We certainly cannot say, “We don’t know what is happening.” We do know. Fueled by a social imaginary devoid of children, unwanted children are not treated as God’s beloved image bearers. They are treated as “life unworthy of life,” and accordingly, we who have received life in Christ must protect babies who are unwanted. Therefore, for all the reasons outlined above, we do well to remember that the children formed in the womb are people whom God loves. And thus we must not shrink back, but press on to rescue the perishing—the kids that nobody wants.
If the problem in our country is the fact that children are portrayed as inconvenient and are justifiably purged when “unwanted,” we need more than a campaign that says, “Don’t do that.” If the moral fiber of our country has run out, and Genesis 1:28 has been laughed out, then we need to do more than shout down the wickedness of abortion. We need to rehabilitate an entire view of the world. That is to say, we need to go back to the God who has made us in his image and hear what he says.
In what follows, I offer four steps for rehabilitating a social imaginary that values children in a way that mirrors the heart of God. Indeed, I do not intend to deny legal efforts to block abortion or political policy-making that defends life. In God’s mercy, there remain in our country laws and lawmakers who are committed to protecting life. But because expressive individualism has become America’s civil religion, there is a rising belief (or feeling) that one man and one woman bound together in covenant marriage with the goal of raising a family filled with children is not just unattractive, but offensive or even immoral.
We need to consider what Scripture tells us about the blessedness of children and why we must protect the unborn and offer a new set of images, stories, and celebrations, which reform our social imaginaries in ways that honor God and his command to be fruitful and multiply. For this reason, I want to wade upstream where the waters of God’s Word are life-giving. And there, from the pages of Scripture, I want to pour out four truths that we need to protect life.
Four Life-Giving Truths
1. Love God
At root, the problem of abortion is not political, medical, or cultural; it is theological. As A. W. Tozer famously quipped, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” This point has been oft-quoted, but what he says next is equally telling.
The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.
Rightly, Tozer connects what a man knows to what a man worships. But as Psalm 115 reminds us, the context of idol worship is national, not just individualistic. The nations who worship idols “become like them,” and “so do all who trust in them” (v. 8). Indeed, what a people beholds with affection they will become like in action. And this is exactly what has happened in our nation.
Today, the person looking in the mirror (or posting the selfie on Instagram) is the expressive individual loved in our nation. The therapeutic mindset has told people that they cannot love others unless they love themselves. And conversely, if someone puts another ahead of himself, he is inviting harm and may be denying his only chance at happiness. Tragically, such self-directed hedonism flies in the face of biblical truth.
In Scripture, Christ commands his followers: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30–31). Love, as God defines it, is the summary of the law (Rom. 13:8–10). And this love necessarily requires self-sacrifice, not self-expression (Phil. 2:1–4). As Jesus says in Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” With a touch of divine irony, this call to “hate” fathers, wives, and children does not impair one’s ability to love, but actually makes true love possible, not to mention holy. True love requires that we put God first and love what is true. And this is where we need to begin when we consider abortion.
If our actions follow our affections, then we must engage public ethics and the protection of life with something more than the law. That is to say, we must call our neighbors to repent and turn to the Lord. Whether or not America is a “Christian nation” is immaterial here. The message of Christianity is a universal call to turn from sin and trust Christ. If anything in our nation proves the need for a message of repentance, it is our nation’s civil religion of self-worship. Abortion is the most pernicious fruit hanging on that poisonous vine, but it is a fruit, not the root.
Indeed, to get to the root of abortion, we must get to the heart. We must call everyone, from those who picket abortion clinics to those who pay for abortions inside them, to love God first. To say it another way, we must preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to everyone. Only God’s life-giving Word can change the heart (2 Cor. 4:4–6), renew the mind (Rom. 12:1–2), convict of sin (John 16:8–11), and empower lovers of self to become lovers of God. To say it another way, our goal is not merely for people to be pro-life, but for people to be pro-Christ (and therefore pro-life).
As Paul frames it, Christ has “died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:15). Among other things, salvation sets sinners free from self-love. Paul warns of those who are “lovers of self,” “lovers of money,” and “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Tim. 3:2, 4). Indeed, this self-love is why Christ had to die. On the cross, he paid the penalty for every kind of sin. And in his glorification, he sent his Spirit to empower his children to love God, which entails an abiding and self-sacrificing love for the image of God.
2. Love God’s Image
Essentially, God’s law commands us to love God and to love those made in his image (Mark 12:30–31). In the second commandment of the Decalogue (Exod. 20:4–6), Israel is forbidden from making and worshiping images. On the surface, this commandment denies golden calves (Exodus 32) and other false images of the true God, but underneath it implies something greater—namely, that God has already made an image of himself and that, in the fullness of time, he will bring forth the true image of God, Jesus Christ, God the Son incarnate (Col. 1:15).
Going back to the beginning, Genesis 1:27 tells us that “God created man in his own image—in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Accordingly, men and women, boys and girls, are not to be worshiped—they are to be begotten! As the next verse continues, “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it’” (v. 28). Here, we return to that creation mandate which is so mocked and misunderstood.
If we are going to love God, we must love what God loves. And what does he love? He loves his glory and everything in creation that reflects his glory. In creation, everything from the heavens (Ps. 19:1) and their starry host (1 Cor. 15:40–41), to the earth and its various inhabitants (Ps. 65:9–13; 104:31–35) reflect something of God’s glory, but David is fundamentally correct when he says of mankind that God has “crowned him with glory and honor” (Ps. 8:5). Mankind is the pinnacle of God’s creation (Gen. 1) and the embodiment of his glory (cf. 1 Cor. 11:7). And thus, if we are going to see abortion ended, we must reimagine a world overrun with God’s glory—a glory enfleshed with human eyes, ears, fingers, and toes.
Truly, when God made mankind in his image, he made a vessel fit for royal glory. That is, God created the first Adam to have dominion over the earth (Ps. 8), with such authority passed on to his offspring (Gen. 5:1–5). Though Adam forfeited his royal glory by sin (Rom. 3:23), the story of redemption has centered on the promise of ‘sons’ inheriting the kingdom (see e.g., Gen. 17:6, 16; 2 Sam. 7:14; Isa. 9:6–7). In Christ, this storyline finds its terminus. Jesus Christ, as the firstborn from the dead (Col. 1:18), becomes the true and last Adam (1 Cor. 15:20–28) and the one who has authority over all creation (Matt. 28:19). Indeed, even in his birth announcements, the royalty of Jesus is proclaimed (Luke 1:32–33), thus confirming the fact that God is going to restore the kingdom of God, as well as the image of God (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10).
In this history of royal heirs, therefore, God the Son would have to be born of woman (see Isa. 7:14; Luke 1:35–37). For in no other way could God redeem his children, except for God the Son becoming like us (Heb. 2:5–18). Indeed, through the incarnation, the glory of God assumed a human nature (John 1:14–18), and even today the glorified Christ indwells a human body that shares certain physical properties common among all humanity (Rev. 1:12–16). Knowing the plan from the beginning, God made Adam and Eve as vessels fit for glory. And when this royal glory is understood as a universal property of humanity, it changes the way we look at fetal status and abortion. Let me explain.
Until sin shattered the world, the command to bear children was a command to bear “kings and queens.” The language of “subdue and rule” in Genesis 1:28 is language primarily used for kings, and/or the nations they rule (see 2 Sam. 8:11; 2 Chr. 28:10; Num. 24:19; 1 Kings 4:24; Pss. 72:8; 110:2). God is the first king, and Adam is the original “son of God” (Luke 3:38). As Genesis 1–2 recounts, God put the man in the Garden of Eden to be a royal king. Moreover, with his royal helpmate (Gen. 2:18–25), the first man and woman were commissioned to have children who would reflect the glory of God and spread the beauty of Eden throughout the world. That was the original plan—God’s glory would cover the earth as Adam and Eve ruled the world with their royal children.
Tragically, this plan was halted when sin entered the world (Rom. 5:12–19). God multiplied the pains of childbirth for the woman, cursed the ground in which the man labored, and subjected all humanity to the constant threat of death (Gen. 3:14–19). Long story short, what God had intended for good, man had upended for evil. And from Genesis 4 on, the marred image of God not only shed innocent blood (Gen. 4:1–7), redefined marriage (Gen. 4:19, 23), and repurposed sex (see Genesis 16, 19, 38), but they also began to prey on children. For example, the Law warns of imitating the nations, and explicitly applies this to killing children: “For they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods” (Deut. 12:31; cf. Jer. 7:30–34).
Returning to the Decalogue, the second commandment warned against worshiping images, but the fifth commandment forbade killing the image of God (Exod. 20:13). Previously, God told Noah that “whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Gen. 9:6).