When our daughter-in-law announced she was pregnant, it never occurred to anyone to ask whether our son and his wife might possibly be expecting a goldfish. We all knew it would be a boy or a girl, because the genetic information supplied at conception was human, and in nine months’ time, it would produce a bouncy little baby as surely as the sun rises in the east.
On May 2, a leaked US Supreme Court draft majority opinion revealed that there was real possibility that the court might strike down the infamous 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion legal in the United States. On June 24, the US high court officially announced that the 1973 decision was indeed repealed. Not surprisingly, the left’s response has and continues to be swift, hysterical, and uncompromising.
When we learned of the Court’s decision, my wife and I were overcome with joy and gratefulness. We praised God, not only for the judicial integrity shown by the justices but most of all for the hundreds of thousands of lives who will be spared in the years to come. This is truly one of most significant decisions made by the Court in the last fifty years. Because of the extraordinary culture influence America still has, there is no telling how this decision will impact the rest of the world.
Is this a sign of a reversal of the culture of death we have been witnessing since the ‘60s? Let’s pray and hope it will be.
Why does such a demonstrably evil procedure (if you are not convinced it is, take a minute to imagine yourself about to be torn apart by a giant suction device) receive such zealous, near-religious devotion from so many people? While we must confess our inability to fully answer this question, let’s see if we can take a stab at it.
Modern science reveals that what is in the womb is anything but a clump of cells. From the moment of conception, the few cells that have been miraculously infused with life contain the information needed to produce a fully developed baby. What many people punctiliously call a fetus is infinitely more than a lump of flesh. Whether they realize it or not, those who say otherwise do so for reasons that are entirely ideological.
There are essentially two ways of looking at human beings. There are those who view men and women as having intrinsic worth and dignity. They see humans as infinitely beyond and above nature, and they view the three-pound brain as the greatest asset on earth. This is a supremely beautiful and world-changing idea, but historically speaking, a minority position that is unique to the Judeo-Christian worldview.
In contrast, there are those who see humans as parasites to be eradicated and humanity as an out-of-control evolutionary accident. At best, it is viewed as a commodity to be used, exploited, and discarded when circumstances require it. This, sadly, has been the default position throughout history.
The latter view sees no meaningful distinction between humans and animals. It’s all one and the same. If history teaches us anything, it is that human beings are the most expendable commodity there is. In the 20th century alone, about 100 million people were killed because some leaders had a utopian vision of the future. If implementing their great socialist vision required the death of tens of millions of men, women, and children, so be it; the price of doing business.
We in the West are of course above all that. War is something that belongs to a barbaric era that we have left behind. We are very proud of our human rights legacy. Winnipeg is home to a museum devoted to the enshrinement of human rights. A praiseworthy achievement of course, but in the end, perhaps somewhat overstated. There is one class of human beings that is absent from the museum and remains invisible; unworthy even of a little wooden display tucked in a forgotten corner of the museum. We are referring to the unborn.
If the lives of those we can see and hear can so readily be eliminated, how much more easily must it be for those who remain unseen and unheard.
In North America, those who have the misfortune of being in the womb face an extremely precarious situation. In 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada removed all restrictions on abortion. Since then, nearly three million infants have been terminated. In America, a little over 60 million unborn babies have been discarded since Roe v. Wade. In 2018, for example, the US reported about 3,800,000 births. In the same year, nearly 900,000 abortions were performed. That works out to about 19 percent of children in utero being terminated in those twelve months.
Globally, abortions are performed on a scale that defies imagination. In China, official data put the number of abortions at around 330 million (most of them girls) since the one-child policy was enacted in 1978. Worldwide, about forty million abortions are performed each year. That may not seem like much as a percentage of the world’s population; but, to put it into perspective, historians estimate that about sixty million people were killed during World War II. Why do we deplore the latter number but ignore the former?
If the lives of those we can see and hear can so readily be eliminated, how much more easily must it be for those who remain unseen and unheard. To declare that all lives matter is easy to say but much harder to believe and practice. And that is because there is always a “good” reason to sacrifice some lives to the ruling gods of the times. Ideology will trump human life every time.
There is only one BIG IDEA that guarantees the intrinsic worth and dignity of all human beings. The BIG IDEA is the concept of the image of God. The notion of the image of God is one of the most formidable concepts to ever appear in human history. The BIG IDEA arose in one place and one place only: the Jewish Torah, and more specifically the Genesis creation text.
The most foundational affirmation of the sanctity of human life is found in Genesis 1:27: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
It is so unprecedented and innovative that it represents one of the most amazing proofs of the divine origin of the text. With this in mind, there are a couple of extraordinary concepts we must highlight.
First, the text does not suggest, as might be expected, that the image of God only applied to the Hebrews; the declaration is universal. Second, the text does not say that the image of God characterizes males only. It unabashedly includes women. For a text that is often accused of being patriarchal, this is absolutely stunning. The Torah attributes this, the greatest of all human characteristics, to both men and women.
The expression does not primarily allude to divine attributes individual men and women may or may not have; the image qualifies humanity as a whole. It is the human species that is created in God’s image. The exceptional status and protection that the “image” confers on all human beings (Genesis 9:6) is not contingent on whether any one individual displays those moral characteristics that have traditionally been associated with the image of God.
Whether a person is a one-day old embryo or a comatose 95-year old woman is irrelevant. Every single human being is endowed with intrinsic worth and dignity simply on account of being human.
Individual men and women benefit from this special status simply by virtue of belonging to the human race. Whether a person is a one-day old embryo or a comatose 95-year old woman is irrelevant. Every single human being is endowed with intrinsic worth and dignity simply on account of being human.
The psalmist echoes the same truth in Psalm 8:4-5: “… what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.
This text, written centuries before the rise of modern science, speaks more truthfully about the fact of our humanity than the average biology textbook. It consigns the human race to the highest position in the cosmos, next only to God himself.
The incarnation of Jesus Christ represents the most dramatic statement pertaining to human dignity: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us (Jn. 1:14).
By becoming one of us, Christ brought infinite resolution to the notion of the image of God. When Christ became human, he transposed the concept of human dignity to an infinite scale that now compels us to extend its full weight to all stages of human existence.
For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed (Ps. 139:13-16).
Written by Pierre and Monika Gilbert
Pierre is an associate professor of Bible and Theology at Canadian Mennonite University.
Monika is a retired assistant teacher and happy mother of three children and two grandchildren.
1 Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the New Revised Standard Version (1989).
This article is the result of a joint effort of adaptation of two previously published articles authored by Pierre Gilbert:
1) “Life Before Birth: Reconsidering the Status of the Unborn,” NFLT Pamphlet Series, CCMBC; 2) “On the Relationship between Biblical and Systematic Theology.” In Direction 49 (2020):178-193.