What Is Man?
Reflections on Abortion and Racial Reconciliation
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is thy name in all the earth, who hast displayed thy splendor above the heavens! From the mouth of infants and nursing babes thou hast established strength, because of thine adversaries, to make the enemy and the revengeful cease. When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou dost take thought of him? And the son of man, that thou dost care for him? Yet thou hast made him a little lower than God, and dost crown him with glory and majesty! Thou dost make him to rule over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes through the paths of the seas. O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is thy name in all the earth!
Connecting Abortion and Racial Alienation
I put before you this morning two massive realities in our world—one is abortion and one is racial alienation. My aim is not to dwell on the awful connections between these two realities—like the fact that the biggest abortion provider in the nation, Planned Parenthood, was founded by Margaret Sanger (died in 1966) whose driving principles were explicitly racist.
In her book, Women and the New Race, she wrote, "The most merciful thing a large family can do to one of its infant members is to kill it."1 She said in her book, The Pivot of Civilization, that the so-called "inferior races" were in fact "human weeds" and a "menace to civilization." She was a part of the Eugenics movement (inspired by Thomas Malthus) that wanted to purge the human race of "defectives, delinquents and dependents" through calculated birth control, including abortion.2
A Chronological and a Theological Reason
Profound and horrible things could be said about the interwoven evils of abortion and racism. But that is not my purpose this morning. My purpose for putting these two evils together this morning is first chronological and then mainly theological and biblical.
Chronologically Martin Luther King Day comes on the third Monday of January, and the Sanctity of Life Sunday comes on the Sunday after the anniversary of Roe v. Wade on January 22. In other words in the providence of God these two issues are forced together every year. That's the chronological reason.
The theological reason is the main point of the message this morning. These two issues are about God and about the nature of man created in the image of God. What we believe about God and his majesty, and what we believe about the meaning of being human in relation to God will make all the difference in the world how we think and act about abortion and racism—if we really believe what we say we believe.
Whatever personal imperfections Martin Luther King had—and there were some substantial ones—King's life and mission were driven by a biblically informed vision of God and man. In January of 1956 King was receiving 30 hate letters a day. He was averaging 25 obscene phone calls a day. Death threats were normal. After being awakened again by one of these calls in the middle of the night in Montgomery, Alabama, King went to the kitchen and put his head down on the table and prayed,
Oh, Lord, I'm down here trying to do what is right. But, Lord, I must confess that I'm weak now. I'm afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I can't face it alone.
He tells this story in his book Strength to Love, and says that what happened next was life-changing for him. It seemed as if an inner voice was speaking to him with quiet assurance:
Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And, lo, I will be with you, even unto the end of the world.
He saw lightening flash. He heard thunder roar. It was the voice of Jesus telling him still to fight on. And
he promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone. No never alone, No, never alone. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone . . .
For the first time in his life God was profoundly real and personal to him. The rest of his life, with all its imperfections, was stamped by this experience.3
Whatever one thinks of the Civil Rights movement or the Pro-Life Movement, one thing is undeniable, historically: they have been driven by a biblically informed vision of God and the meaning of being human in relation to God. That is the theological reason for putting these two realities together this morning.
A Biblical Vision of God and Man
What I want to do here is to bring a biblical vision of God and man to bear on these two evils of abortion and racial alienation. And then I want to draw out of this vision a truth that I pray will profoundly influence our lives for the sake of the unborn and for the sake of racial reconciliation.
The vision comes from Psalm 8. It can be put into words perhaps something like this: The majesty of God is great beyond words and worthy of our fervent worship and allegiance. And that majesty is manifest in the glory of God's supreme creation, human beings made in his image.
And the truth that I draw out of this vision of God and man is this: You cannot worship and glorify the majesty of God while treating his supreme creation with contempt.
The vision is that God is majestic above all the majesties of the universe and this majesty—though dimmed and besmirched and defiled by sin—shines in the glory of God's supreme creation, human beings. And the truth that flows from this vision is that we cannot worship and glorify the majesty of God while treating his supreme creation with contempt.
The Vision of God and Man in Psalm 8
Let's look at the text to see this vision and flesh out the truth. The psalm begins and ends with the same statement. That makes it the unmistakably main statement. Everything else serves this.
The Lord, Our Lord, Is Majestic in All the Earth
Verse 1: "O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is thy name in all the earth, who hast displayed thy splendor above the heavens! . . . 9 O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is thy name in all the earth!"
So the vision of God in this psalm is that he is LORD, Yahweh—the first "Lord" = Yahweh, the great I AM, the absolute God who simply IS without beginning and ending and utterly self-sufficient and free—O LORD! And the vision is that he is OUR lord—the God who makes a covenant with all who trust him, so that he becomes OURS. And the vision is that his name is majestic—his name = his true identity and character and nature and reputation, all that there is about him, is majestic and glorious. "IN ALL THE EARTH"—he is not a tribal god or a territorial deity; he is majestic and supreme over all the earth and his splendor is above the heavens.
God's Majesty Is Manifest in His Supreme Creation
That's the first part of the vision. The second part is found in verses 3–6:
When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou dost take thought of him? And the son of man, that thou dost care for him? Yet thou hast made him a little lower than God, and dost crown him with glory and majesty! Thou dost make him to rule over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet.
When Noël and I visited the Kennedy Space center on our anniversary trip to Florida a few weeks ago, we saw two of those huge IMAX films of the earth from space and of the incredible power of the shuttle launches. If I did not know God, I would be tempted to bow down and worship the men who created such things. And, of course, millions of humans do bow down, in one way or the other, and worship at the altar of human achievement.
But they are making the same mistake that you would make if you bowed down and worshiped a computer, failing to realize that a human being thought this up and designed it and made it. So it is when we bow down and worship human intelligence and creativity—we fail to realize that God thought up this human, God imagined us and designed us and made us, and we are as helpless without him as when a computer is unplugged. God alone is to be worshiped. That's the point of verses 1 and 9.
But verses 3–5 teach us that, as a means of worshiping God, it is fitting that I stand in awe of the achievements of the NASA scientists. God has crowned human beings with glory and majesty. GOD has put all that he has made under man's feet. GOD has made us lords of the earth, and perhaps of the planets. We have this role under God because God is utterly secure in his absolute majesty. We are as dependent on God as a computer is dependent on being plugged in.
So the vision of Psalm 8 is that God is majestic beyond words and his majesty is manifest in the glory of his supreme creation—the human being.
The Truth That Follows from This Vision
Now I hope you will agree from this psalm that the truth follows: You cannot worship and glorify the majesty of God while treating his supreme creation with contempt—whatever color or whatever age that creation might be.
- You cannot starve the aged human and glorify the majesty of God.
- You cannot dismember the unborn human and glorify the majesty of God.
- You cannot gas the Jewish human and glorify the majesty of God.
- You cannot lynch the black human and glorify the majesty of God.
- You cannot treat human pregnancy like a disease and glorify the majesty of God.
- You cannot treat the mixing of human races like a pestilence and glorify the majesty of God.
- You cannot worship and glorify the majesty of God while treating his supreme creation with contempt.
The next time someone asks you, "Why are you against abortion?" try answering, "Because no amount of inconvenience could ever justify treating the supreme creation of God with murderous contempt." And if someone asks you, "Why are you willing to stay in a racially changing neighborhood when the value of your house is plummeting?" try answering, "Because no amount of real estate value could ever justify treating the supreme creation of God with contempt." And then read them Psalm 8 and show them a vision of God and of what it means to be human. That may lift them higher in their thoughts than they have ever gone before.
Tonight we will focus, with William Pannell's help, on racial reconciliation and give it our full attention. So let me close with a brief focus this morning on the other issue: the value of the life of children—whatever color.
The Value of the Life of Children
Verse 2 is a remarkable verse in this regard. It says, "From the mouth of infants and nursing babes thou [God] hast established strength, because of thine adversaries, to make the enemy and the revengeful cease." Now there are a few unclear things in this verse. But let's take what seems to be fairly clear.
The verse says that God has adversaries, enemies, people who are revengeful. And the verse says that these adversaries are going to be stilled, silenced, made to cease. And the verse says that the means of God's triumph here over his adversaries is what comes out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies. Now how is it that what comes out of the mouth of nursing babes can put the adversary of God to naught?
Let me make a suggestion for you to consider. Verse 5, I think, gives the key. David asks in verse 4, "What is man?" What is this being called ADAM—man? And he answers, first, "Thou hast made him a little lower than God, and dost crown him with glory and majesty!" He answers: humans are made by God—"Thou hast made him." And he answers, secondly, that these beings whom God makes are made in a radically different category from the animals—"a little less than God [or "a little less than angels," elohim can mean that; cf. Hebrews 2:7]." And he answers, thirdly, that these beings created by God, a little less than angels, are crowed with glory and majesty.
Now connect that with the infant humans and nursing babes of verse 2. "From the mouth of infants and nursing babes thou [God] hast established strength, because of thine adversaries, to make the enemy and the revengeful cease." Why is it that what comes out of the mouth of these little humans has such strength that it can overcome the enemies of God? I think the answer is, at least in part, given by verse 5—these little ones are made by God. Job said in Job 31:15, "Did not he who made me in the womb make him [my servant], and the same one fashion us in the womb?"4 Little infants and sucking babes are each made by God in the womb.
Moreover they are made in the womb, like no other being, a little less than the angels, and they are made in the womb by God and crowned with glory and majesty. In other words, their supreme place in creation under God (or the angels) is so profound even at the stage of being sucklings that when they open their mouth to cry or to coo or to babble as a human being, they are bearing witness to their unspeakable dignity in creation and therefore to the majesty of God's name in all the earth. God does not wait until a sucking babe is rational and independent to ascribe to him the glory and majesty of verse 5—he doesn't have to be a NASA scientist. When the suckling opens his mouth, God is praised, strength is established by the sheer truth that a human creation in the image of the majestic God is here. Let all the adversaries of God take note and tremble. If they treat God's supreme creation with contempt, they will lose. They will be silenced.
And so I appeal to you, do not join with the adversaries of God in killing unborn children or scorning any race of human beings. Because the truth of this text stands sure: You cannot worship and glorify the majesty of God while treating his supreme creation with contempt.
1 Quoted in George Grant, Grand Illusions: The Legacy of Planned Parenthood (Brentwood, Tennessee: Wolgemuth and Hyatt, Publishers, Inc., 1988), p. 59.
2 Grand Illusions, p. 91.
3 Quoted from Stephen Oates, Let the Trumpet Sound: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. (New York: Mentor, Penguin Group, 1982), p. 85.
4 See Jeremiah 1:5 and Psalm 139:13 for other references to God's making the child in the womb. Also see Genesis 25:22 and compare Luke 1:41 and 2:12 to see how the Bible talks of the child in the womb with the same language as the child outside the womb.