A few years ago I came in contact with a Jesus I never knew before. Having grown up in the church and gotten saved at a young age, I figured I had my understanding of him down pretty well by now, but it ended up that I still had much to learn. And one of the perspectives of Jesus I had yet to learn more fully is this perspective we call pro-life.
Now like most Christians I know, I’ve always been pro-life towards abortion, but I never felt like I had to have much of an opinion on war, the death penalty, and violence in general. Sure, I wish we lived in a world where it all didn’t exist, but it does, so… “There’s that I guess,” was my general opinion.
I still remember a conversation I had in a Bible study while being an intern at the church I now pastor. Bin Laden had just been killed and while I remember being turned off at all the celebrating people were doing, I kind of figured he just got what was coming to him. As much as it disturbs me now, I shared that general opinion with the Bible study group, a few nodding their heads in agreement. “It just seems like there’s a point where death makes sense,” I said.
A few years after this, I started to more fully understand the Kingdom of Heaven, which is perhaps Jesus’ favorite and most-talked about subject. I began to comprehend its topsy-turvy, upside-downness. I started to realize that maybe Jesus truly meant the words that he said in the Sermon on the Mount. That the people who are really blessed are the ones we would call cursed. That being persecuted for righteousness sake is a good thing and that peacemakers are considered the sons of God.
Or that the meek are the ones who inherit the earth (Mt. 5:2-11). Most of the world inherits the earth through violence, but heaven’s way is through meekness. Just imagine walking up and knocking on someone’s door with your head hung low and your foot twisting into the ground, saying, “Hi. Can I have your house?” Apparently Heaven looks something like that.
It’s there in the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus goes on to clarify some of the Old Testament laws—that an eye for an eye and a tooth for tooth isn’t really how it works. Instead, turn the other cheek if they slap us. If they take us to court and sue us, give them more than they actually won in the trial. What a blessed place to be in the upside down world of heaven (Mt 5:38-42).
Jesus wraps up the entire Bible for us in one command: love God and love your neighbor. (Mk 12:28-34).
But what if we hate them? What if they hate us? What if they hurt us?
Well that’s cleared up, too: love your enemies (Mt 5:44).
You can’t do that with a shotgun to the face. In fact, you can’t do that with a gun at all.
Whenever a Christian takes on their body the capacity and the willingness in their heart to kill another human being, that, to me, is a serious moral and ethical crisis.
Jesus didn’t come to teach us how to morally use a gun, he showed us a Kingdom that had no use for it. And when one of his disciples cut an ear off of a guard ( my guess is he was probably trying to kill him as Peter was a fisherman, not a ninja) in attempts to protect the most innocent, sinless man to ever have walked on the face of the planet (He 4:15), Jesus just stuck the ear back on saying, “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword” (Mt 26:52).
From there, Jesus went on to the modern day electric chair, enduring the ancient form of capital punishment. Without much of a conversation at all, Jesus easily turned to the criminal on the cross next to him (a convict the court thought deserved to die) and basically said, “I’ll see you in Heaven” (Lk 23:39-43), but we today judge harsher than Jesus did and feel that grace and mercy is not reserved for certain individuals. So we sentence them to death. A lot of Christians are against abortion but for the death penalty. There’s a little bit of contradiction there.
You can’t reconcile being pro-life on abortion and pro-death on the death penalty.
But God has been trying to stop violence since the beginning. I was reading Genesis the other day and noticed something interesting. After Cain kills Abel, God does not condemn Cain to die. Instead, he gives Cain a mark that implied if anyone killed him, vengeance would be taken on them seven fold (Ge 4:15). A murderer will not be murdered. More death is not the solution. (Oddly enough, just a few days after reading this, I read a book that stated this very same story and made the very same point. After all the years of reading this passage and missing this, suddenly I was confronted with it twice in a few days.)
God is about life in all forms. He is about grace and mercy that never runs out. He has grace even for someone as bad as King Manasseh who caused God’s own people to do more horrible things than the other nations in the world at the time (2 Ch 33:9). But God waited patiently for someone as evil as him to change his ways, and when Manasseh turned to God, he began to undo the evil he caused (2 Ch 33:10-20).
God is not into violence. I have always found it odd that when David wants to build God a beautiful, sacred place to dwell in, God says no because “You have shed much blood and have waged great wars. You shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed so much blood before me on the earth” (1 Ch 22:8). Of course he loves David and accepts his repentance and gives him mercy, but his violent actions played a factor in God’s decision to have him build this place.
Christians are called to be pro-life in all things. Jesus assures us of this, even accepting death on a cross when he could have had angels wage war on earth (Mt 26:53)
So why did this understanding of Jesus make such a huge impact on my life? Because fighting violence with love is so radically different from the world’s way of doing things that it actually requires me to think and act differently in every moment—to understand that my life may actually be on the line means that my faith better really matter to me and that grace, mercy and forgiveness had better make a difference. So far, they’ve proved to do so.
In college I took a class on Christian ethics. Everyone’s justification for violence seemed weak to me. It was all based off what if’s. “What if someone comes into your house, rapes your grandma in front of you and then kills your children.”
Is that where you’re imagination goes? I refuse to live my life based off of fear like that. Jesus did not call us to live in anxiety (Mt 6:25-34).
The Kingdom way is not the easy way. It’s a bit of a narrow road to head down and only few people seem to traverse it (Mt 7:13-14), but it is the right road.
I think the most beautiful thing to me about all of this is that it doesn’t necessarily work by our standards and logic. We have to intentionally choose to embrace something that requires faith and trust. We have to avoid instinct. And because this concept is so foreign to us, we know that Jesus must have truly been from Heaven, because these are the rules and politics of somewhere else.
The way we are with each other is the truest test of our faith. How I treat a brother or sister from day to day, how I react to the sin-scarred wino on the street, how I respond to interruptions from people I dislike, how I deal with normal people in their normal confusion on a normal day may be a better indication of my reverence for life than the anti-abortion sticker on the bumper of my car. We are not pro-life simply because we are warding off death. We are pro-life to the extent that we are men and women for others—all others. To the extent that no human flesh is a stranger to us. To the extent that we can touch the hand of another in love. To the extent that for us there are no “others.”