Saturday, September 13, 2008

Welcoming and defending children

From Gilbert Meilaender:
[Christians] seek daily to learn how to see the whole of life in the light of God's creative and redemptive activity. The life of the child in the womb is God's creation, and that child is part of the world Christ came to redeem. The worth and dignity of the child's life are not therefore dependent on our evaluation -- on whether at any given moment we "want" that child. Indeed, both before and after birth parents' feelings may vacillate -- as they sometimes want and at other times do not want their children. That the rabbis understood this well is nicely captured in a few sentences by David Feldman:
The Bible prescribes that an offering be brought to the sanctuary by the woman following childbirth (Lev. 12:6). Its purpose, explains the Talmud, is to atone for a vow never meant to be kept: When birth pangs were severe, she presumably vowed "never again"; a while later she would forget that oath; satisfaction had dispelled anxiety.
Our continuing task, therefore, is to struggle to bring our judgments and feelings into accord with God's action -- to let our estimate of the child be shaped and formed by God's.

Seriously to attempt this is to learn our limits. We do not, ultimately, fashion the conditions of our life; rather, we live under God's mysterious but providential governance. The unexpected -- and even the unwanted -- events of life are occasions and opportunities for hearing the call of God and responding faithfully. Sometimes, perhaps often, this will mean that we take up tasks and burdens we had not anticipated or desired, and they in turn may bring a certain measure of suffering. Within the community of the church, of course, we ought to seek to bear each other's burdens, and too often we fail to do so. But even when we think we suffer alone, we do not, since God has taken that suffering into his own life.

To counsel the acceptance of the unwanted -- acceptance even of the suffering it brings -- is not to encourage mothers or fathers to be "victims." Rather, it is to call for the strength that virtuous action requires. One need not be a Christian to agree with Socrates that it is better to suffer evil than to do it, but certainly Christians should understand such a claim. If we seek to save ourselves by doing away with the child who is unwanted, we hand ourselves over to the destructive powers of the world in an attempt to avoid them, and we act as if those powers are ultimately worthy of our worship, as if they could save. We take our stand, it is sobering to realize, beside King Herod after he heard the news the Magi brought. That is not, I think, where, finally, we want to be.
From John Frame:
Arguably the unborn are the weakest, poorest, most helpless people that there are. They have no political or economic strength, not even voices to plead their own cause. They are under vicious attack today by the dominant forces of society: the educational establishment, the media, and the government, including the courts, which should be demanding justice. Even the most influential ethical thought of modern society stands against them.

And the most terrible part of this is that these children are under attack from their own mothers. God's plan is that the parents of a child should be his defenders. Our tradition regards a mother's love for her child as something very deep, indeed fierce in its defense of the child's life. The mother is the child's last line of defense. If the mother forsakes her child, who will help? Who indeed? Psalm 27:10 gives the answer: "My father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in." Isaiah speaks in horror about the possibility that a mother might forget her child. But, through Isaiah, God says, "Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you" (49:15). God is the helper of the poor, the husband of the widow, the father of the fatherless. He cares about those for whom the world has no care. And he calls his people to be his agents: "Seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause" (Isa. 1:17). The unborn represent humanity in its most helpless form, under merciless attack. They have, therefore, a unique claim upon the mercy of God's people.

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