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.
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)