living creature.” While the story may leave us with questions about the scientific background of man’s origins, those questions seemingly were not God’s focus in Genesis. Instead, the Bible simply, historically, and unequivocally states that God made humankind, and He alone gave them life. Moreover, life is also sacred because human beings were made in God’s image: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). Human beings, in other words, are more than superior animals. They are not merely souped-up apes. Humanity is distinct from every other part of the created order in that we have uniquely ever-living spirits and are fashioned in the likeness of our Creator. As the psalmist testifies to God, “You have made [man] a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor” (Ps. 8:5). Because of these realities, human life is precious, and God takes special measures to protect it. In the account of Noah’s flood, for instance, we learn that the reason God brought judgment on the earth was that “the earth was filled with violence … for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth” (Gen. 6:11–12). When Noah leaves the ark, God thus commands a judgment for anyone who would take a life: “From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Gen. 9:5–6). Because murder is a violation of God’s image and of the intrinsic value that it gives to a human person, God seeks to protect His very image in human beings Yet God does not leave the burden of protecting life for us to carry as individuals alone. In addition, He has entrusted the responsibility of guarding life to civic and national authorities. As Paul explains, “There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. … He is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom. 13:1, 4). God will hold governmental authorities accountable for how they use, or abuse, the power He gives them—and chief among their duties is to protect the life of the innocent, because human life is sacred. For this reason at least, Christians should hope and pray for their governments to fulfill their God-given responsibility, advocating for it to do so by whatever righteous means are available to them. Children in the Womb Are Human Lives Most pro-choice advocates will agree in broad strokes that human life is sacred and should be protected. Where they disagree is over when exactly a child in the womb becomes a human life. On this the Bible is also clear: unborn children are human lives made in God’s image from the very beginning of their existence—that is, from conception. The image of God is not a faculty that babies gain at a certain point in fetal development; it is stamped onto their nature as human beings. Worldly philosophies would have us believe that it is what we can think, feel, and do that makes us human. But the Bible nowhere teaches that our God-imaging humanness depends on these things. In fact, it testifies to the value of human beings even before they are born. In the Psalms, David testifies of and to God, “You knitted me together in my mother’s womb,” and describes “being made in secret, intricately woven” (Ps. 139:13, 15). His development in utero, in other words, was an act of God’s creation, just as when God formed man and woman in his image in the garden of Eden. The Creator does not step in at a certain point in the process; He is every infant’s Maker from the beginning, and they are made in His image. Similarly, to the prophet Jeremiah, God said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you” (Jer. 1:5), testifying again that He is the creator even of prenatal life and that it is sacred to Him—even before conception.The image of God is not a faculty that babies gain at a certain point in fetal development; it is stamped onto their nature as human beings. The Bible also testifies to the vitality of children in the womb. Genesis 25:22 talks about the prenatal wrestling of Jacob and Esau. Luke 1:39–45, too, tells a story about how John the Baptist “leaped for joy” in his mother’s womb at the sound of Mary’s voice. While this event was part of a miraculous story, such activity itself is no miracle. Any woman who has been pregnant can tell you from experience that the child, though unseen, is alive and active. And in fact, the Bible uses the same word for a baby in the womb as it does for one out of the womb. Its writers saw them as the same thing. Meanwhile, negatively, when Job wishes he’d died at birth (Job 3:11), he implies that he was already alive in the womb. In short, a serious reading of the Bible has to reckon with the fact that God counts all human life sacred, that God recognizes the unborn as human lives, and that God commands the protection of human life—including that of the unborn—because it is made in His image. Against the materialism of our age, Christians must recognize that an unborn baby is more than a clump of cells. Against the existentialism and expressive individualism of our age, Christians must recognize that it is not what a baby can think, feel, or do that makes it human. The unborn are human by nature, and they are therefore sacred. Above any right that anyone has, we must prioritize the duty to protect and to care for life, from beginning to end. What Our Culture Believes about Abortion If you pay attention to the abortion debate in our culture, you will quickly note that both factions claim to have the moral high ground. One side prioritizes the protection of innocent life in the womb; the other claims to have the interest of mothers in mind, protecting them from the risks of unwanted pregnancy, the life-changing demands of parenthood, and the potential of subjugation to patterns of abuse. We would do well to remember that behind this conflict of right and wrong, not many are driven by some search for and understanding of a biblical prooftext that says “Abortion is bad” or “Abortion is good.” Beneath the slogans, the rallies, and the countless social media posts lies a tangled web of ideas, the majority of which are almost completely detached from the belief that the Bible ought to guide every aspect of our lives. Today’s Prevailing Worldview The roots of the pro-choice approach can be traced back centuries, through the Romantic period, the Enlightenment, the Renaissance, and beyond. Over decades and centuries, the musings of philosophers and academics have trickled down into the thinking and assumptions of the masses, who may not even have realized that they had begun to think differently than earlier generations had. Fast-forward to today, and we in the West live in a time of what some philosophers have called expressive individualism. How people feel about themselves has become the defining factor of their identity and one of the most important factors in moral reasoning. To be human, they say, is to be a thinking and feeling creature—and so even choices about life and death, notes theologian and historian Carl R. Trueman, can default to “that which gives the most happiness to the persons involved.” He writes, “If we are above all what we think, what we feel, what we desire, then anything that interferes or obstructs those thoughts, feelings, or desires, inhibits us as people and prevents us from being the self that we are convinced that we are.”1 Expressive individualism has taught people to find their identity in their subjective experience of life and to see threats to that experience as threats to themselves. Its Effect on Moral Reasoning In this context, the desires of pregnant mothers have become more salient to many people than the lives of unborn children, which don’t appear to them to have thoughts, feelings, or desires at all. As long as people believe that who they are is primarily what they think and feel—that these things make them a person and give them a purpose—then they will be ready to say that the choice of a pregnant mother is more important than the supposed life of an apparently unthinking, unfeeling, less significant fetus.If we would glorify God, we cannot set our desire for happiness above our responsibility to protect innocent life that is also made in His image. It’s not that many people would say that an unborn child has no value, nor that they don’t care about human life. Pro-choice advocates generally believe that they are doing the morally right thing. But one of the most sinister features of sin is that it corrupts human hearts to believe that right is wrong and wrong is right, so that we “call evil good and good evil” (Isa. 5:20). Because they live in a culture where greater value is placed on human experience than on any intrinsic value, pro-choice people are more ready to side with the choice of the mother than the life of the child, which they may not even recognize as life. They end their fight for true equality at the womb, and they think it is good and right to do so. God cares deeply about mothers and about their happiness, their health, and their communities. He wants people to feel purpose in their life. But these are not the things that define the good life. Against these modern ways of thinking, the Bible calls us to understand that we are spiritual beings made in the image of the creator God, that we were made by that God for the purpose of glorifying Him, and that if we would glorify Him, we cannot set our desire for happiness above our responsibility to protect innocent life that is also made in His image. What the Bible Says to Our Culture Despite its widespread acceptance, abortion remains one of the clearest evidences in our society that mankind is grievously out of sync with God’s plan for its flourishing. What God has called sacred it has called vulgar. What God has called life it has called something less than. It has rejected the truth that human nature is defined by God’s image, and it has embraced the lie that each person defines himself or herself—that we are all gods unto ourselves. So what are we, as Christians living amid a world plagued by such confusion and corruption, ever to do? Whatever the right answers to that question are (and there are many), they must begin where all right answers begin: in the Gospel itself. Jesus Christ, the God-man, has revealed the Creator to us so that we may come to believe in Him. That same Jesus shed His blood to cleanse us from our every sin—even abortion. So at the very least, we ought net let the devil come around and rattle our cage, causing us to fear that those we know and love are out of God’s reach or to dwell again on past sins that have been forgiven. It is God who defines us—and God forgives. Thus, we also need to shine out as lights. We need to go and proclaim the Lord Jesus Christ, for His grace is sufficient for every care. He can open blind eyes to the sacredness of human life, and He can forgive those who have taken it. We must seek to protect unborn life by every righteous means, and we must be ready to show mercy to others just as we have received it from Him. And as we do, we must also be ready to serve and love those mothers who have chosen the sacredness of life even at great cost to themselves. In doing so, we serve Christ, by whose love alone we are able to “take hold of that which is truly life” (1 Tim. 6:19). This article was adapted from the sermon “Sanctity of Human Life” by Alistair Begg. * Carl R. Trueman, Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution (Wheaton: Crossway, 2022), chap. 8.↩︎ http://dlvr.it/SX5VnQ http://dlvr.it/SX6195
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