This is post 6 of 10 in the series “TEN FOR OUR TIME”
Ten For Our Time: When Pro-Life Becomes Principle
Psalm 8, Matthew 5:21-22
Preaching is a matter of wrestling deeply with the text, of discovering what God truly has said, and then echoing that Word of God for others. Believe me, that is not easy. You see, the preaching of God’s Word is actually a kind of Bethlehem event. The Holy Spirit hovers over the one who brings forth the Word of God out of struggle and pain. If the word that is born is a true and holy word, then the angels sing—not because of the preacher but because of the holy thing that has been born. So preaching God’s Word is never easy. King David once said, “I will not offer to the Lord that which costs me nothing.” As a preacher then, I must never offer to the Lord or to you that which costs me nothing.
Today we approach the Sixth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” I want us to approach it with sensitivity of spirit, alertness of mind, and tenderness of heart. I want us to try to seek out the mind of God when this Commandment was first delivered and the mind of God for us now. And I would ask you to remember that this sermon has been especially hard to prepare. It grows out of deep struggle and pain on the part of this preacher. But perhaps, God willing, the angels may sing.
First, let’s look at what the Sixth Commandment says.
Most of our English translations list this particularly Commandment as “Thou shalt not kill.” But that is not really an accurate translation of the original Hebrew. The Hebrew word used in this Commandment is the word “rasah” which literally means “antisocial killing.” Therefore, the word is more accurately translated by the English word “murder.” So the Sixth Commandment denies the right of any person to take into his or her own hands, with harmful intent, the life of another person. We are commanded not to cross over another person’s right to live. By the use of the word “rasah” in this Commandment, it is quite clear that the Commandment does not prohibit the killing of plants and animals necessary for the preservation of human life. Furthermore, the Commandment clearly does not prohibit the killing of another human being in self-defense. But we are never, of our own accord, to harm another human life.
I want you to see that while the Commandment is stated in negative terms, it actually has a very positive message—namely that not only are we to refrain from harming other human life, we are also to do good to that life. This Commandment then speaks to us about the sacredness of humankind. The Bible does not speak about the sacredness of life; it speaks about the sacredness of humankind. You see life, in and of itself, is not that precious. It is good but it is not the highest good. Remember please, that Jesus said that “whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” Remember also that our salvation comes because Jesus did not value His life so much that He was unwilling to lay it down for us on the cross. Our whole hope of Glory rests in His dying. Therefore, as Christians, we value this life as a gift of God, but we know that this life is but a prelude to life everlasting. We know that death is not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning. Life in and of itself is not the highest good. The Sixth Commandment then is saying not that life is so great that a person may not be killed, but rather that people are so great that their lives may not be taken.
In Psalm 8, we read these words, “What is man that You are mindful of him, the son of man that You care for Him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.” That’s actually a mistaken translation. The accurate translation declares that God did not make us a little lower than the heavenly beings, the angels, instead He made us a little lower than Himself. We as human beings are made in the image of God. That is why God says, “Thou shalt not murder another human being.” And that is why Jesus says, “You have heard it said, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ but I say to you, ‘Do not even be angry with another.’” You see, we are commanded to revere other human beings both in action and in attitude. Not only must we never slay another person, but we must never in any way defame, degrade, or dehumanize another person. In Christ, we are called always to put people first. In Christ, we are called to be pro-life because we are pro-people. In Christ, we are called to do all that we can to enrich, ennoble, encourage, and enable human life. We are called to produce and protect human life not destroy it. We are called to stand squarely against anything that would stunt, or stifle, or smother humankind. That is the pro-life principle which I see so clearly in the Sixth Commandment and in the life of Jesus.
Now, let us look at what the Sixth Commandment means.
The application of this Commandment to life today is not easy because it embroils us in complex issues. I would never presume to have the final word in these matters—and I would never insist, or even imply, that you must agree with my own stance. However I must be faithful to the pro-life principle as I see it in the Sixth Commandment and in Jesus Christ. Therefore, for whatever it is worth, I will share some of my present reflections on the controversial issues of life and death in the hope that you then might be encouraged to examine your own beliefs with regard to these matters. I will take the issues one at a time. Hold on tight and struggle with me, please.
Abortion. Before I speak to this issue, let me acknowledge my own bias. I want you to know where I stand as I plead with you to listen to what I am trying to say beyond my personal opinions on this issue. In the first place, my very maleness makes it awkward for me to address an issue which affects men only indirectly. I want therefore to try to speak with special sensitivity toward those who are women. Also, I must tell you here at the outset that I am opposed to abortion for a number of very Biblical reasons and for one very personal reason. The three Edington children all were adopted. They were, thank God, born before 1973 when the Supreme Court legalized abortion on demand. Had those three children been conceived but a few years or a few months later, they most certainly would have been aborted—and I must tell you that this world would be much the poorer without those three wonderful kids of ours. So now that you know where I stand personally, let me address this issue from a larger perspective.
I want us to look at this matter with fresh eyes and with new information. Too often, the advocates of abortion argue that human life begins at birth, but what I find fascinating is that medical science itself is now beginning to force us to rethink the way we have regarded abortion. Science, specifically genetic research, now tells us quite conclusively that life actually begins at the moment of conception. One example. Doctor Jerome Lejeune, professor of genetics at the University of Rene Descartes in Paris has this to say. Listen:
Life has a very long history, but each individual has a very neat beginning—the moment of conception. The material link is the molecular thread of DNA in each reproductive cell. This ribbon, roughly one meter long, is cut into 23 pieces or chromosomes. As soon as the 23 paternally derived chromosomes are united through fertilization to the 23 maternal ones, the full genetic meeting necessary to express all the inborn qualities of the new individual is gathered. Everything is there that is reflected in full adulthood. Within 12 days, the neural system begins to develop. Within 18 days, the liny human being has its own heartbeat. After 40 days, it has measurable brain waves. At 60 days, it has hands, feet, toes, and a fully developed brain. The heart is beating at 150 beats per minute. Fingerprints can be detected. To accept the fact that after fertilization has taken place a new human being has come into being is no longer a matter of taste and opinion. Human life begins at conception.
That is scientific fact and more and more scientists are owning up to that truth. In addition to that, a new machine produced by General Electric called “4-D ultrasound” may do more to deter abortion than anything else we have seen up to now. This machine allows the mother very early in her pregnancy, in a clear, more moving, more powerful way, to see that the child conceived within her is in fact a human being with human life. Furthermore, scientific research is now revealing to us the profound psychological and spiritual problems created in women who consent to abortion: 66 percent of them report unrelieved guilt, 22 percent nightmares, 54 percent regret and remorse, 27 percent despair, 46 percent inability to forgive themselves, 57 percent depression, and 7 percent attempt suicide. Abortion is at best a monstrously agonizing business. And even more important than what science tells us is what Scripture tells us—that from the moment of conception that new human life is made in the image of God. It bears the stamp of God’s creative handiwork. Therefore, it cannot be denied the dignity which belongs to any child of God.
I applaud those who stand for the position that women are never to be regarded as possessions or pieces of property—I applaud that, but I also appeal to them to apply the same logic to an unborn child. That pre-born life cannot be treated as a piece of property. So, my friends, I am pro-life because under Jesus Christ I am pro-people. Therefore, I shall continue to preach against the moral arrogance of abortion which declares that because a human life is unwanted by someone, that human life ceases to have worth or protection. Furthermore, I shall continue to do all that I can to help women and men with problem pregnancies, deal with those situations in ways that build up rather than break down, in ways which preserve life rather than destroy it. That’s the message I find tucked away in the Sixth Commandment, where God says, “Thou shalt not kill.”
Euthanasia. Reverence for humankind also compels me to stand against euthanasia which some people euphemistically call “mercy killing.” Euthanasia is now gaining a wider acceptance in the world of which we are a part. The results will be nothing less than disastrous. For example Peter Singer, a professor at Princeton University, is now teaching that a child’s life does not begin until that child is ensconced in a home, and therefore children born defective or unwanted can simply be put to death before leaving the hospital. Furthermore, Singer says older people who have outlived their usefulness ought to suffer the same fate. Do you see where we are headed? God help us. Already in the Netherlands doctors are operating under what is being called the “Groningen University Hospital protocol.” That protocol officially allows doctors to euthanize children under twelve “if the doctors believe their suffering is intolerable or if they have an incurable illness.” That category of “incurable illness” includes non-fatal illnesses and disabilities. What’s even worse is that while the parent’s wishes in the matter may be taken under consideration, the actual decision rests with the doctors. This is either a low point or a point of no return.
Understand, please, that refraining from using heroic measures to pump air into lungs and blood into veins in order to artificially maintain biological functioning when brain death has occurred is not euthanasia. Euthanasia is making an arbitrary decision about when life may be taken away. Some say that incurable illness is just cause for considering euthanasia. I understand that. For the last eight years of her life, my mother suffered with Alzheimer’s disease and her death, when at last it came, was a blessed release for her. However, many diseases which were once incurable are curable now—and how do we know that next month or next year, we won’t find a cure for Alzheimer’s? Some say that intense suffering is just cause for euthanasia, but because of the great advances of medical science, we now know how to alleviate physical suffering in terminal situations, thus removing the necessity for considering euthanasia. Furthermore who is going to make such decisions? Who is going to set restrictions on such decisions? And who is going to carry them out? The whole matter would require such complicated safeguards and such unceasing vigilance that it would become both impossible and intolerable. More to the point, God says, “Thou shalt not kill.”
Capital Punishment. Though I am sensitive to differences of opinion on this matter, it is my own opinion based on my study of Scripture and my love for Jesus that I cannot justify capital punishment. Let me hasten to say that I do believe that we must be held accountable for the sins we commit in life. I will come back to that in a moment. However, I want you to hear my belief that the entire Gospel is built upon the power of the Holy Spirit in Jesus Christ to redeem a person’s life. Capital punishment, on the other hand, declares that some human beings are hopeless and beyond the reach of God’s grace. I opt for the Gospel. That does not mean the elimination of punishment for wrongdoing. We must always accept the consequences for the sins and the crimes we commit. For example, I believe that a capital offender—that is a murderer, a rapist (rape is an act of violence designed to destroy the spirit of a woman), or a child molester (crimes against children kill a portion of that child’s life)—these capital offenders should receive a life sentence with no possibility of parole ever. Furthermore, I believe that such convicted criminals should spend the rest of their lives at hard labor in order to repay in some way the injured parties and society in general. I love what Lew Smedes said, “The Lord personally spared the life of the original first-degree murderer, Cain, but Cain’s punishment lasted a lifetime.” You see if a murderer is put to death by the state, that removes the possibility that the Holy Spirit of God might ultimately win that murderer to faith and salvation. Understand me, please; coming to faith in Jesus Christ does not remove the consequences of the murderer’s sin. The murderer must spend the rest of his life in prison, permanently removed from society, but allowing that murderer to continue to live keeps open the possibility of God’s saving grace working in that person’s life for the life that is to come. By the way, some people suggest that capital punishment is a deterrent to crime, but there is no actual evidence to that effect. Some people say that capital punishment relieves a financial burden from the taxpayers, but the fact of the matter is that our present system of death row and capital punishment is infinitely more expensive than life in prison without parole. I love what our Presbyterian Westminster Confession of Faith says, “There is no sin so small but that it deserves damnation, and there is no sin so great that it can bring ultimate damnation upon those who repent.” But I love especially what God says, “Thou shalt not kill.”
This sermon has been hard. It has been painful. It is borne out of my love for Jesus, my love for the Bible, my love for you, my love for this world, and my love for the world that is to come. I pray that this sermon, by the power of the Holy Spirit, has been a true and holy word from the Lord for then, God willing, the angels will sing . . .