When my wife was pregnant with our third daughter, we were told there was a high risk the baby would have Down Syndrome. We never considered abortion as an option because of our faith and desire to follow God’s ways. But fear of the unknown and grief that our child might not be “normal” gripped us. Yet through it all, we relied on God’s strength and grace to carry us through with the help of God’s people. Our daughter with Down Syndrome is now 12, and we thank God for her presence in our lives.
I used to think the Bible teaches that human life has physical and spiritual dimensions. The physical ends when we breathe our last, and the spiritual will last forever in either hell or heaven. I thought that was all there is to know on the subject.
Until I learned that the ancient Jewish worldview of the Bible had a more nuanced, complex view of life. The Bible sees life and death in relational and covenantal frameworks, not simply in physical and spiritual frameworks. As Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann explains, “Life and death do not have to do, in biblical perspective, simply with the state of the individual person but with the relation between the person and the community which identifies that person … life in the Bible means relatedness. Conversely death is to be unrelated” (The Bible Makes Sense, p.109).
Life, in the Bible, is relatedness. It is about belonging, body and soul, to God, and secondarily, to belong in a community. There is no genuine life, biblically speaking, without community, love, belonging, and relationships.
The Heidelberg Catechism points in this direction when it teaches that “by forbidding murder, God teaches us that he hates the root of murder: envy, hatred, anger, vindictiveness. In God’s sight all such are disguised forms of murder” (Q&A 106). It makes sense that these sins are the root of murder if life is relatedness; all these sins destroy relationships, they destroy love for each other. Hence, instead, “God tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves, to be patient, peace-loving, gentle, merciful, and friendly … to protect him from harm as much as we can, and to do good even to our enemies” (Q&A 107). The Catechism teaches us that the sixth commandment against murder goes beyond forbidding killing someone. It involves promoting love for neighbor, even for our enemies.
When I understand life this way, being pro-life takes on a wider meaning. To be biblically pro-life, rather than politically pro-life, we must be pro-relationships, pro-belonging, pro-love. To be pro-life is to be pro-love. We cannot simply be about preventing the physical killing of babies. We must promote ideas, attitudes, behaviors, and a culture that fosters belonging and love toward each other and God.
Therefore, it is inconsistent, even hypocritical, to advance a “pro-life” agenda through divisive, outrage-inducing, hate-mongering, and fear-mongering rhetoric and methods. The ends do not justify the means. We need to advance pro-life ends through pro-life and pro-love means. Yes, we need to be patient, peaceful, gentle, merciful, and friendly, even to those who are “pro-choice,” to those who might have undergone abortion, to those who might vote differently than us.
Let us follow the Catechism’s lead and prevent not only death and murder but let us just as diligently work to reduce the roots of murder—envy, hatred, anger, vengeance, all that destroys love and belonging—and promote love, patience, peace, and gentleness within us, among us, and in our world.