Is there any single word that evokes more emotion and rancorous debate in our American culture than "abortion"? It has been the focus of governmental legislation, sophisticated legal argument, peaceful protests, and violent bombings.
The discussion has normally centered on whether the fetus is a human person and whether a woman has a right to make decisions about her own body. These are appropriate questions. Scientifically, the fetus is a genetically distinct human life with all the potential for personhood that any newborn infant has. Ethically, couples forfeit their "rights" when they assume responsibility for what they produce through sexual pleasure.
However, the primary problem with abortion is theological. We are not autonomous agents who create our own stories. Rather, we live within the framework of God's story. Our lives are not our own. Our task as human beings is to represent God in the world. We function as his co-regents and are called to reflect his character as we govern this world. Abortion undermines our role as human beings because it directly conflicts with the purposes and character of God.
In procreation we are co-creators with God. Sexual intimacy creates another for whom we are responsible. This other is God's blessing to sexual intimacy. God has "formed" the fetus in the womb just as he "formed" Adam out of the ground (cf. Jeremiah 1:5 with Genesis 2:7). Procreation is God's creative act through us by which he multiplies the human community for his own glory. When God blesses and forms another through our intimacy, we become stewards of God's gift. Abortion rejects God's blessing, destroys God's creative work and reverses God's purposes in creation itself.
Abortion is an assertion of human autonomy that not only rejects God's purposes and abdicates responsibility for God's gift, but it also reveals the ego-centered character of fallen humanity. It denies what the Gospel teaches. The ministry and death of Jesus calls us to self-sacrifice, benevolence for the weak and a willingness to serve rather than to be served. Abortion is an assertion of selfishness while the cross is God's testimony to his own selflessness.
God in Jesus Christ serves the weak, but abortion destroys the weak. God in Jesus Christ sacrificed all and abdicated his "rights" for others, but abortion kills another for convenience. "Abortion," wrote Karl Barth, is "the great modern sin" (Church Dogmatics, III, Part 4, p. 319) because it symbolizes the fundamental difference between God's merciful self-sacrifice for the weak and human self-interest that will sacrifice the weak for the sake of their own comfort.
Abortion is not merely the transgression of a biblical command ("do not murder"). It is more. It is an act of human arrogance that testifies to (1) the narcissism of human sinfulness, (2) humanity's rejection of God's purposes in creation, and (3) the refusal to represent God's cruciform character.
But praise God! His mercy extends to those who now seek his forgiveness for their lack of mercy in the past. Abortion is a sin, but God is merciful.
First appeared in HUGSR Bulletin 39.3 (May 1998), 1.