Yesterday I posted a letter that drew a good response, so today I’m posting my own response to “Passionate.”
First here is what you say and it is very important for me to begin right here:
“Okay, here it is: I’m passionately committed to having all my theology and practice be based on Scripture, interpreted as the original authors would have intended it to be.”
I’m with you and our method is fine until we come to something — like abortion or prolonging life indefinitely with drugs or with machines or prolonging life through heart transplants and blood transfusions or the threat to God’s good world with nuclear war — that clearly isn’t discussed in the Bible because it was a document of its times (the point of my book Blue Parakeet). The Bible doesn’t address your issue directly because the biblical times didn’t have that kind of sophistication about this kind of issue.
Now a point, but briefly: we “apply” the Bible by discernment and not by treating the Bible as law. This is complex and it involves more than I can give here, but the discernment issue is very important.
Once we are dealing with something not directly addressed in the Bible, we are driven to make discernments the best that we can. I think our discernments can be confident but they must not be confused with what Scripture says directly (like “be holy”).
That means we don’t have “certainty” in this case but instead we have “discernment” anchored in faith and in the good guidance of God’s Spirit, always in the context of the community of faith. I’m nervous about doing this all alone, and the history of the Church clearly teaches us that discernment works best when we work with other Christians who share our general orientations. Discernment works in community.
So, when it comes to an issue like abortion we are driven by reality to discernment in light of Scripture rather than a judgment based on something clearly stated in Scripture. Those texts you quote …. well, those texts are not talking about “when does a fetus/etc become a human, an Eikon of God” but they are dealing with other things. Since these authors had no idea how humans formed, their words are metaphorical to some degree. In these cases, we begin from the big picture.
In this issue, what we (there’s a broad Christian consensus here) have discerned is based on one very big and very clear point made in the Bible: humans are Eikons of God, that is, they are made in God’s Image. This makes humans special beyond what any of us can fathom. This is rooted in Genesis 1:26-27 and 9:6 and then — and too many forget this — texts like 2 Cor 3:18-4:4 where we see that Jesus Christ is the (perfect) Eikon of God. Once we use this term “Eikon” for Jesus Christ, humans — you and I — are lifted from common creatures to something very, very special. To be an Eikon is to be like Christ, to be like God. (However you want to define “Eikon” you get back to one big, big idea: God made us like God. That’s a big enough platform on which we construct anything we have to say about abortion.) In my judgment, the gospel too is connected to our being Eikons [see my Embracing Grace: A Gospel for All of Us.]
So, humans are Eikons once they are conceived (RCs push this back to the sperm and egg more than to just conception so they are against birth control practices) because this is the “process” God has created for us to become co-creators with God in this wonderful world. We are fruitful and multiply — Genesis 1 again, that is we extend God’s creation when we reproduce. So, the very act of reproduction is part of the Eikon-forming process.
Eikons are sacred.
Abortion is therefore an act of irretrievable violence against the sacredness of Eikons whom God has made.
The Bible doesn’t say “Abortion is wrong.” The Bible gives us the raw materials to discern how to live out the gospel in our day.
There is much more to be said, and scientists have important insights in these very matters and I suspect we will be learning from the scientists about these issues, but what I’ve sketched is an approach through Scripture.
So, as some will inevitably ask, is there mercy for mothers in awful situations? Yes, of course. Should we pursue just laws to protect single mothers who are in need of assistance in order to carry the baby to term? Yes, by all means. For mothers who know their child’s life will be in jeopardy? Yes, of course. And if the government won’t help, may the Church pick up the slack. And there is mercy and grace for the mother who chose to abort. And these mothers, too, need to be listened to for what they have experienced in choosing to abort. In my judgment, we want to urge the mother to carry the baby to birth unless it jeopardizes her own
health life. And I hope and pray that mothers who cannot care for their child will pursue adoption for the baby.