Upholding Human Life in the Image of God
On March 31, at Bryn-y-Groes Conference Centre, Bala in North Wales, the Associating Evangelical Churches of North Wales held a Day Conference on medical ethics. The speaker was Dr John Ling, a lecturer in the faculty of Biological Sciences at the University in Aberystwyth. He is the author of a new book entitled, Responding to the Culture of Death – A Primer of Bioethical Issues (ISBN 1 903087 26-0), published by Day One Publications, Epsom KT17 1JF, UK (firstname.lastname@example.org and www.dayone.co.uk).
Dr Ling said that in 1979 Francis Schaeffer and Everett Koop considered that abortion was the keystone issue of medical ethics. They were, and still are, entirely right. Unless, and until, you have worked out your stance on abortion, you will settle little else in this realm. Issues, such as IVF, cloning, surrogacy, etc., are secondary to it. The world in which we live deliberately puts to death its own children. There are one and a half million abortions in USA every year, half a million in Japan. In the UK, we have put to death 5 million since the 1967 legalisation of abortion. Men claim that good comes from it, both for the mother and the child. Our taxes pay for it and our votes support it, and if we say and do nothing, then our hearts and minds condone it.
Abortion is an emotive issue. Therefore, we should grasp two irrefutable facts. First, the latest official figures for abortions in the UK in 1999 were 183,250 – a number greater that the inhabitants of the second city of Wales, Swansea. That means that there are 580 abortions every working day. In Wales, the figure was 7,595 – that is, 24 a day in the Principality. They are like a lost generation. Consequently, schools have closed, and toy manufacturers have gone out of business.
The second irrefutable fact relates to what is aborted. Abortion takes the life of an unborn child – 50% of them are between 9 and 12 weeks after their conception. Such children have fingernails, eyes and ears. They move, swallow and suck their thumbs. Blood has been going through their veins for up to 9 weeks, and brainwaves have been detectable for 6 weeks. In the UK, it is permissible to abort up to 24 weeks. So, in one part of the hospital, staff are fighting for a 24-week-old baby’s life, while in another part of the hospital they are killing the same aged child. However, if a handicap is suspected it is legal to abort up to birth, that is, to 40 weeks. Those are the two irrefutable facts, over 183,000 abortions a year, of little unborn children. And this is happening in every hospital and clinic throughout the UK, where we live and work and worship.
So how can we think, speak and act as Christians? Our society has a cheap and a cheaper view of human life. This is the fruit of secular humanism. It is far too easy for us as believers to get caught up with the same mindset. It is much harder to offer some resistance, some critique of our society’s morals and behaviour while showing real charity to people who are in these dilemmas. Yet, we do have responsibilities to God, ourselves, one another, and to this sad, unbelieving world.
1. The Bible says that human life is unique and special.
The universe exists and has meaning and form because it was made by a personal, yet infinite, God. Some false religions have personal gods. Some false religions have infinite gods. Christianity alone has a personal and infinite God. The word for ‘created’ (bara) occurs at three key points in Genesis. In Genesis 1:1, we are told that God created the heavens and the earth. In v.21, we are told that God created conscious life, the creatures of land, sea and air. Then, in v.27, we are told of the creation of man by an act of this infinite and personal God. Man is distinct from all other forms of life. Man is therefore unique. Why? Because we are made in the image of God – this is the basis of our worth and dignity. We are not nothing. Scripture therefore gives us a high view of human life.
What happens when this truth is thrown out of the window? People believe themselves to be mere cogs in a mechanistic universe. Read Jean-Paul Sartre, Jacques Monod or Richard Dawkins – they claim that we are simply products of time and chance in an impersonal universe. Hence, there is no dignity, nothing special about men, women and children. This low view of human life has terrible consequences, such as, pornography, infanticide, abortion, human embryo experimentation, child sex abuse, euthanasia, etc. We should not be surprised at such depravity. It is inevitable, because our world has left behind the fact that we are made in God’s image.
Where has it all gone wrong? For more than 2,000 years, medical ethics and practice have been underpinned by a combination of the Hippocratic oath and the doctrines of Scripture. They established and maintained this high view of human life. The former said, ‘Do no patient any harm’ and specifically banned abortion and euthanasia, while the latter added the uncompromising Golden rule (Leviticus 19:18 and Matthew 22:39). These, and other of their precepts, allowed the development of a safe and wholesome medicine. But in the last fifty years, we have seen medicine go downhill. The Declaration of Geneva in 1948 had a high view of human life. Yet nowadays, it is assumed that, where abortion is legal, the doctor will provide it. This is the fruit of secular humanism. It is the pervading mindset. Man’s law rules and not God’s. Ethics are now man-centred and arbitrary, rather than God-centred and absolute. Those great adjectives of human life, like, unique, special and non-expendable have now been replaced by those like, cheap, trivial and disposable. Man in the image of God, the first 3 chapters of Genesis, must be foundational to our thinking and our whole response.
2. The Bible teaches that human life begins at conception.
What is the unborn child? Is it ‘one of us’? Our world is saying no. The human embryo and foetus are thought of as mere undifferentiated tissue, or ‘potential’ human beings that are somehow becoming one of us. Or, others say that human life starts at viability, at 23 weeks or so. Or, others say ‘sentience’ is crucial, or when the baby can begin to communicate with its environment – just a little time after birth. James Watson and Francis Crick, the Nobel prize-winning discoverers of the structure of DNA take that position. Naomi Wolf, one of the great US feminists, had energetically advocated a woman’s right to abort – “a foetus is nothing”. Then in 1994, she became pregnant and during morning sickness, day after day, her unthinking rhetoric collapsed as she faced the reality that “abortion stops a beating heart”.
The Scriptures are clearer than much of our society’s muddled thinking. Many verses show this: Genesis 25:21ff tells of Isaac praying for the birth of a child and the twins Esau and Jacob are conceived. These two babies, in the foreknowledge of God, were, in fact, to be two nations. Then Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” God knew us all before he formed us in our mothers’ wombs. We all have a pre-history. In the foreknowledge of God, it even began in eternity. Then Judges 13:6ff – Samson’s mother is foretold of the birth of a son by an angel. The woman is told not to eat and drink unclean food and wine because from conception, day one, she will be carrying the real Samson. Nothing forbidden was to cross the placenta and affect Samson. Psalm 51:5, “Surely I have been a sinner from birth”, that is, a sinner by practise. “Sinful from the time my mother conceived me”, that is, a sinner by nature. When did I become a sinner? The very moment that I entered the human race, not at 24 or 9 weeks, but at my conception. We are sinners by nature and then by practise. That sinful nature was ours from the time of our conception – that is when we began our human lives.
In the New Testament, the same themes are found. See Luke 1:39ff, where Mary greets Elizabeth and the baby leaps in Elizabeth’s womb at the sound of Mary’s greeting. Elizabeth is carrying the 24-week-old John the Baptist and he responds because he is in the presence of God the Son – as the two-week-old Christ-child in Mary’s womb. These are real, unborn boys. Again, in Matthew 1:20 there is something similar: the angel speaks and says, “what is conceived in her [Mary] is from the Holy Spirit.” When did the Son of God come to earth? It was 9 months before Bethlehem. Wesley wrote in his hymn, ‘Our God contracted to a span’, in fact, the Second Person of the Trinity was incarnated as a single cell. This is where the God-man began his earthly life and he spent the first 9 months of his earthly life in his mother’s womb. Just as we all did. That one cell was genetically unique and complete, all I required was nutrition. My physical attributes – colour of hair and eyes and height – were set there. At conception that cell, that zygote, started dividing – 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, and on and on, embryo, foetus, unborn child, born child, infant, teenager, young adult, old man. It is the continuum of human life. But it all began at conception. You were once a zygote, smaller than a full-stop at the end of a sentence in your Bible. Scripture and science agree – human life begins at conception.
3. The Scriptures forbid the taking of innocent human life.
Genesis 4 and Cain’s murder of his brother was an offence to God – it took the life of one made in His image. The Sixth commandment underlines the gravity of deliberately taking the life of another. Even the accidental killing of another was followed by a penalty (Numbers 35:6). Parapets were placed around the flat roofs of houses to prevent damage to those who bore the imago Dei (Deuteronomy 22:8). So the taking of innocent (meaning, without harm or crime) human life is a violation of God’s holy law. Some non-Christian arguments have their own strength:- i] The destroying of the life of an unborn child is a human rights issue. Everyone has the right to life. ii] We are to defend the weak. Speaking for those who cannot speak is good. iii] Abortion is bad medical practice. A doctor faced with a pregnant woman has two patients, he should not kill either of them. These secular arguments are persuasive, but for the Christian, with the truths of the Scriptures in his hand and the love of Christ in his heart, they become inexcusable and irresistible.
4. Christians are to have a special concern for the disabled and needy.
Secular humanism wants a world for ‘the big, the bright and the beautiful’. It has no time for the disabled, in fact, it wants to destroy them. It is the re-emergence of that old eugenics. Many support the detection and destruction of the handicapped. What is to be our thinking in this area? In Exodus 4:10ff, Moses says to God that he is not eloquent. God retorts, “Who gives man his mouth?”, etc. The handicapped child is still made in the image of God. There is much we do not understand today about an individual’s suffering, but we do know that ultimately it is God who makes some people particularly disabled. In John 9:1ff, Jesus makes that quite clear, that God made the man blind and that his blindness was for the glory of God. But such handicaps are only temporary. In Isaiah 35:5ff, the prophet says that in the day of the redeemed the eyes of the blind will be opened, etc.
But, who among us all is not handicapped? We are all physically and mentally handicapped in some way. Without doubt, sin has disabled us all. So, it is sub-Christian thinking to put certain people in a group with the label ‘handicapped’ and place ourselves outside that class. The great antidote is to think of Isaiah 52:14ff, leading into the prophetic passage of the death of the Messiah. The handicapped Saviour was disfigured and marred for us. Would we have been so appalled at the sight that we would have turned and run away from our Saviour? Therefore, we are to have a special concern for handicapped people. We are to protect and cherish all human life – whether it is pre-born, born, or approaching its natural end. May God give us the wisdom, energy and grace to do so.
SO WHAT CAN WE DO?
This is the great question of Psalm 11:3. There are at least five answers.
1. We must pray. Personal and corporate prayer is the precondition for a real work of God to change our own hearts, and those of decision-makers, political leaders, medical men and women. The list is as long as 1 Timothy 2:1ff.
2. We must educate. Start with yourself by reading simple leaflets, booklets and books on this theme. Change your attitudes to the handicapped, elderly, unborn, etc. Then you have a duty to educate your family and children. Check on your children’s sex education curriculum. Educate your church. We missed having some input in the 1967 abortion debate – shame on us! Watch the media and do not be naïve. Those attractive advertisements about pregnancy are usually fronts for the abortion industry. Learn to judge the media, especially women’s magazines, which are generally committed to supporting abortion, even the more ‘wholesome’ magazines, like Woman’s Own. Similarly, Woman’s Hour on the radio is by and large pro-abortion.
3. We must agitate. We are salt and light. When we stop struggling for the values of the Book, then non-Christian values win the day. We have the franchise. We should use it wisely. Meet your MPs. You can at least disabuse them that to be pro-life is to be cranky! They cannot be experts on all topics. Many will welcome sensible input. John Ling met a government minister a few weeks ago. He had voted for the cloning of human embryos because he had not sufficiently understood what was involved.
4. We must care. There is no credibility to anything we say or object to, unless we care. We can take action by helping the elderly, those with unwanted pregnancies, those who are infertile, those with disabled children, etc. Women who have had abortions may be suffering physically and almost certainly psychologically – they need care, support and love. We must not neglect such good works, which are our calling. Titus 2:14 says we should be “eager to do what is good.” Remember also Acts 20:35, Ephesians 2:10, Philippians 2:4, and so on.
5. We must join the struggle. There are pro-life groups in every part of the country. If not, start one near you – like LIFE, Care, or SPUC. Give of yourself, your time, energy and money – just one hour a week will see that letter written, that visit or phone call made. Such activities uphold the dignity and preciousness of all human life – all made in God’s image.
The second lecture at the Conference was on the medical ethics and consequences of human cloning, but all that information, and much, much more, can be found in John Ling’s splendid new book.
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