Listening to Lessons from the Unborn

Good theology can pop up in unexpected places.  One such place is the writing of Dr. Seuss, writer of children’s books.  My favourite theological work of his is How the Grinch Stole Christmas, a story of conversion and redemption.   I also like his pro-life treatise, though it is doubtful that he considered it to be such when he wrote it.  It is called Horton Hears a Who, and contains the theological assertion, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”  That would include tiny little persons living inside their mothers.   Or, in the more elegant words of our own Holy Synod in the OCA, “the unborn in the womb are already adorned with God’s image and likeness”.   The unborn and the newly-born, by the very fact of their being, can teach us a thing or two, and I would like to pass along two of these lessons.

First of all, the unborn teach us that we enter into this world already loved, wanted, and valued.  As my own dad always said, “Babies bring their love with them.”  I remember seeing a young baby wearing a little shirt bearing the words “Another little tax deduction”.  That is true, of course (thank you, Caesar), but it is not why the child is loved or valued.  No one loves the child because of its utility.  Babies cannot help cook the meals, or clean the house, or even clean themselves.  Strictly speaking, apart from such tax deductions, they have no immediate utilitarian value whatsoever.  We love them not because they are useful, but simply because they are.  They enter the world pre-loved, even though they may not be self-consciously aware of it (or of much else).  In cases of abortion, of course, there is, shall we say, a deficit of such parental love.  But even here they are still loved and valued, if not by their parents or by Planned Parenthood or others in the abortion industry, then by God Himself.  It is as the Psalmist sings:  “Though my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will take me up” (Ps. 27:10).  A Planned Parenthood slogan proclaims, “Every child a wanted child!”  As a matter of fact, every child is a wanted child, for God wants and loves every child conceived.

By this the unborn teach us that God loves every one of us regardless of our behaviour, loving the worst sinner equally along with the greatest saint.  That is because the source and quality of His love is not rooted in us, but in Him.  He loves not because of what He sees in us, but simply because He is love.  If we refuse to respond to this already given love and choose to spurn Him, doing what He hates and hurting our fellow man, we will receive no benefit from that love.  If we choose to love Him in return and strive to live in a way that pleases Him, then we will benefit from this love, and will save our souls.  But the love remains nonetheless.  As St. John famously said, “We love because He first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19).  We enter this world already loved; our task is simply to respond to it and love God in return.

The second thing that the unborn teach us is that we are completely dependent on others, starting with God.  People in the abortion debate sometimes talk about “the viability of the fetus”, debating when a child is capable of living life on its own outside the womb.  Is the fetus viable at 39 weeks?  At 35 weeks? Earlier?  But this debate, reasonable in medical terms, is misleading if translated into a theological principle.  For, strictly speaking, the baby is not viable even after a full term birth.  If the baby is not cared for, and fed, and kept warm, even outside the womb, then it will die—as will you and I.   If I am not cared for, and fed, and kept warm, I will die too.  We are none of us viable in that sense, for we are all mortal, and only survive because we are part of a vast network of mutual support.

Our culture values independence.  We admire the person who loudly proclaims, “I don’t depend on anybody for anything!” and who boasts of needing no one.  We can feed and clothe ourselves, we say; we are self-sustaining.  But these assertions hide the truth that in fact no one feeds himself.  The food that I eat every day is grown by someone else (called a farmer), and then processed by someone else (called a manufacturer), and then shipped to my store by yet someone else again (called a trucker), and then sold to me and put into my hands by yet another (called a retail worker).  Even the farmer who can grow and eat most of his own food is still dependent upon God for the sun and the rain.  We are all united, whether we acknowledge it or not, in a vast world-wide web of mutual inter-dependence.  I am viable and survive only because of others.

This is not simply true in the world, but in the Kingdom also.  God could have arranged the economy of salvation so that it was simply “me and Jesus”.  But He chose otherwise:  it is “me-in-the-Church and Jesus”.  Thus, to become born again and begin new life with God, I need to be baptized by others.  Then I need to receive Holy Communion from others.  I experience the saving and transforming Presence of Christ when I gather together with others, even if that gathering be as small as two or three people (Mt. 18:20).  I cannot be saved apart from the prayers of the Mother of God, and the apostles, and the saints, and the angels.  I cannot be saved apart from the prayers of the others in my local congregation.  We are all saved together, as we continue to worship together and pray together, both for the world and for each other.  That is why all the images of salvation in the Scriptures are so relentlessly corporate:  we are saved not as individuals, but as part of a people Israel; not as single sheep, but as a united flock; not on our own, but as citizens of a city—for when the Bride of the Lamb descends in beauty from heaven, it comes down as a city (Rev. 21:2).  And a city, of course, is a place where people live together in community, depending on one another for their daily needs.  We are dependent upon one another, both in creation and redemption.

Theology can indeed be found in unexpected places.  Our Lord, citing the Psalter, said that out of the mouths of babes, God has brought perfect praise (Mt. 21:16, Ps. 8:12).  He also has brought from there good theology as well.

5 comments:

  1. Dear Fr. Lawrence,
    I do agree that each human being born into this world has been and is created in the image and likeness of the eternal God. I also believe, nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God. People are loved by God and are infused with a will to survive and thrive in Creation. Many people are faced with many difficult choices that affect their very survival in ways many of us cannot even imagine. Sadly, some women chose to abstain from sexual encounters simply because there is no birth control available to them and they do not wish to have a baby. While still others cannot conceive because their bodies are unable or they do not have a sperm donor, i.e. a husband or intended husband who is capable. The Mary of Scripture found herself pregnant and laboured and brought forth what was conceived in her by God, not by her Don, her Bridegroom, in the fullness of time. The time was right for her to bring forth the Messias. Finding herself to be pregnant with God’s Word and infused with God’s Holy Spirit, the Immaculate woman know in Scripture as Mary and in tradition as the Madonna and the Theotokos took on the responsibility of bringing a new humanity to term. She could have kept quiet and said nothing. Much depended upon her Don, the angels, shepherds and magi. In addition, the time was right. In my opinion, part of an expectant mother’s responsibility is listening and responding to her own body and to the needs of her family in the context of their community welfare. A mother with six children already with no food in the cupboard and no loving companion and or relatives, would face a different choice. For the sake of her existing children and her own health she may find it necessary to say no to another “little” child and take birth control measures or abort that vulnerable “little” child trusting that God’s eternal love would keep the “little” child safe and create a different opportunity for the child to come fully alive at a better time in the future. For as Paul the Mother of the Gospel says in Romans 8: 38-39 “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I do not believe that murdering a child is ever justified by economic circumstances, especially when the possibility of adoption always presents itself. The question for any woman faced with such economic difficulties is: why would you not put up the child for adoption when so many couples are eager to give the child a life with the economic opportunities that you presently cannot?

      1. Well Fr. Lawrence, as a woman who has given birth to two babies, I would be heart broken to give up a baby for adoption, especially if I had two children. Adoption sounds like such a good alternative and it may be in many cases. Personally, I would find it extremely hard to part with a baby that has been part of me for nine months. However, I do not think “murder” is the best word to use if a mother chooses not to allow space in her womb for the full development of a baby. The baby, as an image and likeness of God not fully developed until the fullness of time, will not perish, should the mother give God the responsibility of finding another healty willing woman to nurture the baby to term and give birth to the baby. Birth control, should prevent unwanted and unplanned for pregnancies, but this is not always the case. In my opinion, women should have the choice to carry on with or terminate an unplanned or unexpected pregnancy without the guilt of “it’s murder” complicating their choice. The view that abortion is murder has been the unanimous view of the Church since its inception, as witnessed by such documents as the Didache, dating from around 100 A.D.

        1. Actually, murder is precisely the correct term for what the abortionist does to the child, since murder is defined as deliberate violent taking of innocent life. The baby within the womb after being destroyed by the abortionist does not later descend from heaven into someone else’s waiting womb, and Orthodox tradition is clear that such unborn persons are still fully “adorned with the image and likeness of God” prior to their birth (to quote the encyclical of our bishops on this topic). I agree that giving the child up for adoption is a difficult choice, but it is still preferable to murder. I suspect that when abortion is chosen as an option rather than adoption it is because this choice allows the pregnant mother to indulge the fantasy that the life within her is not fully human, and may therefore be disposed of without guilt. It is not so. We should have sympathy for women faced with such difficult choices and should not demonize them, but neither should we deny the enormity or guilt attending their act. The way forward for them as for anyone is through repentance, and they need to acknowledge their guilt before they can repent of it and be forgiven.

  2. Thank you Fr. Excellent article. In all love to a posted comment here, unless a woman is forced against her will, there is no such thing as an unplanned or unexpected pregnancy. Anytime we have intimate relations, even with the use of birth control, a pregnancy could occur. The idea that an early stage fetus is “not a person” and that it is done because “women have rights over their body” is an idea thrust on us women that is misleading. It still hurts deep inside knowing that we had taken a life and if that human being had been born and grown who they might have become and what they might have done in the world. Having worked for an adoption facilitator I can from experience say that it is far better for women who do not want to raise a child, are unable for economic reasons, etc. to bring the child into the world to be adopted. We matched birthmothers with adoptive parents based on what the birth mothers wanted for the child. Often, the birthmothers would receive information n photos of the child through a third party that enabled them to see that the child was doing well and that they’d made the right choice. Both they and the child were blessed. To say that one could not bear to give up a child and would instead terminate the life through abortion shows a self-centered brokenness that needs healing. It reminds me of King Solomon deciding the case of which of two women a baby belonged to. The woman that had stolen the baby said divide it with a sword while the birthmother said to let the other woman keep it in orderror to save it’s life. Lord have mercy on us all.

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