By William Willimon, Pastor, pages 99-100, Abingdon, 2002
Early in my ministry I arrived at a hospital room where a woman in my church had just given birth. I had been told that “there were problems with the birth.” A couple sat in the hospital room waiting for the doctor. The doctor appeared shortly after I arrived, and said to the new parents, “You have a new baby boy. But there are some problems. Your child has been born with Down Syndrome. Your baby also has a rather minor and correctable respiratory condition. My recommendation is for you to consider just letting nature take its course, and then in a few days there shouldn’t be a problem.”
The couple seemed confused by what the doctor told them.
“If the condition can be corrected, then we want it corrected,” said the husband. His wife immediately nodded in agreement.
“You must understand that studies show that parents who keep these children have a high incidence of marital distress and separation. Is it fair for you to bring this sort of suffering upon your other two children?” said the doctor.
At the mention of the word “suffering” it was as if the doctor finally began speaking the woman’s language. She said, “Our children have had every advantage in the world. They have really never known suffering, never had the opportunity to know it. I don’t know if God’s hand is in this or not, but I could certainly see why it would make sense for a child like this to be born into a family like ours. Our children will do just fine. When you think about it, this is really a great opportunity.”
The doctor looked confused. He abruptly departed, with me following him out into the hall. “Reverend, I hope that you can talk some reason into them,” said the doctor.
The couple was already using reason, but it was reasoning that was foreign to that of the doctor. For me, it was a vivid depiction of the way in which the church, at its best, is in the business of teaching a different language from that of the world. The church, through its stories, worship, and life together, teaches a different language whereby words like “suffering,” words that are unredeemably negative in our society, change their substance. Here was a couple that had listened to a peculiar story, namely the life and death of Jesus Christ, in which suffering could be reasonably redemptive…
In my own denomination (Methodist) there has been a debate raging for sometime between two groups over something called “abortion.” Who gave us this word? It was the same people who gave us words such as “appendectomy,” thus turning what might be described as a moral matter into a merely surgical procedure. One group argues that there is a “right to life.” Another group argues that we must do nothing that would deny “freedom of choice.”
Undeniably, these are positive, socially approved terms within our culture. We live in a culture of “rights.” A human being is defined as a bundle of rights, and the best society is that which gives me the maximum amount of space to exercise my rights. In such a society, even life itself becomes a “right.”
Likewise, we live in a society where freedom of choice is a supreme virtue. After the European Enlightenment, a human being is defined by choices. A human being without choices is less than a human being. The best human being has the maximum number of choices and the maximum amount of freedom to choose in this great supermarket of desire we call Western culture…
Unfortunately, both of these terms—”right to life” and “freedom of choice”—are at some odds the the language of Scripture. Where in the Bible do we find a “right to life”? In Scripture, life is not a right. Life is a gift. God gives life and God commandeers life and God takes life. Only the giver of life can be the taker of life. Our lives are not our own, rather they are accountable to the God who gave us life.
Furthermore, it is difficult to, find scriptural support for “freedom of choice.” Mary, Paul, Peter, Sarah—what was their “freedom of choice”? The story is concerned more with the free and sovereign choices of God, rather than the autonomous choices of people.
I Corinthians 6:19b-20a — You are not your own; you were bought at a price.
Matthew 26:39 — Going a little farther, Jesus fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Luke 1:38a — Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
–Jesus, Matthew 6:9b-10