Last week we addressed the issue of racial harmony and diversity and justice by offering eight biblical ways parents can help their children love people who are different from them. This week we address parents and the rest of us about how we can love those who are different from us, namely, don’t kill them.
Abortion and Disability
You may recall that I said last week that I would resist the urge to turn that sermon into a sermon about disabilities — even though racial differences and disability differences both tempt fallen human beings not to love, but to reject and exclude and belittle. This week I will not resist this urge. I am going to talk about abortion in relation to disability.
One of the great joys of my ministry has been to watch God raise up a “Disability Ministry” at Bethlehem, with Brenda Fischer as the Coordinator. I encourage you to go to the website and read about it. So I am speaking into a situation at our church where children and young adults and older people are living — living(!) — with significant physical and mental handicaps.
The Daily Earthquake of Abortion
Let me set up the situation we are facing in America and how today’s text relates to it. There are about 3,000 abortions a day in the United States and about 130,000 a day worldwide. Which means that the horrific, gut-wrenching reality of Haiti’s earthquake on January 12th happens everyday in the abortion clinics of the world. And it is likely that if the dismemberment and bloodshed and helplessness of 130,000 dead babies a day received as much media coverage as the earthquake victims have — rightly have(!) — there would be the same outcry and outpouring of effort to end the slaughter and relieve the suffering.
Americans have been giving 1.6 million dollars an hour for Haiti Relief for the last ten days — a beautiful thing. I hope you are part of it. It is so unbelievably easy to give with phones and computers. But the funding and resistance to the suffering of the silent, hidden destruction of the unborn is not so easy. So the 3,000 babies who are crushed to death every day in America by the earthquake of abortion go largely unnoticed.
No Moral or Spiritual Reason
Most of these babies are killed between 10 and 14 weeks of gestation, when the situation is, as they say, “optimal” for the complete dismemberment and evacuation. The babies usually look something like this.
“If it is wrong to kill a newborn, it is wrong to kill this baby in the womb.”
We have no reason to think that there is any morally or spiritually significant difference between this baby and a one-month-old outside the womb. All the differences are morally and spiritually negligible. If it is wrong to kill a newborn, it is wrong to kill this baby in the womb.
“Eugenics by Abortion”
The recent gains in prenatal testing have introduced the possibility to abort children with traits you don’t want in a child. So it is especially common in China to abort girls because of the coercive one-child rule. Most pro-choice people in America think that’s odious.
One writer said something very telling that takes me where I am going. He said, “You don’t have to be a feminist to know that being a girl is not a birth defect.” Huh? There are several tragic assumptions in that statement. One of them is that, if there is a birth defect, then abortion would be advisable. That is, in fact, where we have come as a society. George F. Will calls it “eugenics by abortion.” Eugenics is infamous as “the science of improving a human population by controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable heritable characteristics.”
So, for example, according to Dr. Brian Skotko, pediatric geneticist at Children’s Hospital in Boston, in a November 2009 article from ABC News, “An estimated 92 percent of all women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome choose to terminate their pregnancies.” This is true, even though, as Gary Bauer points out, there are many “waiting lists of couples ready to adopt children with Down syndrome.”
Eugenics with a Vengeance
This Friday the New York Times reported that “70 percent of Americans said they believe that women should be able to obtain a legal abortion if there is a strong chance of a serious defect in the baby.”
Wesley Smith wrote in the Weekly Standard in 2008,
With the development of prenatal genetic diagnosis, the drive toward eugenics has returned with a vengeance. Americans may heartily cheer participants in the Special Olympics, but we abort some 90 percent of all gestating infants diagnosed with genetic disabilities such as Down Syndrome, dwarfism, and spina bifida.
The Gospel for the Guilty
As a pastor, whose calling is to shepherd the flock of Bethlehem, by proclaiming the whole counsel of God in the Scriptures, I don’t feel a direct responsibility for what 70% of Americans think about the worth of children with disabilities. But I do feel a direct responsibility for what you believe about such children.
One estimate is that seventy percent of the women who get abortions in America are professing Christians. I know that many in this church have had abortions. And I don’t want you to feel overwhelmed by this message. The center of all we preach and believe is that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). The gospel of Jesus Christ is the best news in the world to women who are tempted to hate themselves for aborting a child. “For [your] sake God made Christ to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him [you] might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
God-Knit in the Womb
So my aim in this message is modest and, I think, explosive, if the church really took hold of it and lived it. The message is that God knits all the children together in their mothers’ wombs, and they are all — all of them of every degree of ability — conceived for the purpose of displaying the glory of God.
For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth. (Psalms 139:13–15)
How I would love to put in your hands today Krista Horning’s book, which Desiring God hopes to publish this March, about God’s great power and good purposes in the disabilities of the children of Bethlehem. It’s called Just the Way I Am. You will love it. Or you will hate it. One way to view this sermon is as an effort to get you to love it.
After Jesus’s Most Outlandish Claim
Let’s turn to John 9:1. Jesus had just said perhaps the most outlandish thing he ever said. He said in John 8:58, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” This was doubly outrageous. “Before Abraham was, I was,” would have been outrageous — a man claiming preexistence thousands of years ago. But what he said was, “Before Abraham was, I am.” He used the sacred name of God in Exodus 3:14, “I am who I am.” So he claimed to be God in the fullest sense.
They take up stones to stone him, but he goes out of the temple, and the next thing that happens is the encounter of a disabled man — a man who had been born disabled, blind. There is a connection between this man’s blindness and the reality that Jesus is God Almighty and the purpose of God in this man’s disability. Verses 1–3:
As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
A Wrong Deduction About Suffering
The disciples assume a direct correlation between a specific sin and the man’s disability. Either he sinned in the womb of his mother, or his parents sinned. Those are the two explanations the disciples can think of. This kind of thinking is not unlike the way Job’s three friends thought about suffering.
Jesus rejects both of them. He knows that suffering and sickness and disability and death are in the world because of sin (Romans 5:12–14; 8:18–25), but he rejects the explanation that specific disabilities correspond to specific sins.
Another Explanation: The Glory of God
Instead, he gives another explanation. The disciples were asking about the cause of this blindness. Jesus answers their question, but the answer he gives is not about the human who the blindness came from, but what it is leading to. In other words, Jesus says the cause of this disability is not past sin, but future effects.
Verse 3: Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” The cause of this man’s blindness is that God intended to display his work in the man.
Jesus, Always Doing More Than We Think
What is that work? Be careful with your answer. Jesus is always doing more than you think. In verses 4–5, Jesus continues,
“Jesus is always doing more than you think.”
We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.
This signals that something more is going on here than merely healing the man’s physical eyes so that he can see natural light. Jesus calls attention to the fact that he is the light this man needs to see. “I am the light of the world.” Which many blind people see, and many seeing people are blind to. Verses 6–7:
Having said these things, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.
Mere Physical Healing?
Yes, he came back seeing natural light. Is that enough? Is that what Jesus cares about most? Do you recall back in chapter 5 when Jesus healed the man who had been crippled for 38 years? The man stood up and walked. Was that the point — mere physical healing? Yes, I say “mere” in view the infinitely more important spiritual change needed.
So John 5:14 says, “Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.’” In other words, I healed you, yes. But I have tracked you down to make sure you know holiness is the main point. That’s the real healing. Go, sin no more.
The Ultimate Healing: Seeing Jesus’s Glory
Now here in chapter 9, Jesus does the same thing. Verses 35–38:
Jesus heard that they had cast him out [the man born blind], and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.”
Now we see all the connections between, “Before Abraham was, I am,” and blindness and healing and Jesus as the light of the world. Seeing the glory of Jesus as God and worshiping him was the main point. Jesus is the light of the world. Jesus is the “I am” who was here before Abraham. The most important thing is that the man sees the glory of Jesus and worship him. That is what he did. This was the ultimate healing.
God Has a Design in Every Disability
So when Jesus said in verse 3, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him,” this is the work of God — that the man see natural light and that the man see spiritual light. That the man be given natural eyes, and that he be given spiritual eyes. That he see the glory of this world, and the glory of its Maker, Jesus Christ. And worship him.
From this I conclude that in every disability, whether genetically from the womb, or circumstantially from an accident, or infectiously from a disease, God has a design, a purpose, for his own glory, and for the good of his people who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). Therefore, it is wrong to think that such children in the womb are unimportant, or without a unique, God-given worth in this world. And it is wrong to abort them — to kill them.
Answering Two Objections
Let me answer very briefly two objections. Someone might say, “But this blind man got his eyes and was able to benefit himself from the work of God. My child stayed blind.” Or someone may say, “My child never had the mental ability to process biblical truth about Jesus as the light of the world or wonder at ‘before Abraham was, I am.’”
That’s often true. And I don’t mean to say that the full scope of the work of God in the lives of the disabled always happens in this world. None of us is fully healed in this world. There will be a resurrection when Jesus “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:21).
And I don’t mean to say that in this world, the works of God will only benefit the one who has the disability. We can’t tell what is going in the mind and heart of many of the mentally disabled. Only God can. But the work of God through these disabilities in the lives of others — that is often the miracle. The works of faith and labors of love and steadfastness of hope are amazing works of God that put his all-satisfying glory on display in the lives of parents and brothers and sisters and friends and churches.
Design Even in Death
One other objection. Someone might say, “But these people all lived. Even Lazarus, though he died, lived again to bring glory to God (John 11:4, 40). So what about the disabled who die? Indeed what about any of us who die? Is dying the great triumph of the enemy?”
Or is death “swallowed up in victory?” Should we say, “Here the glory of God has ended?” Or should we say, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54–57)?
Is the death of the disabled meaningless? Or is this too appointed by God for the glory of his name?
Death for the Glory of God
The Gospel of John closes in chapter 21 with Jesus speaking to Simon Peter about this.
“Eugenics by abortion is an abomination to God.”
Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted [you were able bodied], but when you are old [and we could add, disabled], you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) (John 21:18–19)
God had appointed for Peter a disability in the end and a death for the glory of God. So I stand by the conclusion from John 9. In every disability, whether genetically from the womb, or circumstantially from an accident, or infectiously from a disease, God has a design, a purpose, for his own glory and for the good of his people who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). Therefore, it is wrong to think that such children in the womb — or out of the womb, or in their doddering old age — are unimportant, or without a unique, God-given worth in this world.
Eugenics by abortion is an abomination to God. In the name of Christ, don’t do it. And if you have done it, there is an advocate, Jesus Christ the righteous one (1 John 2:1). “Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43).