My wife Leah and I serve as volunteers at a local pregnancy center. I serve on the board of directors, and Leah conducts intake counseling with women in crisis. In these roles, we’ve had a front-row seat to hear the stories of women who are considering abortion.
These seats have cultivated in us a new appreciation for Hebrews 4:15: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” This passage doesn’t say Jesus approves of our weakness, overlooks our weakness, or blames us for our weakness. Rather, he sympathizes with our weakness.
Jesus knows what it’s like to be tempted to “fix” your circumstances through quick decisions. He endured emotional stress from a looming crisis. He knows what it’s like to be abandoned. Jesus sympathizes with our weakness, and it’s crucial to know his sympathy before making a decision that is sinful, destructive, and counter to his purposes.
Jesus sympathizes with our weakness, and it’s crucial to know his sympathy before making a decision that is sinful, destructive, and counter to his purposes.
Now that SCOTUS has struck down Roe, access to abortion clinics could require travel across state lines, and visits to local pregnancy centers may increase. Though the ruling will change how women access abortion, it won’t change the reality of unplanned pregnancies and women who need our help and sympathy. Like Christ, the church must be able to sympathize with the weakness of abortion-minded women if we’re going to walk with them toward life-giving decisions. What can Hebrews 4:15 teach us about sympathizing with women considering an abortion? Here are three encouragements.
1. We can sympathize with complicating circumstances.
As Christ died, he pleaded with his Father, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Jesus prayed for the very people who drove nails into his hands. Amid horrific pain, he recognized that the Roman soldiers did not act in a vacuum. They were following commands from superiors, doing a job to provide for their families, under the influence of the crowds. These factors didn’t make the soldiers’ actions innocent, but they did draw forth the Savior’s sympathy.
When Christians support a mother through an unplanned pregnancy, we must also acknowledge that she’s not acting in a vacuum. A mother may not have money to support the child. Living in her car, the woman is unable to imagine the backseat of her sedan as a baby’s nursery. She may have endured physical abuse from the biological father and fear for the newborn’s safety. Or she may be a nervous teenager fearful of disapproval from her parents or the church.
Christians must sympathize with these factors and consider what tangible support a mother may need (housing, financial assistance, or help navigating the healthcare system) to make life-giving decisions.
2. We can sympathize with weakness despite the associated shame.
Jesus was a friend to people with shameful stories. He befriends a woman ashamed of her adultery (John 4:16–18), a woman plagued by perpetual bleeding (Luke 8:43–48), and a man whose appearance drove people away (Mark 1:40–45). Crucifixion was a humiliating form of execution, but Jesus disregarded the shame in doing God’s will (Heb. 12:2). Jesus broke vicious cycles of shame and isolation.
Telling friends and family about a pregnancy should be one of the most exciting and memorable moments in a woman’s life. But for many women, it’s isolating. They go to a pregnancy center because of the anonymity it offers. These women don’t want to tell people close to them because their pregnancy brings shame. They’re considering abortion as a way to ensure the story never gets out.
Shame never leads to good decisions. But by showing sympathy, Christians can help mothers express their sense of shame while also encountering the One who bore our shame (Heb. 13:13).
3. We can sympathize because Christ has shown us sympathy.
Jesus showed sympathy despite his disciples’ imperfections—Peter’s temper, Thomas’s skepticism, James’s and John’s unchecked ambition. He didn’t have to look far to find people driven by wrong motives or pursuing wrong goals.
Jesus met us in our regret, sorrow, and shame, and he’s given us forgiveness, healing, and hope.
Similarly, church leaders must see there are people in our pews who have had an abortion, are considering one, or will consider one in the future. We must speak and walk patiently with the sheep under our care, knowing our high priest Jesus has also shown us sympathy. Jesus met us in our regret, sorrow, and shame, and he’s given us forgiveness, healing, and hope.
There’s one correct way for churches to speak about the evil of abortion: with tears. We want people to know abortion is wrong in God’s sight, but we also want every woman considering an abortion to know that the church is the place where forgiveness and sympathy are found. As we identify with what women feel as they consider abortion, we’ll have the opportunity to introduce them to our sympathetic Savior who is also the Lord and giver of life.