Rachel Held Evans recently wrote a number of things about our public debates about contraception, and it is not my purpose to get into all that, not even to defend the admirable epithet Uncle Sugar. But she did say something near the end of her piece that I wanted to comment on because I think it is an example of how easy it is to take our increased scientific knowledge about human reproduction and apply it in precisely the wrong direction. She said this:
“The fact that a woman’s body naturally rejects hundreds of fertilized eggs in her lifetime raises some questions in my mind about where we draw the line regarding the personhood of a zygote. Do we count all those ‘natural abortions’ as deaths? Did those zygotes have souls? Will I meet them in heaven? Honestly, the more I learn about the reproductive system, the harder it becomes for me to adamantly insist that I know for sure the exact moment when life begins. And it’s even harder for me to insist that everyone else agree.”
But I don’t think this is the right conclusion to draw from our increased knowledge of the human reproductive system. It delights me that God brings all the great questions of life and death down to the razor thin issues. It delights me that there are human beings created in the image of the most high God who could fit on the head of a pin and not fall off. From the vantage point of the Almighty, the rest of us are not that much bigger. So every fertilized human egg will live forever, and every unfertilized egg won’t.
Put another way, a poet, one of your own, has said, “a person’s a person no matter how small.” The size of these tiny people only affects the clarity of the situation if we define the humanity of others on the basis of our limited eyesight. But why is the question of a soul connected to size, as though the naked eye were in charge of these things? Once the DNA strand is established, we can say any number of things about this person that we cannot say at all before that point, whether we are talking about about sperm or eggs. We can now say, for example, “it’s a girl,” or “blue eyes,” or “black skin.”
So yes, we count natural abortions as deaths. Yes, zygotes have souls. Yes, we will meet them in Heaven, provided we get there.
We live in a fallen world, and consequently there are natural abortions as a result. We also live in a world where children in the third trimester die. We live in a world where newborn children die. We all die because we are sons of Adam. Nature is not the standard because nature suffers under this bondage to decay, and will continue to do so until the sons of God are manifested to the world.
We have a world full of human beings here, and we are commanded to respect the image of God in them. God — in accordance with His good pleasure — decided to assemble each one of these human beings out of materials that did not used to be human beings. He made Adam out of dirt. He made Eve out of a rib that used to be dirt. He made Cain and Abel out of pears that grew on the trees to the east of Eden.
What this means is that we have to trust God, and do so while we are loving Him with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. This means we have to trust the will of God.
We have human beings here now, and we honor the image of God in them. These human beings are called, in biblical terminology, our neighbor.
So let’s walk it back. “Who is my neighbor?” — that’s a question that lawyers love to ask, and which Jesus answered for us. When did they become our neighbor? Yesterday? How about last week? Jump to the other end of this thought experiment, where we can also answer the question confidently. My neighbor is thirty years old, and I am thirty. Was that person my neighbor fifty years ago? How about a week later than that? Moving in from both directions, there is only one plausible moment for us to identify the creation of my neighbor.
He became my neighbor the very instant his father became his father. He became my neighbor the moment his mother conceived him. He became my neighbor when his God became his God. Let us honor him as such.