Some people appreciate observing Sanctity of Life Month in January. Some don’t. I’ve heard Sanctity of Life Month compared to Mother’s Day: each of these special times directs a little bit of attention to something so huge that it deserves much deeper and more consistent notice.
Actually, the comparison might lead to fruitful pondering. Motherhood, which begins with having babies, is in serious decline. Last Christmas Eve, Mark Steyn published a piercing editorial diagnosing Western culture with the barrenness of Elizabeth in Luke’s Gospel. Steyn’s main argument in the piece is an economic one, but the larger perspective with which he begins and operates—-seeing the birth of children as a divinely given good—-comes through. More and more potential mothers are choosing not to realize that potential, or to realize it in an extremely limited and controlled way. Those choices are leading to dramatic population decline, or, as Steyn puts it, “upside down family trees.” Upside down trees don’t live long.
Motherhood, we somehow keep forgetting, doesn’t have to do exclusively with a mother’s experience; it has to do with life and death—-of human beings, and even of whole societies.
Right to Life
And so enters a child’s “right to life.” That much-used phrase captures part of the truth, in that the life of each human being deserves to be protected, as each has been created by God in his image. Perhaps part of our problem, though, is that we have come to think of child-related issues in terms of rights—-that is, we have come to think politically. If we thought more biblically, perhaps we would think of children less in terms of individual human rights and more in terms of God’s divine gifts. Steyn is right: Luke 1 highlights that perspective. The whole Bible highlights that perspective, starting with God’s promise of a child in Genesis 3, as the seed of the whole redemptive story. According to the psalms, “Children are a gift from the Lord,” meant to show and pass on God’s blessings from generation to generation (Psalm 127, 102, 103).
Political systems do protect individual rights, and so of course political thinking involves individual perspectives. But the Bible does not allow us to focus simply on individuals; it asks us to receive God’s perspective on the whole human story, and the means through which he advances it.
From a biblical perspective, children are gifts given by God through whom he means to work, generation by generation, as he creates a people for himself from all the nations of the world, through Christ and for the glory of Christ. From that perspective, when we refuse or destroy new human life, we are refusing or destroying God’s gifts, and in so doing we are rebelling against our Creator’s redemptive purposes for human life. If Sanctity of Life Month is good, it’s good partly because it comes right after Christmas, when we’ve just remembered that God sent his greatest gift wrapped up as a baby, emerging from a human womb. Denying or destroying the gifts of babies has to relate to this event.
So I’d like to acknowledge this Sanctity of Life Month, but not simply by focusing on rights. Rights are important, but perhaps we need just as much or more to focus on looking up and receiving gifts. Gifts inevitably pull us out of our own individual perspectives. With a gift there are at least two involved: the gift and the giver. But usually there are even more; a gift-giving celebration most often involves people gathering round to help prepare the gift, or to rejoice in the gift, or perhaps simply just to admire the gift.
The gift of children is like that. We can’t talk just about mothers, of course, or babies. We should talk also about fathers and families and friends who gather round to help and rejoice and admire the work of God. The subject of new human life involves all of us in Christ’s body, whether or not God has granted us children individually, and whether or not we’re involved in public pro-life efforts. It’s not just that we have a duty to protect rights; maybe we’d be better motivated by a longing to be in on the celebration of God’s gifts!
It seems Christians are making some progress in together receiving God’s gifts of children, with growing attention to adoption and pro-life services, including the advent of the ultrasound machine. An ultrasound picture offers an awesome glimpse into the handiwork of God, a gift so precious that it would be unthinkable to kill it. Certainly it is a good thing to work for laws that protect the rights of mothers to get such true glimpses—-and the rights of their babies to live and not to die. Certainly it is a crucial thing to offer God’s love and God’s Word to those anticipating or grieving abortions, in order to lead them to the Savior in whom is forgiveness and life.
We’ll keep making progress, by God’s grace, if our efforts grow from hearts and minds that have embraced God’s redemptive purposes for the human race. His purposes are all about the gift of life as opposed to death—-through Jesus Christ who was born and died, so that we human beings might not die, as we deserve, but rather live. In Adam we all die, Paul teaches, but in Christ we are made alive. How might this biblical perspective on human history increasingly motivate us as God’s people to receive and to help others receive God’s good gifts of life, generation after generation, until Jesus comes again?