God is pro-life.
For some, that is so obvious as to be a self-evident cliche. For hundreds of millions of others, Christian and non-Christian, it is not at all evident. Countless numbers have been killed in the name of God, countless others by believers who see no moral dilemma in killing in a variety of situations. Even God is seen as a killer: “He took her from us,” “He needed him in Heaven,” and other statements indicating God has ended someone’s life.
It is worth reviewing where death comes from. Genesis relates that the original creation did not include death. It enters the world as a result of the rebellion into sin of Adam and Eve. In the restored creation portrayed in the Book of Revelation, death is abolished (see, for instance, Rev. 21:4). Even the sun never sets (see chapter 22). In short, death is the ultimate enemy of God, not his friend or servant. When Jesus triumphs with the Cross and Resurrection, he triumphs over death, “trampling down death by death.” The entire hope of the Christian believer is that the gift of life, won so dearly in the cosmic struggle on the Cross, is granted to us. Our baptism is a drowning of our sinful selves in the waters, and pulling us out with a new life.
The ethical teaching of Jesus is consistent with this. He expresses repeatedly that we should not harm others, but should assist them. It is a message of pro-active love. In no way is Jesus unrealistic about the world he has entered. In his kenosis, he is a volunteer in a sinful and violent environment. But his teaching points to a better way, even while he understands the inability of mankind to truly absorb the message.
We humans are indeed doing it our way, to quote the song. We are characteristically a violent, assaulting, bullying, conquering species, and at times, we even ascribe sponsorship of our destructive, sinful actions to God. Over the years, there have been many whose God was a bigger swaggering version of themselves, drunk on the grapes of wrath.
Can humans imagine a life without killing? We think we must kill to eat, we kill to rule, we kill to punish those who kill, we kill as population control in lieu of abstinence or contraception, we kill to express anger and hate, we kill because some are the “wrong” religion or ethnicity, and some just kill for the thrill or the hunt.
There are justifications. But Jesus doesn’t make it easy. Some interpret the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” to refer to murder but not warfare or criminal executions. When Jesus is done interpreting, even being angry is a breaking of the commandment. His message is that even hostility is wrong, so wrong that it disobeys the basic moral imperative of God. Life is sacred, and attacking it in any form is always wrong.
There is, therefore, no hope for those who see the action of killing as moral, even as mandated, except for them to throw themselves on the mercy of God, asking for his forgiveness. Can scenarios be constructed where it is even more wrong to refuse to kill? Morality in real life is often in murky gray areas, not crystal clear imperatives of noble right or evil wrong. There may be situations where not killing is even more wrong. But to recognize the evil of killing and its historic roots in the establishment of sin and ungodliness is essential in such a case. If a circumstance is so drastic that it is unavoidable to kill, it is still a matter for forgiveness. It is never a good thing.
To avoid actual killing is much more possible than our world generally acknowledges. Whole groups of Christians refuse to participate, Mennonites and Quakers for example. Gandhi and Martin Luther King arguably achieved more lasting results without violence than other revolutionaries with the gun. The Doukhobors take it to the next level of living without killing other creatures in order to eat. At the other extreme, the endless state-sponsored contemporary strife in the Middle East has achieved very little beyond death and misery for masses of people.
American Christians tend to define “pro-life” as a matter of saving the unborn. It is a worthy goal, even if so many fail to realize that moral change happens through persuasion and inspiration, not legislation and prohibition. But at the same time, the job to be done is so much bigger. The participation of Christians in a culture of death and destruction tends to negate the positive steps for life. The lack of concern for those identified by Jesus in Matthew 25, whether at home or where our nation has intruded, does the same. Even the terrible practices of the meat industry cannot be ignored.
Jesus came “for the life of the world” (John 6:51). He gives us the gift of life and victory over death, as only he is capable of doing. Yet in trying to reflect his love, as he has asked us to do, we are challenged to be fully pro-life ourselves.