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“Let the little children come to me”

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On reproduction, abortion, and the miracle of life

“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28, NRSV). When God spoke these words, men and women were cringing before deities they believed took pleasure in visiting pain and suffering upon them. In contrast, the God of Israel offered what many now view as a bizarre command: “Have kids! And lots of them!”

We aren’t potatoes. Human reproduction requires a high degree of initiative and is superbly titillating. Evidently, God intended for men and women to have lots of fun obeying this first of all the divine injunctions.

The Judeo-Christian God is a God of life. Unlike the vampiric Mesopotamian deities with an irresistible lust for human blood, Yahweh called men and women to embrace life, and to reproduce it enthusiastically, freely, and joyfully.

Death breaks in

The first couple obviously chose a different direction, for when the opportunity came to embrace the living God, they effected a sharp U-turn and, in the process, released a moral toxin that spread to them first and then to all of creation (Genesis 3:8–22; Romans 5:12; 8:20–22). The rest is history. Violence and death broke in on this now-cursed planet like a tidal wave.

In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis alludes to the fall as “the emergence of a new kind of man,” a mutated species that “sinned itself into existence” and has been snarling against God ever since (Colossians 1:21). If life is at the very heart of who God is, we, on the other hand, forever plunge toward an irresistible core of self-destruction.

Human life was to be treated as the most precious of all creation. But it became as cheap as snow in a never-ending Canadian winter.

Defining the problem

Lucky for us, not all is lost. According to some of the finest intellects of our time, we have all the tools needed to eradicate evil from our midst. Following the writing of 18th century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, many hold to the conviction that our present sorry state is simply the result of an unfortunate historical process waiting for the right government program to reverse it. They believe our tendency to give way to a death impulse isn’t really us – because just beneath the thin layer of mud that covers us, lies the eternal beauty of the human soul.

Christ has a radically different view of what’s wrong with humanity: “For out of the heart come evil intentions” says Matthew 15:19. It is there, in the darkest crevices of the human soul, pulsating and writhing, that evil dwells.

In Miracles, Lewis notes “that pantheism is in fact the permanent natural bent of the human mind.” What he means is that human beings have a natural proclivity to cut themselves off from the transcendent. This impulse is intrinsic to who we are and surreptitiously infects all human ideologies (Romans 1:18–32). Only Christianity, he adds, can effectively oppose the ever-demanding call to be one with nature.

What about the children?

But now that Christianity has almost entirely been eradicated from the public sphere, there’s precious little left to resist the gravitational force of death that holds us in its grip. The signs of the emerging culture of death are all around us.

Nihilism is omnipresent. As the French historian Pierre Chaunu observed a few decades ago, the Christian discourse on death and eternity has virtually vanished from our collective memory. We’ve lost all sense of the past and the future. The present is absolute.

One of the most glaring signs of this tragic truth is the legacy of ever-increasing government debt that will radically impoverish our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

And speaking of children, surely you’ve noticed there are fewer and fewer of them. The global birth rate is shrinking; most countries are either at population replacement levels or quickly falling well below. In places like Japan, Italy, Greece, and Russia, to name just a few, there’s already an abyss. The developed world is rapidly turning into a geriatric ward. Even China will not escape. As the ever-prophetic Canadian journalist Mark Steyn observes, China will become old before it becomes rich.

The cold, hard facts of abortion

If you’re not yet thoroughly convinced that we’re teetering on the edge of an existential black hole, consider Kermit Gosnell. Gosnell is an abortion provider recently convicted of murdering three babies born alive in an abortion clinic.

In the National Review, Steyn writes, “Medical assistant Adrienne Moton admitted Tuesday that she had cut the necks of at least 10 babies after they were delivered, as Gosnell had instructed her. Gosnell and another employee regularly snipped the spines to ensure fetal demise, she said. Moton sobbed as she recalled taking a cellphone photograph of one baby because he was bigger than any she had seen aborted before. She measured the fetus at nearly 30 weeks, and thought he could have survived, given his size and pinkish color. Gosnell later joked that the baby was so big he could have walked to the bus stop, she said.”

I can’t begin to do justice to the gruesome conditions that prevailed in Gosnell’s clinic. But here is what’s really odd about this case. Unless you’re an avid news junkie, you’ve probably never heard of the doctor. It wasn’t until Fox News political analyst Kirsten Powers virulently denounced the mainstream media for ignoring this case that journalists began to show some interest in the trial of the accused mass murderer. As Steyn notes, “This is a remarkable moment in American life: A man is killing actual living, gurgling, bouncing babies on an industrial scale – and it barely makes the papers.”

But surely Gosnell is an exception, an expression of a kind of evil that exists only in the darkest shadows of our great civilization. Sadly, no. This trial is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. While Gosnell’s actions and methods might be viewed by some as reprehensible on account of the in-your-face morbidity of it all, the reality is that our global village extends virtually no protection to unborn babies.

Around the world, abortions are performed on a scale that defies imagination. In the United States, there are approximately one million terminations a year. Since Roe V. Wade, a total of about 50 million unborn babies have been discarded. In Russia, the number of abortions now surpasses live births (about 1.3 million a year). In China, official data put the number of abortions at around 330 million since the one-child policy was enacted in 1978 (the majority of them girls). In 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada removed all restrictions on abortion. Since then, two million infants have been terminated. That works out to about 100,000 abortions a year; the equivalent of a city the size of Guelph, Ontario.

Can we imagine a greater act of injustice and brutality than the dismembering of a child simply because he or she had the misfortune to have been conceived in less than ideal circumstances? It is, in a sense, the ultimate act of violence: a death sentence imposed on a perfectly innocent human being.

And yet this blinding equation has virtually no traction in our society. And I think I know why. The deeper we sink into the death vortex that’s sucking us downward, the harder it becomes to see or feel real evil for what it really is. After a while, the unthinkable becomes the new norm. Even Christians can become ideologically colonized and co-opted by those I like to call “social engineers” (Lewis calls them “conditioners” in The Abolition of Man).

A Christian response

Can the church do anything to stem the tide of darkness rolling in? Yes!

First, the basics. No need to roll over and die. The resurrection of Christ is the proclamation that death will be vanquished in a surge of life (1 Corinthians 15). It’s not a question of if, but when. In this, we take hope and pray.

Second, the road to cultural redemption always starts with the individual. In this respect, the greatest contribution the church can make is to offer forgiveness in Christ to our generation. The kind of change we need to alter our society’s course can only come from a radical transformation of individual hearts and minds (Isaiah 6).

Third, Christians must seek to reoccupy the public sphere. We need to learn from such people as Baptist missionary William Carey, member of Parliament William Wilberforce, and Martin Luther King, Jr., who addressed the seminal issues of their time (respectively, the rite of sati, slavery, and racism) with clarity, courage, and passion.

“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” This is far more than an invitation to have enough children to pay for our retirement programs. These words represent a joyful call to value what God esteems most in the universe: human life.

Essay-author-imagePierre Gilbert is associate professor of Old Testament and theology at Canadian Mennonite University, associate dean with MBBS Canada at CMU, and author of Demons, Lies & Shadows (2008).

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3 comments

Kevin Bayne July 12, 2013 - 08:34

Thank you Pierre, for this insightful social commentary that is filled with hope and gospel truth! You have given us an example of how to do what you are calling for: speaking to the issues of our day with clarity and courage, seasoned with grace.

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Richard Peachey July 22, 2013 - 19:25

“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28, NRSV). When God spoke these words, men and women were cringing before deities….”

I read your first paragraph, found it to be obviously mistaken, and didn’t read any further. Genesis 1 describes the six days of creation, following which God evaluated his work and called it “very good.” There were no other deities, there was no cringing, and there were no (plural) men and women.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at such an article being published by an Old Testament professor in a magazine that questions “Were Adam and Eve real?”

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Pierre Gilbert July 23, 2013 - 14:10

A brief word of clarification. I specifically refer here to the words as received in the context of the creation account handed to the Hebrews in order to enable them to articulate a worldview that would more accurately reflect the nature of ultimate reality. When this text was written, ancient men and women men did indeed believe in multiple nature gods that had but little sympathy (to put it mildly) for human beings (as we can read in ancient Mesopotamian myths and other documents). As the golden calf episode illustrates, this observation would also apply to the Hebrew slaves who, it appears, had lost all knowledge of the living God in 400 years of captivity in Egypt.

As for the historicity of Adam and Eve, the author does indeed intend to present Adam and Eve as historical characters and not simply as literary archetypes (as suggested in the table of nations in chapter 10 and the further connection with patriarchal history in chapters 11 and 12). An interpretation that is confirmed by Paul in Romans 5 (for more details, see Gordon Wenham’s commentary on Genesis in the Word Biblical Commentary series and my article in Direction Journal here: http://www.directionjournal.org/41/1/he-never-meant-for-us-to-die-incursion.html.

Pierre Gilbert

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