Writing the Final Chapter

Michael Metzger

Forty years ago Roe v. Wade was decided. Today, an average of 1,225 abortions are performed everyday in the U.S. Millions of Americans grieve over this atrocity. They pray Roe v. Wade will be overturned as thousands gather today in Washington to protest. The comfort is that God is writing the final chapter in this story.

Abortion is an ancient atrocity, especially for unwanted female babies. In I B.C., Hilarion wrote a letter to his pregnant wife Alis while he was out of town. If she had a boy before he made it home, “keep it,” he wrote, but “if a girl discard it.”1 The famed physician Hippocrates performed abortions. Tertullian described his tool kit as including “a copper needle or spike by which the actual death is managed.”2 Abortion was a leading cause of infertility as well as death among Roman women. It is an ancient worldwide tragedy that continues to this day. On average, a Russian woman undergoes seven abortions in her lifetime. Close to a quarter of all pregnancies in the U.S. end in abortion.

Given these statistics, it would be easy to lose hope. Christians shouldn’t, however. Heaven is for those who believe as well as those who can’t believe. Jesus said those who have the mental capacity to choose whether or not to believe in him are already judged, but not those who have never had the capacity to choose one way or another. “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (Jn. 3:18-19). For the mentally infirm as well as babies, either infants or aborted, God welcomes them into his kingdom if they die. He writes the final chapter.

The Jews understood this, as when King David’s infant son became deathly ill. David grieved, prayed, and fasted. Still, his son died. When David sensed his son had passed away, he ceased praying and asked for a meal. His servants were stunned. David asked why. “He is dead. Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him but he shall not return to me” (II Sam. 12:21-23). David knew he would one day rejoin his infant son in heaven.

In theological terms, the church has long held that individuals are saved by God’s judicial grace until such a time as they have sufficient capacities to accept or reject Christ’s payment for sin. It’s hard to say at precisely what age children became accountable. According to medieval theology, children became diminutive adults at the age of seven, the age of reason and accountability. Before this age, God judiciously applies Christ’s payment for sin to every individual, even though every individual is born in sin. It’s a paradox – justice and grace. It means abortion, while horrific, is not a reason to lose hope. God writes the final chapter of this tragic story, and it’s a redeeming one. Horror and hope fit together, even though it’s a bit of a paradox to us.

In many ways, science is beginning to catch up to scripture on recognizing these paradoxes. Dr. Sherwin Nuland teaches surgery and the history of medicine at Yale University. In his book How We Die: Reflections of Life’s Final Chapter, Nuland tells the heart-wrenching story of Katie Mason’s murder. In the chapter “Murder and Serenity,” Joan Mason takes her nine year-old daughter Katie and several of her playmates to a summer fair and briefly leaves Katie with the other mothers to visit a concession stand. Joan hears a commotion behind her and turns to see a large, disheveled man standing over the fallen Katie, a hunting knife about seven inches long pummeling furiously away at the little girl’s face and upper body.3 Katie did not survive the attack. She died of acute hemorrhage leading to hypovolemic shock. Nuland however notes that this means Katie’s final moments on earth were not filled with pain but serenity.

Katie died “in a state of apparent tranquility and release,” he writes. Science has learned that in traumatic moments, the human body self-generates endorphins – endogenous morphine – that create a sense of drowsiness and peace. Katie’s final moments on earth were filled with warmth and tranquility while gazing into her mother’s loving eyes. Joan saw it too, saying it was something like serenity. Later, she would write in her diary, “There was no look of pain in her eyes, but instead… it looked like a release.”

It’s a bit of a paradox how murder and serenity go together, but they do. It’s the same with horror and hope. Nuland, a confirmed skeptic, suspects that these paradoxes point to God’s existence. “I am not the first to wonder about the mysterious ways in which God is thought to work His inscrutable will. Nothing would please me more than proof of His existence, and of a blissful afterlife, too.”

Nothing would please Christians more than overturning Roe v. Wade. But we have to be careful that our expectations, or hopes, don’t lead us to despair. There is a blissful afterlife for aborted babies. It’s a paradox, as Christians grieve over tragedies like abortion, but we do not “grieve as do the rest who have no hope” (I Thess. 4:13). The final chapter is only being written. God is rescuing the hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of unborn babies who have been aborted. Of course, this doesn’t make abortion right. God calls his church to pray, protest, and marshal resources to abolish abortion, all without losing hope. Abortion is a heinous evil. The reality is that even if all efforts to overthrow Roe v. Wade fail, God wins in the end, as he is populating heaven with these murdered infants. Murder and serenity – a paradox much like horror and hope, since heaven is for those who believe as well as those who can’t believe.

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1 Naphtali Lewis, Life in Egypt under Roman Rule (Oxford: Clarendon, 1985), p. 54.
2 Tertullian, A Treatise on the Soul 25, 1989 ed.
3 Sherwin B. Nuland, How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter (New York: Knopf, 1994)

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5 thoughts on “Writing the Final Chapter”

  1. Thank you for that nuanced reminder: pray, hope, take action [lovingly], and do not despair. . . .

    Especially in these days, which seem ever to grow darker.

  2. This is a complex and thoughtful response to a difficult issue. I agree that this is a heinous act, and must be regarded as a sin. However, I’m not sure overthrowing Roe v. Wade is the answer. It seems to me that people are going to get abortions whether or not it is legal. And, if they get an abortion in a sub-par environment, the dangers to the woman are greatly increased.

    If the laws were rewritten to increase regulation of abortion, it may be possible to decrease the number while keeping them safe. I agree, however, with Ron Paul in that writing and passing laws does not change the hearts and minds of people. It is only culture that can change hearts and minds.

    This may just be another paradox within this issue…

  3. Mike Metzger

    Dear Adam:

    Thank you for writing. I appreciate it, however, I’m afraid that the paradox is not between laws banning abortion and the safety of the mother.

    If, as you say, abortion “must be regarded as sin,” can you name any instance in scripture where sin is to be tolerated or regulated rather than ruled to be wrong and forbidden?

    Furthermore, saying that some people are going to get abortions regardless of the law – and therefore we ought to ensure that they can get a safe abortion – is similar to saying that some people are going to murder others regardless of the law. Since we can’t stop them from doing so, we ought to at least ensure that the murderer is not harmed.

    The merit of any law is not based on its efficacy – whether it can be enforced – but on how it reflects the moral stance of a society. Roe v Wade is based on several spurious moral arguments, including a right to privacy that came out of thin air as well as the claim that abortion will reduce violence to children since “unwanted” babies will be aborted. Violence rates have in fact risen since 1973. In 1992, the Supreme Court upheld Roe v Wade, claiming we can’t be sure when life begins. The irony is that hunters are charged with manslaughter if they are unsure of a rustling noise yet fire a shot in the woods that unintentionally kills a human being. The hunter’s maxim is: if unsure, don’t shoot. The Supreme Court said: if unsure, go ahead and shoot anyway.

    Laws that make it getting an abortion more difficult are a step in the right direction. But Adam, we must be clear as to what is at stake here. The argument for safety seems to overlook how a human being is still murdered, regardless of the mother’s health. There is no paradox in this case between changing the law and the health of the mother.

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