Yesterday I mentioned that Christmas has a significant connection to the abortion debate. How so? Consider what we read in Psalm 139:13-16a, where the Old Testament King and Poet, David, writes: “13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, 16 your eyes saw my unformed body.”
We should always be cautious about creating theological views based on poetry, because poetry is notoriously difficult to interpret, mostly because it uses an economy of words and lots of figurative language. In other words, David is not writing a medical science treatise on human anatomy here. There is a major difference between a science textbook and a collection of poems. David is writing a work of poetic worship, and thus he doesn’t intend to tell us everything we might want to know about the human body.
But what about the soul? That is a theological concept. We can learn theology from the psalms, can’t we? Yes, but we also have to remember that because the psalms are worship songs, they were not originally written to give us detailed or intricate theological explanations. For instance, in verse 13, when David writes, “You created my inmost being,” is he talking about the body or the soul or both? We don’t know for sure, as this is poetry after all. Interestingly, the Hebrew word David uses for “inmost being” is literally, “kidneys,” which is really bizarre to our modern mind. Why would David care about the organ in the body that collects urine? Actually
David doesn’t care about that. Instead, he is using an ancient Hebrew idiom. An idiom is when we would say “2020 has been a dumpster fire of a year.” What do we mean? 2020 has been a really bad year. In the same way, David is not intending to talk about kidneys, but instead he is talking about our inner being, as the NIV translates it. Frequently, this word is actually translated “heart” in the Old Testament and often used along with “mind,” in verses that say, “God searches the heart and mind.” So while David is using a physical body part word, he is almost certainly talking about humanity’s immaterial part. Therefore David is teaching that God creates the immaterial part of us.
But what about the second part of verse 13, “You knit me together in my mother’s womb”? This doesn’t mean that God is at work specifically building the human body inside a mother’s womb. Instead, we know that God created the means whereby a human father and mother would create human babies. And we know that happens as cells grow and divide following the the information encoded in our DNA. Obviously, that scientific description is not what David meant. So what did David mean?
That God is a creative God. He is the creator. Furthermore, as David says, God is the creator in another way, he is the creator of the soul. Perhaps all David is trying to suggest is that at some point, the precise moment of which we may never know, God joins that soul with the body growing in the womb. In that sense, God is at work, creating the human. And therefore, a human is not just a body, but a body and a soul.
This is why Christians stand strongly against abortion. We don’t know for sure, but we believe that God is at work creating the human at the earlier stages of human growth, and we believe the earliest stage is the moment of conception. Therefore, we believe that abortion is a sin.
Also, because we are embodied souls, we don’t stop there in our beliefs about God’s concern for life and the sanctity of life. We are pro-life in a much wider sense! We are for life precisely because of our views about God’s creative work in both body and soul. Christians have strong theological reasoning, then, to be against killing of all kinds. Think about all the ways we should be pro-life. Pro-life means we don’t want people to be killed by gun violence. Pro-life means we don’t people to be killed by Covid. Pro-life means we don’t want people to be killed by war. Pro-life means we don’t want people to be killed by the death penalty. We see pro-life as tangentially related to issues beyond killing. For example, pro-life means we openly welcome the refugee and the orphan across our borders, but we do so in a way that preserves the family. Pro-life means we don’t want children to be separated from their parents. Because we believe God created humans as embodied souls, we choose to have a robust understanding of what it means to be pro-life.
It could be said that these are all political issues. I would counter that they are theological issues first. They are theological issues that have been politicized. We Christians must allow our theology to have priority over politics. When you think about these issues theologically, especially given the theology of the body, such that God is creator of the body, and that at Christmas we celebrate that God himself embodied flesh in the person of Jesus, these issues must be seen theologically first. To be pro-life is so much more than whether or not a law should be on the books banning abortion. To be pro-life is to understand how the God of life views all of life.