Sanctity of Life by Chuck Swindoll 1990
You might wonder how anyone could choose to have an abortion after reading what you just read in the previous chapter. The harsh reality, the scriptural facts, the undeniable statistics, and the sheer logic may seem formidable enough to restrain anyone from deciding to kill a helpless fetus. But whoever thinks that isn’t being realistic. Apart from church congregations and organizations that promote the pro-life position, this persuasion is not reflected in most high-profile settings.
How easy for mothers-to-be to weaken when clear thinking logic is removed. How easy for a woman to panic and opt for a “quick fix,” even though she may know intellectually that her decision lacks biblical or moral justification. The fact is, some decisions are made quite shortsightedly.
And when you think about it from her perspective, there really are many occasions when a woman could talk herself into an abortion. I am thinking of an intelligent 31-year-old career woman who has been offered her long-awaited dream in life, a management position that shows great promise. It shouldn’t take her too many years to hit the big time. She is sexually active, but she is not married. Three weeks after she has accepted the job of her lifetime, she discovers that she is pregnant. She is not ready either for marriage or for a child. Maternity leave is out of the question if she hopes to proceed with her new career. Too many adjustments . . . the boss couldn’t handle it. To make matters worse, her sexual partner urges her to escape all the hassle, “Get an abortion. I’ll pay for the whole thing,” he reasons. It makes good sense. Her future is on the line. She is all alone, away from her family. It will be so quick and absolutely private; no one would ever know. It’s nobody else’s business, anyway. Not surprisingly, she takes him up on his offer.
Another case would be the 17-year old high school senior who lets her passions get away from her on a winter weekend at a ski retreat. Shocked, she discovers in February before graduation in June
that she is going to have a baby. Her parents will never understand. His won’t either. The teenage girl is confused beyond description. Her boyfriend thinks that there is a way he may be able to scrape up enough money to help her with this problem. She thinks of trying to be a mother at eighteen or living with the stigma of an illegitimate child. Maybe she could slip away to some home and have the baby away from her familiar surroundings. But that would mean she wouldn’t graduate. Furthermore, she can kiss her university scholarship good-bye. Her boyfriend shows up with the money. He tells her he will drive her to the clinic and be there when it’s all over. She yields — naturally.
Or what about the 39-year-old mother of five whose husband has recently left her? It’s New Year’s Eve. She has too much to drink and spends the night with a guy she met at the party. After one sexual encounter she gets pregnant. The last thing she wants is another child. She can barely make it financially as it is . . . and now she learns that she is going to have another mouth to feed. To her the best answer is something she would not normally consider. After all, she is a fairly responsible single parent. But she has read the literature and listened to other ladies at work who lived through an abortion. “No problem, Doris. You just found out you’re pregnant. All the doctor will do is remove some fetal tissue and before you know it, you’re back on your feet. Be smart.” That settled it.
My hope in this chapter is to look at the other
side of what I wrote earlier. I want to help others to understand what it must be like to make a decision like I have just described in a moment of panic and fear. I also want to underscore the harsh realities of what can happen after the fact. What seemed like a quick fix isn’t that at all. How often women who chose to get an abortion look back on it years later and feel the horror, the regret in making a decision that seemed right at the moment but now, in light of the passing of years, it represents the low-water mark of their past. The shame is frequently so overwhelming; deep depression and thoughts of suicide won’t go away.
In this chapter I want to write to you who have had an abortion. I hope my words will help you. I also write to you who have aided in an abortion medically . . . or have encouraged someone you love to have an abortion, thinking it would help, and you realize now it did not.
A Story Worth Everyone’s Attention
Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in Barrington, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, has written a fine booklet entitled One Church’s Answer to Abortion. In it this fine minister relates a touching story, followed by counsel that is worth everyone’s attention.
I’ve talked to many women who say to me, “Please tell the truth to the women of the church. Abortion is not a quick fix. What accompanies the
‘quick fix’ may very well be a lifetime of regret — shadows, sinister thoughts, crippling dreams, and nightmares.” There are articles published almost monthly under such titles as “Paying the Price of Abortion” or “The Child I Will Never See.” But you don’t hear that kind of counsel coming from abortion clinic counselors.
Before I spoke on this topic in church, I received this note from a man: “When I heard you were going to speak on the topic of abortion, I just knew I had to write to you. This topic has crippled me more than any other subject. Right out of high school I got my girl friend pregnant. I insisted that she get an abortion. There’s a hundred reasons I could give why I took the actions I did, but they would all be lies. I settled for the quick fix — the easy way of avoiding the embarrassment of being found out. And you know what? That was a lie too. Yes, it avoided some embarrassment, but it was replaced by a different type of pain. The pain of remorse. Each spring when life is starting to bloom, there’s a renewed pain that my child could be adding another year . . . ”
Through genuine repentance, anyone can receive forgiveness from God. It is a marvelous healing gift to be claimed by everyone. But in my next breath I have to say that even though you are forgiven before God, you may still see and feel some scars. Don’t buy the lie that a quick fix has no long-term effects.
Little is said about the emotional trauma that accompanies an abortion, and seldom are warnings given about the medical complications that often
come as a result of an abortion. Statistics show that after an abortion has been performed, a woman faces increased possibility of future miscarriages, tubal pregnancies, premature births, and sterility.
Seldom will an abortion clinic counselor show prenatal pictures to a woman considering an abortion. If the baby can be referred to as tissue, it’s much easier to avoid any emotional attachment to it. But what would the results be if women were shown ultrasound pictures of a twelve-week-old baby who is kicking, curling his toes, rotating his feet and wrists, and making facial expressions? Most women would not abort babies — tissue masses maybe — but not babies. Abortion procedures are too gruesome to contemplate when the object is a baby. 13
A Desire for Understanding
In this second chapter, my hope is for understanding.
First, I want you to understand me. I am not soft on abortion. If you start to doubt that, just return to the things I wrote in the previous chapter. Nothing I write in this chapter is designed to take the edge off what I wrote earlier. My hope is to bring a needed balance between what could easily have come off earlier as uncaring, cold, and statistical. That was never my intention. But sometimes when I feel passionate about a subject, my zeal for truth can overshadow my compassion for the hurting. My hope is to communicate in this chapter the possibility of full recovery and a return to a life that is productive, fruitful, and free of guilt.
Second, I want the person who has had an abortion (or advised someone else to do so) to have an understanding of God’s response. Life not only can . . . it must go on. We live in an imperfect world. Disobedience happens on a daily basis. To require perfection of others or of ourselves is going too far. If I have learned anything in these three decades I have spent in the pastorate, it is that sin happens on a regular basis. In others’ lives and in my own life, disobedience occurs. Irresponsible actions following bad decisions take place even among good and wise people. And when it does, what I have discovered is the last person we are willing to forgive is ourselves. Most of us are readily willing to forgive another individual, certainly upon confession and repentance, but though we may confess and repent of our own wrongdoing, we put ourselves under such a cloud of shame, we enter into unproductive years by refusing to take God at His Word and accept His full forgiveness. My desire is that the person who has made a regrettable decision and acted independently of God’s counsel will find hope to go on. There is a tomorrow.
General Facts from God’s Relevant Word
I want to draw from the Scripture four statements that you can know for a fact, that you can rely on and ultimately act on. These facts are not limited to the sin of abortion, but they certainly would include it.
Fact one: Sin is sin, and we all commit it. The categories are numerous and the reasons we do these
sins are also numerous. In its most basic sense, sin is missing the mark. It is failing to obey the truth. According to God’s Book, all of us are guilty:
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
Every person who will ever read my words knows the personal reality and agony of that verse. All of us indeed have sinned. Even the godly, the righteous, the well-meaning will periodically sin. Not until we are removed from this earth, glorified, and ushered into the presence of our Lord in eternity after death will we stop sinning. As long as we are in existence, breath is in our lungs, and life is on this planet, we will continue to disobey. That means every one of us.
The Lord has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one (Psalm 14:2-3).
If I may paraphrase it, certainly it would have in mind, “There is no one who continually and without interruption does only good.” We all know the awful experience of failure and wrong and disobedience. It is long-term in all our lives.
The wicked are estranged from the womb; those who speak lies go astray from birth (Psalm 58:3).
I hold our precious little grandchildren in my arms and I look into their adorable, cupidlike faces and I have to force myself to remember that each one is a sinner. As a grandfather, I find that a little difficult to believe . . . until we baby-sit, then I know each one has a very strong will. Behind that adorable face and that precious life is a nature that is estranged from God since each one was born. They may begin life as sweet, innocent infants, but it isn’t long before they demonstrate a sinful nature. Interestingly, no child ever needs to be taught how to disobey. We all sin. We have. We do. We shall. Sin is sin. And we’ve all committed it.
Fact two: God is grieved but never surprised or shocked by our disobedience.
As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust (Psalm 103:12-14).
When God holds us in His arms, looking deeply into our faces, and sees our tears of repentance, regret, sadness, and sorrow, He understands. He sees behind the beauty of our gifts and beyond the contribution of our lives as He acknowledges the reality of our sins. He hears our confessions. And without once winking at our sins or passing them off glibly, He understands our makeup. He remembers that we are mere dust.
I’ve often thought of the great contrast within gifted, great lives. We hear beautiful music from those talented and capable people who studied for years and perfected their gifts to such an extent, they are able to play or sing magnificent music. How easy to forget that within those very same lives are the grossest seeds of what could be the most heinous crimes and acts of depravity. Crimes of enormous passion could be committed by any one of those gifted people. And even with them, God fully understands . . . which means He is willing to forgive.
Sin is sin. It happens regularly. And when it happens, God is grieved . . . but He is not shocked.
Fact three: Some sins incur greater consequences than others. Yes, sin is sin, but not all sins lead to the same consequences. Some sins are private, unknown, and impact no one other than the person who committed them. You deal with them and they are secretly confessed and swiftly forgiven, never to hurt another soul. It happens daily. Other sins are public and become known, which means they impact many. There are still other sins that are of a criminal nature. They are crimes against society. Those can result in public embarrassment, financial penalty, a loss of reputation, and a sentence behind bars, not to mention the humiliation of the family and the loss of respect in the eyes of the public. While some sins are unknown, other sins are scandalous and shameful, hurtful to our own spirit, and damaging to our health. It is also possible for us to be involved in a mixture of any and all the above.
Let me show you from Scripture an example of the kind of sins that bears greater consequences. Proverbs 5 mentions the sin of adultery.
For why should you, my son, be exhilarated with an adulteress, and embrace the bosom of a foreigner? For the ways of a man are before the eyes of the Lord, and He watches all his paths. His own iniquities will capture the wicked, and he will be held with the cords of his sin. He will die for lack of instruction and in the greatness of his folly he will go astray (Prov. 5:20-23).
The vivid imagery of the writer’s style pictures it as though there were tentacles that reach around a person and bind him with “the cords of his sin.” The complications and consequences of adultery are discussed further in the next chapter of Proverbs:
Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Or can a man walk on hot coals, and his feet not be scorched? So is the one who goes in to his neighbor’s wife; whoever touches her will not go unpunished (Proverbs 6:27-29).
The one who commits adultery with a woman is lacking sense; he who would destroy himself does it. Wounds and disgrace he will find, and his reproach will not be blotted out (Proverbs 6:32-33).
Under the general category of sexual sins or immorality there is a lingering consequence or series of consequences that are inescapable. The scars remain. Sexually related sins are in a category unto themselves in Scripture. If the following statement says anything, it certainly suggests that thought:
Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body (1Cor. 6:18).
(We’ll consider this statement more in depth in Chapter 3.)
Yes, sin is sin. While it may grieve God, it doesn’t shock Him. He understands and is willing to forgive. Forgiven or not, there are some sins that have lingering effects. Those sins can create within us and others an extremely lengthy and sad series of consequences. David admits to this in his thirty-second psalm.
When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was drained away as with the fever-heat of summer (Psalm 32:3).
He is describing the guilt that came in the backwash of his affair with Bathsheba. In the clutches of the vice-grip guilt put on him, he tossed and turned on his bed. He churned within. He couldn’t escape the lingering horror of what he had done.
I have met women who speak of similar feelings after they had an abortion. The event may be over but the “groaning” lingers.
A couple of summers ago I was engaged in ministry at Mount Hermon Christian Conference Center up near Santa Cruz. It was our annual Insight for Living family camp. After I had spoken one morning we showed a film dealing with the facts of an abortion. We realized that there might be some who could be impacted by what was presented. Our hope was that we would capture the attention of the naive as well as inform those who were ignorant of the facts and perhaps even reach some who might be teetering on the edge of this very decision.
One young woman, after viewing the film, could hardly move. She dissolved in tears. As you would guess, she had had an abortion. What was interesting, and perhaps a bit surprising to some, her abortion had occurred several years earlier. But the reminder of what had happened and of what had been done with the life that had been taken, was almost more than she could bear. She sat there virtually immobile and sobbing, reliving the events of what had long since passed. She admitted that a “cycle of depression” periodically overcame her, which began shortly after she had the abortion.
Sin is sin. God is grieved. But some sins incur lengthy consequences. There is still that recurring cycle of grief and depression, which does not automatically go away.
As Nathan said to David in 2 Samuel 12, “You
are forgiven, but the sword will never depart from your house.” (Think of that!) And indeed it didn’t. David’s life had changed from a little shepherd lad on the Judean hillsides to his becoming the king of the Hebrew nation. But when Bathsheba came on the scene, life for him was never quite the same. In his own words, he entered into the “fever heart of summer.”
Fact four: Recovery and return to a fruitful life is God’s desire for all of us. Just as there is not an earthly father who desires to discipline a son and leave him in a state of discipline for the rest of their relationship, so our heavenly Father, though He disciplines us and brings us to brokenness, has no interest in our living out our lives under the constant severity of His discipline. Discipline happens for a period of time and then God’s grace comes to our rescue, giving us fruitfulness and purpose as we go on beyond the immobilizing impact of the guilt and shame of our failure.
But the question is how. What is needed to go on with one’s life after gross failure before God and others? For the sake of clarity and brevity, let me list a four-step process that will help you get back on your feet. What is needed?
1. A full acknowledgment of the wrong that was done.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
Have you fully acknowledged the wrong of your past? If not, take care of that now. No more defensiveness. No more excuses. No more human reasoning or logic, trying to convince yourself otherwise. Rather, a full and complete acknowledgment of the wrong of your action is needed. God honors such submissiveness. I understand the word confession to mean that we agree with God in every respect that the sin was wrong, and it is without excuse or defense.
2. Genuine repentance following the confession.
Not much is said or heard these days about repentance. Too bad. It is a necessary part of finding full relief from guilt’s bondage. Genuine repentance follows confession. Proverbs 28:13 states:
He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.
This refers to a full and complete forsaking of the act, a turning around in the mind, a reversal of emotions. Repentance is a change of reaction from defense to a full acknowledgment. From an attempt to excuse one’s sin to an absolute and unguarded realization and admission that the whole of it was wrong, accompanied with a desire never to repeat it.
Psalm 51 is of great help in this context because it has to do with sexual failure.
Be gracious to me, O God, according to Thy lovingkindness; according to the greatness of Thy compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against Thee, Thee only, I have sinned, and done what is evil in Thy sight, so that Thou art justified when Thou dost speak, and blameless when Thou dost judge (Psalm 51:1-4).
There is no sense of “How could You do this to me, God?” But rather, “I acknowledge Your right to do whatever You wish. I deserve nothing but judgment. I am at Your mercy, Lord. I come with a contrite heart.” We cannot help but be impressed with the attitude as well as the words of the psalmist.
Psalm 51 continues:
Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation, and sustain me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Thy ways, and sinners will be converted to Thee. O Lord, open my lips, that my mouth may declare Thy praise. For Thou dost not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; Thou art not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise (vv.12-13).
There is a difference between remorse and repentance. Remorse is sorrow over being caught, sadness brought on by the pain of the consequences, the humiliation of the loss of image and the feeling,
“What will people say?” Remorseful feelings include knowing that you have brought reproach on the name of a family or on a church, or on your own life. But in genuine repentance, we lose all concern for ourselves, we accept the humiliation that we deserve and we acknowledge the grief we have caused others. The tell-tale signs? A broken spirit and a contrite heart.
Please understand me here. My concern is not to make anyone do penance but to make certain that genuine confession is accompanied by genuine repentance. An abortion is a serious offense before God, but it is not unforgivable. God stands ready to forgive . . . but the process involved can be heartrending: confessing, repenting, forsaking. I don’t know how and I don’t know why these things are so effective . . . I just know that they represent God’s pattern.
3. In the process, we claim the cleansing God offers.
We’ve seen it again and again through this passage in Psalm 51. As we work through the process, we can lay claim to the cleansing God offers. The references are numerous:
“Wash me thoroughly . . . cleanse me . . .” (v.2).
“Purify me . . . and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow (v.7).
“Create in me a clean heart, O God . . .” (v.10)
“Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation, and sustain me with a willing spirit” (v.12).
“Then I will teach transgressors Thy ways, and sinners will be converted to Thee” (v.13).
I’ve found that God often uses forgiven individuals to assist others. It is called here “teaching transgressors Thy ways.” I ask you: Who is better able to minister to those who are tempted to get an abortion than those who have had one? Who is better able to describe the consequences than those who have suffered through them? These dreadful experiences, in the words of Scripture, enable you to teach others God’s way. What a great opportunity to minister to people when we work our way through the process of full cleansing which follows full forgiveness!
Maybe you’ve never thought of it before, but those who have gone through an abortion and found forgiveness and cleansing might be on the verge of a ministry you never dreamed possible.
4. Deliberately refuse to allow the adversary or anyone else to hold you in bondage to former sins.
I need to be painfully honest here. Some need help to work through this process. Yes, some need a paid, professional Christian counselor to assist them
through the therapy of recovery. Others may need a pastor. Most certainly a support group is needed. And who can deny the need for a friend to help us talk and walk our way through so that we sense God’s full cleansing and full forgiveness? Once relief comes, no one has a right to hold a woman back and put her on a guilt trip. My point is clear: It isn’t uncommon to need direct assistance to get beyond nightmares and shadows of past wrongs. Ultimately, it may alter the direction of your future, but it doesn’t mean you are finished, washed up, and shelved. And don’t let anyone hold you under the bondage of forgiven sins from which you have repented. God’s desire is that you go on with the rest of your life.
Advice to All Who Live with Regret
May I conclude this chapter with some pastoral advice and compassionate counsel? First, you cannot undo the past; don’t try. I meet folks rather regularly who think that if they travel far enough and long enough the travel will cause them to erase the past. Wasted effort. Not even an around-the-world trip will help you absolve your past. Drugs won’t do it either. Alcohol won’t do it. Finding a marriage partner won’t necessarily remove what has been done in the past. It certainly will soften the blow of it as you walk with God, but you cannot undo what has been done. You cannot unscramble an egg. God alone is your only Source of relief.
Second, you may not be able to cope with the present; don’t quit. Some folks have a whale of a battle
on their hands. If you are one of them, I commend you for not quitting. Get help. Go back to the third statement I gave you earlier. Work through the process of finding full forgiveness methodically and carefully. Don’t hold anything back. It might include going to individuals who you hurt or offended or wronged in some way. It may be that your abortion represents only a part of your problem. Stay at it until you are free. Being unable to cope simply means the process isn’t complete. Don’t quit.
Third and finally, you must not waste the future; don’t hide. I do not believe that God gives anyone breath in his or her lungs for the purpose of just existing. God has a purpose for every one of us. He is well able to remake and reshape your life. I am a firm believer in second chances. If we are going to say with full faith to people who have gone through the horrors of divorce, “there is a future,” then I must say to you who have gone through the sin and humiliation of an abortion, there is a future for you, too! I repeat, God has a purpose. And it is not that you spend your days in hiding.
May He grant you a special measure of grace . . . grace to face the truth, painful though it may be. Grace to accept His forgiveness, unworthy though you may feel. And grace to become one of His choice instruments, impossible though that may seem. God isn’t finished with you yet.
His grace is abundant. Claim it. It is the map that will lead you to the promised land of a full and complete recovery.