Seeing the preborn child

Judie Brown
by Edmund Miller
ALL Pro-Life Today, 23 December 2009
Reproduced with Permission

In the third chapter of John's Gospel, a Sanhedrin member named Nicodemus comes at night to speak with Jesus: "Rabbi," he said, "we know that you are a teacher come from God…" Jesus' response seems to have no relevance to what Nicodemus has just said: "I solemnly assure you, no one can see the reign of God unless he is begotten from above."

Jesus' mysterious words are indeed a direct response to his greeting.More specifically, they correct it. The Pharisee greets Jesus as "a teacher come from God." Jesus, essentially, is telling Nicodemus that he is not addressing a "teacher come from God" - a prophet, in other words. Rather, he is addressing the reign of God - or, God Himself. Perhaps this is why John sets the encounter at night, for while Nicodemus sees and speaks to Jesus, he remains metaphorically in the dark. While the reality of God stands face to face with him, he still fails to see it.

Jesus' followers often failed to see the realities of which He spoke. In John 4:35, Jesus even seems to become a bit frustrated with them. "Listen to what I say: Open your eyes and see!" Again, in chapter nine, after the cure of the blind man, Jesus declares, "I came into this world to divide it, to make the sightless see and the seeing blind."

Making the sightless see

Maybe the work of the pro-life movement is just that: To make the sightless see and the seeing blind. The critical question is, what does one see in the preborn child? If one affirms, "I see potential," the response doesn't go far enough. As a teacher, I rarely tell students that I see potential - because that's not what they want to hear. They want to hear that even as they are, here and now, they are worthy. Likewise, if we emphasize the potentiality of the preborn child, we imply that in the child's present state, he or she remains inferior.

Even to acknowledge the preborn child as a genetic member of the human race doesn't go far enough. Those involved in the abortion industry - the ones who pack up the limbs and skulls in little plastic bags - they know that they are killing human beings. Many of those making appointments at abortuaries - the ones keenly aware that someone is demanding nourishment from them - also know that the preborn child is a human being.

I don't think the humanity of the child is the argument anymore. The challenge being thrown in our faces now is more Dostoevskian: Is there any reason not to destroy a life that has no immediate, practical value? This challenge comes from a worldview completely opposed to our own, one in which time is the only reality, and he who would be significant in time must be able to move with and contribute to its pulse.

From this point of view, the preborn child's value is restricted: The child may offer some kind of emotional fulfillment to a wanting man or woman, in which case we're not worried about how the child comes into being, but only what he or she provides, once in existence. Consequently, the child can be fabricated, and if it takes seven or eight tries to find the proper emotionally fulfilling recipe, the six or seven extras can be stored in order to await practical application number two: spare parts.

Opening our eyes to the divine image

Only one viewpoint allows us to see the preborn child as a being of unqualified worth who, therefore, in and of himself, can be loved. He does not exist as a cell factory, he does not exist for the sake of filling an emotional void and he does not exist merely as something who someday might be someone. He need not prove his merit nor earn his value. In his life, we see the spirit of God. When seen through the eyes of faith, the preborn child exists outside of all history and is therefore part of all history.

If, as a society, we fail to acknowledge the preborn child's inherent worth, ultimately we condemn ourselves - which is why it is important to recognize that the child's life in utero gives us an opportunity to stand in awe before the raw, divine image. The ability to see that divine image is a gift of faith - one that profoundly changes how we see and what we see.

Who did Nicodemus see during that secret meeting? Who did Mary Magdalene see in the garden after visiting the tomb? What did Judas Iscariot see when Mary anointed the feet of Jesus? And now, what do we see in the eyes of the child with Down syndrome? What do we see in the face of Terri Schiavo, just before her death? What do we see in the mother with a full womb? Most importantly, what do we see when the priest elevates the host?

All of us are polluted by societal assumptions that the human person's value varies according to the extent that he bathes in the flow of power. And perhaps our responses to the destruction of the preborn reflect that pollution. After all, we have pursued the big-gun solutions - presidential candidates, constitutional amendments, marches, decrees. I do not question the validity of any of them. After all, abortion on demand is a social as well as individual evil, and such measures are appropriate. However, while we cite the statistics, while we count off the thousands and millions, we cannot forget that the death of even one is too many. Each one bears the divine image.

Each day, while the divine image is slaughtered, we have the opportunity to stand in awe. We have the opportunity to be public witnesses - to defend and even rescue the very image of God. Most of us don't go to the places of slaughter - I suppose because we don't believe it's effective. After all, most of the abortuary's clients don't listen to pro-life advocates on the sidewalk. And then there are injunctions, lousy weather and, sometimes, counterdemonstrators.

I wonder, though, if it was "effective" for John to follow Jesus and His mother to the cross. I'm sure the question of effectiveness never crossed his mind. John saw God hanging on a cross. John saw an act of love so completely beyond the boundaries of human experience that, even in the tragedy of the whole thing, he could not fail to see its beauty.

What do we see at the doors of the abortuary? If we do not see the very image of God, again being sacrificed for our sins, our work is based on an incomplete vision. We will try to build a new culture of life without seeing the full reality of the evil we confront. Where will the effort take us?