This is the fourth post from Shannon Dingle in a series on abortion and disability. If you’ve missed them, here are the links for our previous posts introducing the series, discussing statistics about abortions of children with prenatal diagnoses of Down syndrome, and challenging us to think about whether or not we truly value life after all if we’re not including people with disabilities in the life of the church.
And now let’s take a step back to consider what the Bible has to say about abortion, particularly as it relates to disability.
Watching the news, I think we’re getting the wrong idea about life. Friends, don’t you agree?
Issue of life – including but not limited to abortion and the lives of those with disabilities – are not primarily social issues, though there is obviously a social component. They are not primarily political issues, though laws and debates and court rulings bring them into that realm. They are not primarily justice issues or women’s issues or children’s issues or health issues or even disability or disability studies issues. When we begin to consider how we ought to view all life – born or preborn, with disability or without – the issue is primarily about God. So He is where we must turn to determine a sound gospel perspective on life.
In Genesis 1 and 2, we see that God is the source of all life, after all. Who else has a better perspective or foundation on this topic? As much as we value life, our stance is not based in the creation – people – but rather the Creator – God.
Let’s start with a foundational passage, for both disability and pro-life advocacy: Psalm 139:13-14.
“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.
God creates life in the womb. And no passage in scripture indicates that for those with disabilities His metaphorical needles slipped while us together. Each life is precious, from the conception onward.
As I shared in my last post, the rest of scripture isn’t silent on this issue. In Exodus 21:22-25, God lays out strict punishment – stricter even than what most states legislate now – for the assault of a pregnant woman that results in injury or death to her unborn child. In Leviticus and throughout the books of the prophets, the practice of sacrificing infants and children to false gods is decried. Jeremiah was consecrated by God as a prophet before he was born (Jeremiah 1:5). Job declares that God fashions us in the womb (Job 10:9-12; 31:15). In Psalm 125:3-5, Matthew 18:5-6, and Mark 9:36-37, the blessing and importance of children is made clear.
And science demonstrates this design of God’s as well from the womb. I used to support students with mild disabilities in public high school biology classes as an inclusion teacher, and we taught that upon the moment of biological conception – when egg and sperm join – the zygote formed has unique qualities separate from the two parent cells that joined to create it. Without interference or trauma, most will continue to develop in the womb and be born about 38 weeks later. A zygote has unique DNA, is able to reproduce through cell division, is highly organized, responds to its environment, uses energy, and is able to adapt to a certain extent. In other words, the fetus meets the criteria for life, except that it requires the body of a mother to develop until it can survive apart from her.
So what about those with disabilities?
First, let’s consider Exodus 4, verse 11, which is God’s response to Moses’ speech limitations: “Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?”
And in John 9:3, after being asked by the disciples if a man who was blind had sinner or if his parents had – as they had assumed that his blindness was the result of sin – Jesus said that the blindness occurred that the works of God might be displayed in this man. His answer is not about the person in whom the blindness was seen but rather the end to which it would lead.
God’s sovereignty – that is, His control of all things, even at times in which we cannot understand His reasons – is clear throughout scripture. So we must conclude that in every disability, whether genetically from the womb or circumstantially before, during or after birth or in an accident as an adult or infectiously through disease or as part of the earthly aging process or developing in some other way, God has a design and purpose for His glory and for the good of His people who love Him and are called according to His purpose. We find that truth in Romans 8:28.
What does that look like, though, especially when life’s circumstances don’t feel good? Well, for three years after I was first diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, I lived in disabling pain daily. Now, though it is managed well, I live with some minor physical limitation due to bone damage during that time. Meanwhile, we’re still living in the daily hard places of other diagnoses in our family, including complex trauma and cerebral palsy and HIV and epilepsy. There’s plenty of good too, but when my son had his first seizure in months last Friday night, it didn’t feel good. We’ve seen some of God’s good purposes in suffering, and we’re trusting Him with the parts that still seem unredeemable for now.
What other passages can be instructive for us on disability and life? Next, let’s consider a passage that isn’t about abortion directly but is very much about life. (After all, being pro-life extends to far more than just pregnancies or else we’d call ourselves pro-fetus, right?) James 4:2 says, “You desire and do not have, so you murder.” For many who abort a child with non-fatal disabilities, a child was indeed desired. While some of these are pregnancies in which abortion might have been considered anyway, most of the ones we’re talking about are ones in which a child without disabilities was desired but was not conceived. So they murder. Christ died that we might live, and abortion murders that we might live as we wish.
(Notes: (1) I am speaking here of the abortions following non-fatal prenatal diagnoses, so please understand that my position is not meant to address the complex and hard decisions parents and doctors must make in those situations. And (2) The word murder seems a little harsh here, but I chose it with care. Yes, murder is a sin. So were my actions this morning when I yelled at my husband in anger. So please know that I am too mired in my own sins to judge anyone else for theirs. If you have made the difficult choice of abortion in your past, be assured that there is no condemnation here! Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient to cover the penalty for all our sins. I praise God for that!)
Finally, the last argument given for aborting a child with a disability is that it would made life too hard for that child and for the rest of the family. For a biblical response to that, I turn to the words of John Knight, who writes occasionally at The Works of God blog and who has a son with multiple, severe disabilities who will require lifelong care. Let me close this post with his words from Valentine’s Day a few years ago:
“God does not abandon us. And not only are we not alone, but God has promised to supply every need (Philippians 4:19), that his plan is to benefit us (Jeremiah 29:11), Jesus himself will send a helper (John 14:16-17), God will comfort us (Psalm 71:20-21), and he has given us other people to encourage us (1 Thessalonians 5:11).” You see, God knows, and God sustains and supplies and provides, even when life is hard.”
I’m not saying it’s easy. It’s not much of the time. But as we examine all the passages relating to disability and life, one message stands out: we can do hard things because of great Love. Amen.
In addition to serving as a Key Ministry Church Consultant, Shannon Dingle is a co-founder of the Access Ministry at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC.
Interested in conferences and events where members of the Key Ministry team are presenting? Our website provides an up-to-date list of training events, including Shannon’s scheduled appearance at Evangelicals for Life in Washington, D.C., preceding the 2016 March for Life. We hope to see you in coming months at events in Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky and Washington, DC. Interested in having someone from Key Ministry present at your next conference? Send us some information through our Contact Us link and expect to hear from us soon!