Gleanings on the Sanctity of Life (Isaiah 49:1, 14-15)

Isaiah 49:1

Listen to me, O coastlands,
and give attention, you peoples from afar.
The Lord called me from the womb,
from the body of my mother he named my name.

Isaiah 49:14-15

But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me;
my Lord has forgotten me.”
Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.

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While reading this passage this morning, it struck me that Isaiah 49 is another chapter of scripture that gives us verses that evidence for us God’s view of children, even unborn children. In our Christian ethical debates regarding abortion, cloning, in vitro fertilization (IVF), embryonic stem cell research, and other such issues, it is wise for us to glean from the scripture any hints about how God describes human life in its formative moments.

What first caught my attention to apply this point in Isaiah 49 is what we read in verse 1. God describes Isaiah’s call in a very similar way to how he called Jeremiah. From the time when Isaiah was being formed in his mother’s womb, God had already called him to his particular life ministry. I often hear Jeremiah’s calling mentioned in this argument, but hear Isaiah’s much less often. Thus, this is a good verse to see to recognize that God consistently spoke to his prophets of setting them apart for ministry from the time when they were in their mother’s wombs. Clearly, God does not view developing human life in the womb as a simple mass of tissue, but rather as human beings with purpose and a role to play. God views children in the womb as people created in his image.

Then, in the same chapter, God uses one more image regarding children and their protection that I find interesting. While speaking to Israel about how the nation felt forsaken by God, God drew a very interesting picture. He asked the nation, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?” Clearly, God wants the people to respond with a resounding, “No, of course a woman would never forsake her nursing child. No way would a mother do that.” Of course, God follows this up by saying that even some women who have children do forsake them, but he is not like that.

While I recognize that neither of these passages are contextually about the sanctity of human life, both verses give us things to think about in the sanctity of human life discussion. Even as God tells Isaiah about the strength of his calling, God also lets us know that he sees babies in the womb as living people, created in his image and destined by him for a purpose. While God speaks to Israel about his faithfulness to the nation, he shows us that it is clearly neither right nor normal for a mother to forsake her child. He also uses the picture of a mother forsaking her child to demonstrate for us that, regardless of what evil humanity may do, God is not like that. God does not forsake his children. And thus, we can also see that, as believers, we must not ever side with any group or argument that would treat children in the womb as simple masses of tissue, or with any group that treats human life as something that mothers can or should forsake.

In each of the ethical debates that I mentioned above, the proponents of the practices very regularly fail to see human life in the womb as true life. These proponents, by missing that unborn children are really children, also lead people to forsake or even destroy these children. In abortion, this is clear, as unborn human children are put to death. In cloning, this is clear, because life is created and destroyed in a lab for the simple goal of scientific advance. In IVF, a very common practice is to create several living humans, while only implanting a few (a practice which leaves the remainder of fertilized eggs to either die or be left in a freezer in a lab somewhere). And, with embryonic stem cell research, scientists create and destroy living human beings for the sake of harvesting their cells for research and potential (maybe) future medical progress.

I am in no way calling Christians to go out and violently revolt against the scientists and the clinics. I am, however, wanting, as I read this text, to challenge believers to take this debate seriously. God is clear in his word that children in the womb are living people. God is clear that he is not the kind of person who would favor the forsaking or the destruction of such people. Therefore, as Christians, we must protect all human life in the womb, and oppose research and procedures that would potentially devalue or destroy such life.

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