Abortion and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil
Sanctity of Life Sunday
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden'?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
The modern secular world—the world which tries to remove God from his all-creating, all-sustaining, all-defining, all-governing place—has no choice but to make itself god and to create its own morality. In other words, when man abandons God and his self-revelation as the source of what is objectively true and right and beautiful, the next highest court of appeal is man himself.
If God is not the measure of what is true and right and beautiful, then I am and you are. And since we—the god called “you,” and the god called “me”—may not agree, the result will be: Might makes right. And everything in education, and media, and politics in this God-evicting world becomes a battle for power. Not a quest for objective truth and right and beauty, since there isn't any, but a power-struggle. Because the one who has the power, in a world without God, defines reality. Defines what is true. Defines what is right. Defines what is beautiful. And there is no court of appeal in heaven for the weak. Man is god. And the powerful man is god-Almighty—the maker of the truth, the inventor of what is right, and the definer of what is beautiful. And the bloodiest century in the history of the world—the twentieth century with its Stalin and Hitler and Mussolini and Milosevic and Pot and Amin and Mao and Sung and Hussein and the abortion industry—prove it with horrifying evidence.
The implications of God-dethroning secularism for abortion and genocide are huge, and we will come back to them in a moment. But first let's see how old this “modern” secular world is.
The Ancient Roots of Modern Secularism
In Genesis 2:16-17 it says, “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” What was the meaning of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”? It represented independence from God. There is nothing wrong with “the knowledge of good and evil” in itself—Genesis 3:22 says God has it: “Then the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.'” This was bad. Man was not to have it the way God had it. Now he has taken it.
In the creation story, to have “the knowledge of good and evil” means to claim the independent right to decide for oneself what is good and evil (true and false, ugly and beautiful). It was proper for God to have that, not man. God knew that it would be utterly devastating for man to cut the cord of dependence from God and claim “the knowledge of good and evil” for himself.” That is why he said, “Don't eat it. It will kill you.”
Indeed it has, in more ways than we know. And it is still killing us—spiritually and physically. All death is rooted in this insurrection. You see the insurrection beginning in the satanic temptation and fall in Genesis 3:1ff.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden'?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Yes, if you choose to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you will be saying, “I henceforth decide for myself what is true and right and beautiful.” That is what God does. God alone is the source of objective truth and right and beauty. But Satan says otherwise. Eat it. You will be like God. So true and so false! God is a flower of truth and right and beauty, and he has no roots and needs no water, no sunshine, no soil. He is absolutely self-sufficient. We are planted in God. We get all our water and light and nutrition from him. Yes, we can cut our stem and try to be like him. We can be our own source of life and light and truth and right and beauty. We can. And die.
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.
The first result of choosing to be god is the canyon between appearance and pretension. Now that I have chosen to be God, my non-godlike appearance is ridiculous. And humans have spent centuries with fine clothing (cool clothing) and make up and body-building trying to look less like the wreckage we are without God. The root of shame is the pretension to be god—the need to look invulnerable, self-sufficient, god-like (or goddess-like). The essence of the fall of Eve and Adam—and all of us in Adam—is the supreme pleasure we have in being independent, and deciding for ourselves what is true and right and beautiful, rather than finding supreme pleasure in God as the fountain of all that is true and right and beautiful. The essence of the fall is preferring to be god rather than enjoy God.
So the modern secular world is very old. It puts on new clothes from century to century, and we call it by different names. Recently: modernism, existentialism, secular humanism, postmodernism. But there is a common root they all share: God is dethroned, and the next highest court of appeal for truth and right and beauty is man—little, finite, fallible, mortal man.
Abortion: The Contemporary Scene
The implication of this for abortion is staggering. Before I make the link, let's be sure we feel the weight of what is happening. A conservative estimate of unborn babies killed in the world each year is 30 million—about a third of those in Russia . Romania is reported to have the highest abortion rate in the world (3 out of 4 pregnancies). In America , since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 made it legal to take the lives of an unborn baby for any reason, there have been about 43 million abortions. One baby aborted every 26 seconds, 151 every hour, 3,629 every day.
In Minnesota , from 1973 to 2002, 461,026 abortions were reported. There were 14,186 in 2002. 50% on women under age 24. 79% were unmarried. 40% has had an abortion before. 60% reported that the reason for their abortion was either economic or “does not want child at this time”.
The Link Between Abortion and the Dethronement of God
Here's the link between abortion and the modern secular world that began in the Garden of Eden. It's the word “want.”I do not want the child at this time.”
I used to think that if we could persuade abortionists that the fetus was a human child, and that they were killing children, they would stop. If we could show them, like Scott Klusendorf does (http://www.str.org) that there is no morally significant difference between a one-month-old baby and a preborn baby (S.L.E.D. Not size, not level of development, not environment, not dependence), they would stop doing abortions. But I talked to two abortionists that said they knew they were killing children and that they would not stop. It was the lesser of two evils. The worse evil was denying the “want” of the mother (call it “freedom”; call it “reproductive rights”). 1
So in these words—“I do not want a child at this time”—we are near the heart of the issue. At this time in American history, that is one of the most powerful sentences a person can speak: “I do not want a child at this time.” It's powerful, because in a world without God, and without submission to his will, the will—the “want”—of a mother has become the will of a god. I say it carefully and calmly and sadly: Our modern, secular, God-dethroning culture has endowed the will (the “want”) of a mother not just with sovereignty over her child, but with something vastly greater. We have endowed her will with the right and the power to create human personhood. When God is no longer the Creator of human personhood, endowing it with dignity and rights in his own image, we must take that role for him, and we have vested it in the will of the mother. She creates personhood.
Fetal Homicide Laws and “Might Makes Right”
In this sense: Minnesota , along with 33 other states (http://womensissues.about.com/cs/parentingfamily/a/aafetalhomicide.htm), has a fetal homicide law. A crime against a mother that injures or kills her unborn baby will be treated as a crime with two victims, not just one. We have seen several remarkable cases in Minnesota . In one case a man was convicted of assisting the suicide of his girlfriend and “inadvertently murdering the fetus during the commission of a felony.” The fetal homicide law caries a stiffer penalty than aiding a suicide, and could have required 12 years of prison for the fetal homicide. What was astonishing in this case is this sentence from the StarTribune : “The law makes it murder to kill an embryo or fetus intentionally, except in cases of abortion.”
That is an accurate sentence and should make us tremble. Why? Because it shows that in a world without God, the will of the strong creates (or nullifies) the personhood of the weak. How can there be a fetal homicide law that is not broken by abortion? Why is abortion not fetal homicide? There is one essential answer. In the case of the fetal homicide, the mother wants the baby. In the case of abortion, she does not. The will of the mother is god.
And the awesome thing is that we endow her will not just with sovereignty over her unborn baby, but with the authority to define it: If she wants it, it is a baby, a person. If she does not want it, it is not a baby, not a person.
In other words, in our laws we have now made room for some killing to be justified not on the basis of the rights or crimes of the one killed, but decisively on the basis of the will, the desire, of a stronger person. The decisive criterion of personhood and non-personhood, what is right and wrong, what is legal and what is illegal, is the will of the strong. Might makes right. Might makes personhood. Might makes legal. This is the ultimate statement of anarchy. It is the essence of the original insurrection against God, and against objective truth and right and beauty.
No culture can survive this kind of anarchical thinking indefinitely. Part of the remedy is to spread the truth: Might does not make right. Desire does not define duty. Wanting does not create worth. All of us know intuitively that if someone desires our destruction, that desire does not justify our murder. We know this. We should say it over and over again.
The Ultimate Remedy to This Issue: Salvation in Christ
But the remedy that goes most deeply to the heart of the issue is found back in Genesis 3. When the man blamed the woman and the woman blamed the serpent—the devil—God said these words to the serpent: “ I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15 ). This is the first great prophecy in the Bible of God's triumph over sin and Satan through the offspring of the woman, Jesus Christ.
This is why Paul said in Galatians 4 :4, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman [offspring of Eve], born under the law.” Born of a woman because he had promised: The offspring of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. That is what Jesus did when he came.
Listen very carefully now, especially you women and men who have had or supported abortion. God knew that Eve had sinned and turned her back on him. But when he spoke the promise, he did not say: The day will come when the seed of the serpent will crush woman for her sin. Almost immediately after Eve's God-dethroning sin, God makes her a means of salvation, not an object of judgment. The offspring of this woman will crush Satan. Jesus Christ died and rose again to forgive and reverse our love affair with being god instead of enjoying God.
I think God wants every woman, and every man, to take heart this morning that his offer to you is salvation, not judgment. The offspring of the woman, Jesus Christ, came into the world to save women who have dethroned God, taken his place, defined personhood as tissue, and willed the death of their own child. It can't be reversed, but it can be forgiven. That is why Christ died.
Every person listening to me now needs this salvation—men and women and children. Some only feel it more than others. And those who feel it most are most fortunate. Turn to Christ for forgiveness and embrace him as your Lord and the Treasure of your life.
If you think that your sin is too great, listen to the apostle Paul as he pleads with you not to lose heart: “ The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15 -16). God saved Paul, the murderer (Acts 9:1; 7:58 ), so that you would take heart and believe.
1 This perspective has recently been repeated by British senior advisor on medical ethics and a candidate for president of the United States. According to Sunday Telegraph, Professor John Harris, a member of the British Medical Association's ethics committee, said: “I don't think infanticide is always unjustifiable. I don't think it is plausible to think that there is any moral change that occurs during the journey down the birth canal. . . . People who think there is a difference between infanticide and late abortion have to ask the question: what has happened to the foetus in the time it takes to pass down the birth canal and into the world which changes its moral status? I don't think anything has happened in that time.” And Wesley Clark (http://www.crosswalk.com/news/weblogs/mohler/1240588.html?view=print), running for president of the United States , recently told the Manchester Union Leader that “Life begins with the mother's decision.”
©2013 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For Internet posting, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2013 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org