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Reflections on Personal Discernment
The Abortion Issue, Part 2
by Bill Samuel
NOTE: This is part 2 (of 2) of a paper prepared in December 1993 (very slightly revised since) as part of my participation in the Spiritual Nurturer Program of the School of the Spirit. If you have not yet read Part 1, I suggest you do so before reading this part.
The Lesson From My Own Life
Another way I discern is by looking at how God has worked in my life. The story of how I came into this world definitely influences my position on abortion. When I was a fetus, the doctors were convinced that were I to live, I would be severely handicapped, both physically and mentally. My mother also had severe medical problems at the time of my birth. However, I turned out to be a very healthy baby, with no evident handicaps. My mother has lived an active life for decades since my birth. This demonstrates for me that what doctors or other experts "know" is not necessarily the truth. Our human understanding is always limited. And God's ability to redeem any situation is not limited by scientific laws. My mother's turning me over to God while I was in her womb made all the difference.
The arguments that abortion is justified in certain instances rest on assumptions based on human understanding about what will happen if abortion is not chosen. What the story of my life tells me is that these assumptions fail to account for the ways God can work. This lesson from my own life is confirmed by many stories I have heard and read of others.
The Test From Scripture
I believe it is wise to test our understandings with the written record contained in scripture. I recognize this is not easy and straightforward. Scripture does not speak directly to a current situation and may not say anything explicitly about certain issues. It is subject to interpretation, and we can easily mislead ourselves by twisting our interpretation of scripture to the desired result. Nevertheless, it provides a key reference point.
My own view of the Bible is that it is a record written by people inspired by God, filtered through their languages, cultures and experiences. The Bible also reflects a growth in understanding of how God works among us, and the New Testament reflects a fuller understanding than the Old for the most part.
In seeking to understand God's will on any matter through the scripture, we should avoid over-emphasis on one or two brief verses. Rather, we should look for the themes that run through the Bible, particularly through Jesus' teachings and the early church's understanding of the Christian message. We then apply scriptural principles to a particular matter. In using a particular text, we should examine whether our application of the text to the matter at issue is consistent with the central themes of scripture. And, finally, we must seek and test scriptural understanding with the Spirit that brought forth the scriptures, as Quakers have particularly emphasized over the years. Prayer is fundamental to the right use of scripture.
The Bible does not have any direct references to abortion. The scripture that comes to me when I prayerfully consider abortion is "...as you did it to one of the least of these...you did it to me." (Matthew 25:40, NRSV) This text is reliable as it is simply one of the most graphic statements of a theme that is repeated over and over in scripture. And it seems clear to me that an unborn child is a prime example of one of the least of these. The unborn child is powerless and dependent. An unborn child with severe genetic defects, a prime candidate for abortion, is particularly one of the least of these. My understanding of this scripture as applied to abortion is that each abortion is, in some sense, a crucifixion of Christ.
The various lists and references to the "least of these" in scripture do not include the unborn child. But I don't believe the Bible attempts to exhaustively provide such lists, so this does not indicate to me that including unborn children is stretching the meaning of the Biblical references.
There are several scriptural references to God's work with us before we are born. "For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb." (Psalm 139:13, NRSV) "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you...." (Jeremiah 1:5, NRSV) The story of Jesus's birth exemplifies God's love and knowledge of us before we are born. Jesus was conceived by an unmarried woman in humble circumstances; a situation that might justify abortion in many modern minds.
The theme running through this paper of God's understanding being different than human understanding is a major Biblical theme. "God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom...." (1 Corinthians 1:25, NRSV). We are called in live in Jesus' "upside down kingdom."
My own wrestling with the issue of abortion over the years has been important to my spiritual formation. It has led me to a position that is in contrast to that of many around me. Therefore, it has stimulated me to reflect on discernment, on the fundamental principles of my faith, and on my own faithfulness to God's call when it is easier to be silent or complicit in what I inwardly believe to be wrong in the sight of God. It has led me to focus on some key questions. Who is really in control? In whom (or what) do I put my faith?
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