To Abort or Not Abort?

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Q. A church sister’s non-Christian relative is pregnant. The doctor told her the baby has congenital heart disease and will be born blind. Even if the baby survives infancy she will have lots of health problems throughout her life. He advised her to abort the fetus. What is your pastoral advice?

A. This is a very difficult ethical issue, especially when the parents are unbelievers and not expected to accept biblical principles in making decisions. The doctor is looking at the burden on the parents who might be facing a “life sentence” in raising a child with so many problems. There is also the cost to society in paying for medical bills. Abortion seems to offer a convenient way out.

The sister knows the sanctity of life. Even though the child is going to be problem-prone, she is still made in the image of God. We know abortion is wrong when the considerations are the parents’ lifestyle and pocket-book, but what about the child’s health problems? How does quality of life factor in? And why would God allow something like this to happen? What good can possibly come out of it?

Since prenatal diagnosis are only possible with medical advances made within the last few decades, there are simply no biblical precedents as to what to do when we know the fetus is going to encounter problems. All we have to go on are biblical principles and contemporary examples of life having fantastic value despite suffering severe handicaps from birth.

I can think of Nick Vujicic, who was born without arms and legs, but became an evangelist sharing his message of hope to over 6 million people in 57 countries:
http://www.nickvujicic.com/
Or Patrick Henry Hughes, who was born without eyes and unable to fully straighten his arms and legs, making him unable to walk. But with his father’s help he overcame incredible odds and became a multi-instrumental musician and public speaker:
http://www.patrickhenryhughes.com/
Had their parents chosen abortion, the world would have been robbed of tremendous motivation which we all need.

The counter-argument is that most people are not like them, who many consider to be rare examples out-of-reach of ordinary folks. I agree they are our models in the minority, but there are many other less well-known folks who are fighting valiantly despite overwhelming odds against them. I recall cases of babies born without brains:
https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/doctors-wanted-to-abort-boy-who-grew-a-new-brain-parents-said-no-and-hes-no
In this case the heroes are the parents, whose faith sustained them.

What if the baby dies soon after birth? What’s the point in that heartbreak? Even then a super-brave mom sees the silver lining in donating the healthy organs to save other young lives:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/dad-writes-heartbreaking-tribute-to-wife-who-is-carrying-baby-without-brain-to-term_us_58ac892be4b06e5f777b2aa8
Of course I’m not the parents staring at a potentially bleak future, and unbelievers do not see the situation with a Christian worldview. But since I was asked I offer my humble opinion from a pastor’s perspective. Leave the life choice to God. He gives life in whatever form He chooses, only He has the right to take it. We ask for grace to carry through, as the brave parents have.

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Hacksaw Ridge and Thou Shall Not Kill

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This post is prompted by “Hacksaw Ridge“, but it’s not a review of the film, which is a fine movie. Although I differ from the main character Desmond Doss’ understanding of the sixth commandment “You shall not kill”, I admire his courage in singlehandedly saving the lives of 75 soldiers during WWII’s bloodiest Battle of Okinawa, for which he received the Medal of Honor for actions above and beyond the call of duty.

Doss was a conscientious objector (“CO”), a person who refuses to bear arms in a military conflict on religious or moral grounds. However, he wanted to serve his country in the armed forces, and joined as a medic to save lives, not to kill. He was also a Seventh Day Adventist, and refused to work on the Sabbath. Both convictions were misunderstood by fellow soldiers in his battalion, who viewed him as a coward and can’t be counted on to help when they needed him. So they persecuted him, both physically and verbally to try to get him to quit the army. But he stood firm, which nowadays many are not prepared to do, and for that he earned my respect.

My disagreement with COs and pacifists is with their interpretation of the 6th commandment, which appears 5 times in the Bible:
Ex 20:13 You shall not murder.
• Deut 5:17 You shall not murder.
• Mt 5:21 … ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’
• Mt 19:18 … “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER; …
• Rom 13:9 … YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, …

“Murder” translates the Hebrew word ratsach and Greek phoneuo.
Ratsach means to murder, slay, kill:
• premeditated,
• accidental,
• as avenger,
• slayer (intentional),
• assassinate.
Phoneuo also means to kill, slay, murder.

Although the older KJV and ASV chose “kill”, nearly all newer versions (e.g. ESV, HCSB, NASB, NET, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV etc.) chose “murder” as the more accurate rendering. This is because while God gave this commandment, He also ordered capital punishment and allowed going to a “just war” to defend one’s own country:
Ex 21:12 He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death.
• Num 35:16, 17, 18, 31 the murderer shall surely be put to death
• Num 35:19, 21 The blood avenger himself shall put the murderer to death; he shall put him to death when he meets him.
• Num 35:30 ‘If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death at the evidence of witnesses,
• Lev 24:17 If a man takes the life of any human being, he shall surely be put to death.
• Deut 19:21 Thus you shall not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
• Num 10:9 When you go to war in your land against the adversary who attacks you,
• Prov 20:18 Prepare plans by consultation, And make war by wise guidance.

If the 6th commandment prohibits killing, then God would be contradicting Himself, which He would never do. So by “you shall not kill” He must have meant the premeditated and intentional taking of a human life i.e. murder. That being the case, the CO’s refusal to bear arms to defend his country is not God’s requirement but his own preference. It’s his choice, and using the 6th commandment as justification is not warranted. Still, we commend Doss’ courage. We need more people with conviction like him.

“Silence” Reflections (2 of 2)

Or was it the voice of Satan?

Or was it the voice of Satan?

(Continued from yesterday)

More importantly, what does the Bible say? A few verses come to mind:

Mt 10:32-33 Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.
• Mt 26:34 Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you that this very night, before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” (See also Mt 26:75; Mk 14:30, 72; Lk 22:61; Jn 13:38)
• Heb 6:6 and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.
• Heb 10:29 How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?

The Lord Himself said He will deny whoever denies Him. Judas betrayed Jesus and was not forgiven; Peter denied Christ three times and yet was restored. For both to be true, there must be a point when a person denies Christ under duress, but not premeditatedly and maliciously, and had not gone to the stage where he tramples under foot the Son of God, beyond which it is impossible to renew him again to repentance. So can someone who had renounced Christ be forgiven and saved? Apparently yes, provided they are truly repentant and have not crossed the line of no return. Only God knows the condition of the heart, and whether that person had crossed that line by pushing away the out-stretched arms of Christ to pull him back.

With respect to the second question, we need to look beyond the immediate suffering to the broader consequences. Why did the inquisitor want the priest to apostate so much? For at least 2 reasons:
• Effect on the congregation – Mt 26:31 I WILL STRIKE DOWN THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEEP OF THE FLOCK SHALL BE SCATTERED. (Also Mk 14:27)
• Effect on the apostate – Mt 18:6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. (Also Mk 9:42; Lk 17:2)

The objective of the inquisitor, and Satan behind him, is to destroy the infant church by cutting its roots. If the priest apostatized, he will bring down not only himself, but many Christians with him. The devil would have killed two birds with one stone. At the very least, they would lose their crown of life:
Rev 2:10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.

To be tortured for one’s faith is a terrible thing, but throughout church history countless have experienced mockings, scourgings, chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about being destitute, afflicted, and ill-treated, but gained approval from God through their faith (Heb 11:36-37). Satan can kill the body but is unable to kill the soul, unless they apostatized and God destroys both soul and body in hell (Mt 10:28). So if I were the priest I would choose for their and my sake to persevere. I just pray that God will strengthen us to endure to the end.

“Silence” Reflections (1 of 2)

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We watched two movies over the weekend, both related to religious persecution. Both have the same lead actor and are directed by Catholic directors. The first is called “Silence“, based on a historical fiction about two Portuguese Jesuit priests in the 17th century who went to Japan in search of their mentor, who reportedly apostatized and converted to Buddhism. The second is called “Hacksaw Ridge“, based on a true story of a Seventh Day Adventist conscientious objector who joined the army as a medic and saved the lives of 75 soldiers during WWII’s battle of Okinawa. Both films grab your attention and are worth watching, but while the second was inspiring, the first was disturbing.

“Silence” referred to the silence of God when the Christians were under intense persecution by the local government to recant their faith or face torture and execution. The authorities captured the priests and forced them to renounce Christ by torturing and killing the Japanese Christians before their eyes. They cried out to God for deliverance and protection, but got only dead silence in response. I won’t spoil it for you by giving away the plot, but the haunting questions raised are:
• Are apostates “saved”? Can they be forgiven?
• What would you do if you were in the priests’ shoes? Would you deny Christ to save the peasants? Or would you hang on to your faith and watch them cruelly tortured and killed?

The film depicts the priest’s agony as he watched the farmers being tortured, but ultimately the novel’s author accepts apostasy as the lesser of two evils. The dialog of the Japanese inquisitor stressed stepping on the fumi-e (picture of Jesus) was only a formality. The apostates did not have to mean it. It was only a gesture for show to the authorities. One simple act on the part of the priest and the inquisitor would release the farmers being tortured. Isn’t that the humane thing to do? Wouldn’t any good priest do that? Not to do it was simply the priest’s pride. Wouldn’t Christ understand and forgive him?

All that was the inquisitor’s reasoning, from a human, temporal perspective, tormenting the farmers while using a soft approach on the priest to persuade him to commit apostasy. But what’s important is not what the inquisitor said or what the priest believed, but what God says. In convincing the priest, the inquisitor was literally the devil’s advocate. Since there is no truth in the devil as he is a liar and the father of lies (Jn 8:44), none of his representative’s words could be trusted. He duped the priest by saying it really did not matter, but what does everyone understand trampling the fumi-e to mean? Apostasy! More importantly, what does the Bible say?

(To be continued)

Discovering Your Purpose

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In my preparation for an upcoming workshop, I came across a diagram that neatly summarizes several considerations to determine a person’s life purpose. These 4 factors combine to help you find your raison d’être or reason for being:
1. What you love doing,
2. What the world needs,
3. What you can be paid for, and
4. What you are good at.

When what you love doing overlaps with what the world needs, you have discovered your life mission. When what the world needs matches what someone will pay for, you have found your vocation. When what you can be paid for coincides with what you are good at, you have identified your profession. When what you are good at overlaps with what you love doing, you have realized your passion. But when all 4 factors converge, you have discovered your purpose. That’s what you are uniquely designed to be and equipped to do. And when you work at that, not only will you be contented, fulfilled, and fully satisfied, you will also be blissful. Isn’t that wonderful!