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Archive for February, 2011

Horrendous arguments don’t usually begin in the public eye.  They begin in smaller circles, between very smart people.  And then one day we begin to see the actual results.

Let’s take infanticide.

1973:

“Of 299 consecutive deaths occurring in a special-care nursery, 43 (14 per cent) were related to withholding treatment.”  Duff and Campbell, New England Journal of Medicine, October 1973.

1983:

“Where is the line to be drawn in the case of infanticide?  This is not really a troubling question since there is no serious need to know the exact point at which a human infant acquires a right to life.”  Tooley, In Defense of Abortion and Infanticide, p. 133.

1985:

“Decisions about severely handicapped infants should not be based on the idea that all human life is of equal value, nor on any other version of the sanctity of human life.” Kuhse and Singer, Should the Baby Live, p. 172.

2004:

“The Groningen Protocol was developed in order to assist with the decision making process when considering actively ending the life of a newborn, by providing the information required to assess the situation within a legal and medical framework.” Wikipedia

“According to A.A.E. Verhagen, who launched the initiative (Groningen Protocol): ‘It’s time to be honest about the unbearable suffering endured by newborns with no hope of a future. All over the world doctors end lives discretely out of compassion, without any kind of regulation. Worldwide, the US included, many deaths among newborns are based on end of life decisions, after physicians reached the conclusion that there was no quality of life. This is happening more and more frequently.’

2011:

“When labor was induced and a baby was born, Dr. Gosnell would kill it by cutting into its neck and severing its spinal cord in a process he referred to as ‘snipping.’” New York Times, January 19, 2011.

A final word from Dr. Grace Vuoto, Executive Director of the Edmund Burke Institute for American Renewal:

“There is nothing merciful about mercy killing: it is just another glorified way for the young and strong to discard those who are inconvenient. America is on the path to a war of all against all, as parents devour their children before they are born and children devour their parents as they are dying.”

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From Polishing God’s Monuments: Pillars of Hope for Punishing Times by Jim Andrews:

Just as the Lord forewarned Moses, so the Scriptures forewarn us that the Christian life is not going to be a walk in the park, that we should not be surprised when fiery trials come upon us (1 Peter 4:12), that through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22), that we should not expect the world to love us (John 15:20), that many are the afflictions of the righteous (Psalm 34:19; John 16:33), and that various trials are both necessary and beneficial for us (1 Peter 1:6 and James 1:2). Still, despite all we should know and be well prepared for, we sometimes react as though, in the words of 1 Peter 4:12, some strange and unaccountable things were happening to us.

My friends, if anyone is intent upon taking up his or her cross and following after Christ, put this down: the abnormal state of Christian existence on this planet is an untroubled life. And, the truth be told, a healthy, vital spiritual life can ill-afford untrammeled peace and prosperity for long.  For it is a law of life that all strength is born of resistance, not repose.  Andrews, p. 276

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If you have not already read this entry by John Ensor on the Desiring God blog, please take a minute to do so.

I have lingered over these sentences in particular:

The blood-guilt of abortion festers under the surface of all Christian endeavor. It needs lancing. It needs to be outed. It needs to be called out by name, confessed by name, and brought under a gospel that declares that there is no forgiveness for the shedding of innocent blood except by the shedding of innocent blood.

Yes, Jesus is the answer to this incredible, horrible reality we live with.  The sin-cleansing blood of Jesus can cover even this, and set people free.

And we need to make sure that disability gets included in this ‘outing.’  There are Christian people who would say they are against abortion, but become ambivalent about it when the child is known to have a disability.

Ambivalence will not win the day. Ignorance will not win the day. The truth of God’s sovereignty over all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ – there is hope there!

Thank you, John Ensor, for another piercing, helpful, God-centered commentary.

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From Contagious Christian Living by Joel Beeke, p. 85:

If God doesn’t leave his mark on you, you will not be blessed with lasting profit from your afflictions. We must learn to welcome both pain and progress in our walk with God, realizing that we learn more through affliction than prosperity. Both are part of the contagious price of God, for he is most worthy to fit us for service in this life and the life to come.

I think we can agree we have learned more through pain than prosperity.

Justin Taylor shared the story of a family experiencing deep pain yesterday: their 12-year-old son died in an accident.  If you have not seen it, please take a minute to read, cry and ask God for that kind of sustaining faith.

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Do you have a broken spirit?

Do certain words ever leap off a page at you?

My reading through the Bible yesterday had me in Exodus 6.  God has heard the prayers of the people of Israel and seen their oppression.  Moses has spoken to Pharaoh, and his response is to make it significantly worse for the people of Israel.  Even Moses accuses God: “you have not delivered your people at all (Exodus 5:23).”  God responds, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh (Exodus 6:1).”

And the people can’t hear it: Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery (Exodus 6:9).

That phrase, ‘because of their broken spirit,’ crashed into my brain and then exploded.

I know what a broken spirit feels like.  Many of you know it as well when your hopes have been crushed one more time, and you can’t even hear good news.

Look at their situation. The elders had believed the signs that Moses had offered from God (Exodus 4:31).  Hope was being kindled.  Moses goes to Pharaoh. Rather than being released, Pharaoh made the situation even worse for them, and they blamed Moses.

Their hopes had been crushed.  Even Moses says he can’t go back to Pharaoh (Exodus 6:12).

What do health, wealth and prosperity preachers do with that?  Obviously God won’t be able to do anything since these people all lack faith.

Except, of course, God isn’t constrained by anything!

God looks at his spirit-broken people and the very man he has called to lead them, and begins to move with such power that we’re still reading and talking about it thousands of years later.  God says such astonishing, outrageous (except that it is God saying them) things about his sovereignty over all things in the next chapters that we will either bow down and worship him for his majesty and goodness and wisdom, or we will reject him entirely.

And, the irony is, because God isn’t constrained by our lack of faith, we can have faith that he will do all that he has promised to do for those he has called.  That’s what made my brain explode – God looks at dead, unbelieving, anxious, hopeless, broken hearts, and makes them alive.  Not one hint of faith on the Israelite’s part, and he moves to rescue them.

Because he knows the ends from the beginning, and has promised that all things work together for good, and truly knows what love looks like in all situations, and has given us a future hope that is so glorious it is indescribable, we can have faith that even our broken spirits will bring God glory and will be for our good.

These are not easy days in our household; I am fighting discouragement on several fronts.  But I KNOW that God is not hindered in his purposes when I am battling the sins of unbelief and anxiety.  I know that my dependency on him rather than on myself brings him greater honor.

Do you have a broken spirit?  Pray. God will help.  Trust his blood-bought promises rather than your perceptions.

Do you know someone with a broken spirit, and they can’t hear anything you say?  God will help.  Pray, and trust him that he will do the right thing.  Pray, and by doing so fight for them when they can’t fight for themselves.

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Old books remind me how unusual our ‘normal’ experiences are today.

In The Death of Ivan Ilych, on page 53, is this simple statement:

Though the salary was higher the cost of living was greater, besides which two of their children died and family life became still more unpleasant for him.

It seems very normal for Tolstoy to include that sentence, even in the life of a rising professional with access to doctors and resources in 1880′s Russia.

Yet how strange it seems in our own North American context.  We think we know what ‘unpleasant’ means, and that does not include the death of children.  We do not consider it normal at all within professional, middle-class families.

Maybe we should.

Buried in an article on a school for children with disabilities was this sentence:

Almost every year, a few medically frail students die.

That has been true at Paul’s school as well.  A short, sad announcement from the principle comes home in Paul’s backpack about a student who has died.  It isn’t every year.  But we have gotten several such notices over the years.  In seven years that has not happened even once at the school my other three ‘normally developing’ children attend.

Many people look at our lives, with all the doctors and complications and expense, and consider it strange and to be avoided at every cost.  Yet the ‘cost’ of avoiding it is usually the very life of our little one, the one God himself has given us to parent.

And when we look around the world, our ‘abnormal’ existence is experienced by millions and millions of families.  It is frequently the very thing that keeps bringing us back to God.

There is something else that seems more normal in old books: the presence of God.  I just finished A Narrative of The Mutiny, on Board His Majesty’s Ship Bounty by William Bligh and noted how freely he spoke of prayers and Providence:

For my own part, I consider the general run of cloudy and wet weather to be a blessing of Providence. Hot weather would have caused us to have died with thirst; and perhaps being so constantly covered with rain or sea protected us from that dreadful calamity.

So, though our experiences are abnormal in this culture, maybe we have been granted special insight into what normal life is really like, both historically and for much of the world’s population today.  What should we do with that insight?

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This really doesn’t have anything to do with disability – except for this reminder to you Minnesotans to shovel your walk! Those with mobility issues and blind individuals using canes (and your neighbors) will appreciate not having to trudge through a foot of snow.  Use some ice melt as well.

South Carolina and Kansas transplants braved five inches of snow (more than seven by the time they left) to join our monthly Barnabas prayer meeting for friends serving as missionaries in Asia. (It was at our house, so our effort was a little less impressive!)

The prayer time was very sweet; we love these friends who live so far away answering the call of God on their lives.

For those same friends who probably aren’t experiencing snow right now (and our other friends in other places of the the world), we caught this picture on Sunday afternoon when the snow was coming down at about 1 – 2 inches per hour.  They were coming to eat the crab apples.

Spring will eventually get here.  This was from LAST week, when temperatures were closer to 50 degrees.

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Matthew 6:26

Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word! Psalm 148:7-8

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The first time I read the ‘Any/Particular Distinction’ argument in defense of unborn children with disabilities, I knew it had to have its origins in a university or research institution.  It sounded academic, but it is built on a house of cards that cannot stand.

I don’t know if I’ve found the origins of that argument, but I have found a lengthy articulation.  While I have 116 notes on the book, Prenatal Testing and Disability Rights, there is really only one thought that needs to be addressed.  And rather than break it up into several posts, I’ll deal with it here and get back to happier things.

First, one positive aspect of this book that deserves attention.  Nearly all the contributors to this book recognize that the deck is stacked against parents making a truly informed decision about their child identified as having a disability before he or she is born.  The authors recognized that medical systems encourage abortion.  Many noted that we should spend more time and effort understanding several areas: the circumstances in our culture that encourage discrimination against people with disabilities; the wrong assumptions about the perceived quality of their lives; and the positive aspects of parenting a child with a disability.

That is helpful.  But they didn’t go nearly far enough.

And the core problem in their logic is that they granted a right to abortion even as they found selective abortions due to disability a problem worth addressing.

Adrienne Asch, Henry R. Luce Professor in Biology, Ethics, and the Politics of Human Reproduction at Wellesley College, wants to address the problem of selective abortion due to disability through the ‘Any/Particular Distinction.’  Here is how she describes it:

(T)his one characteristic of the embryo or fetus (disability) is the basis for the decision not to continue the pregnancy or to implant the embryo. That decision still concludes that one piece of information about a potential child suffices to predict whether the experience of raising that child will meet parental expectations. In most cases of preimplantation genetic diagnosis or prenatal diagnosis, the woman or couple desires to be pregnant at this time; the termination of the process only occurs because of something learned about this child. Adrienne Asch, Prenatal Testing and Disability Rights, p. 236

I completely agree with this aspect of Dr. Asch’s argument: many people do make the decision to abort simply on the basis of one piece of genetic information.

Unfortunately, the ‘Any/Particular Distinction’ is built on this foundation: abortion is acceptable when a woman chooses to abort for reasons unrelated to disability.  Only if disability is known does abortion become problematic.

And that is a terrible foundation.  If abortion is generally acceptable, the burden of creating exceptions is incredibly high.  And in this case, the exception that is desired simply doesn’t have any qualitative difference from the other reasons people choose to abort their babies.  For example:

  • Economics – relative financial security or ability, or perceived economic cost of the child, determines the acceptability of the child.
  • Number of Children – relative desire for family size (three children are acceptable and four are not; unless, of course, four are acceptable, or two, or six).
  • Timing – relative predictions about the future being a better time than now to have a child.
  • Parentage – having a child with this man’s genetics is unacceptable.
  • Sex – a desire for a girl after three boys; this unborn boy is unacceptable.
  • Disability – having a child with this physical genetic characteristic is unacceptable.

The list could go on.  And not one of them is based on principles, but in attempts to control an unknowable future.

One thing that isn’t relative about the list above – in every case, the child is dead.

Dr. Asch attempts to make the argument that because of how disability is perceived in this culture, there should be particular concerns for unborn children with disabilities to avoid selective abortions based exclusively on disability:

The property of ‘fourth-bornness’ (arguing against an assertion that a family who does not want a fourth child is similar to a family that does not want a child with disabilities) does not inhere in the fetus/child in the same way that disability does; the fourth-born child could just as easily have been the first or only child if adopted into another family. Moreover, being a fourth child, or even a family with four children, does not subject the child or the family to the invidious treatment that has marked the lives of people with disabilities. Asch, p. 237.

Invidious treatment is a definite problem. Living in a culture that hates disability is a definite problem as well.

But aborting a child simply because he is the fourth-born is also a problem!

Trying to carve out space where abortion is both acceptable (for ‘any’ child) and not acceptable (for this ‘particular’ child) will not address that societal issue about disability.  In fact, it won’t even save any babies with disabilities.  Parents will be offered other reasons, and the availability of abortion for THAT reason will result in the child being terminated.

After all, parents could choose an economic argument instead. There are real expenses related to most disabilities that typically-developing children do not incur.  So, the family has nothing against the child with the disability, but doesn’t want to bear the financial cost. (To be fair, Dr. Asch would say this demonstrates the problem she is trying to address; she argues that society should not expect families to bear all that cost, and this is further evidence that discrimination exists against people with disabilities.)  Or, parents could conclude, on further thought, having a third child really isn’t in their interests.  Or the timing of this pregnancy isn’t convenient, etc. etc.

The desire to protect unborn children with disabilities is laudable.  But leaving abortion as an acceptable option for other reasons simply moves the problem around and ultimately won’t protect these children.

Unfortunately, abortion is settled for most of the contributors of that book.  Another contributor, Dr. Steven Ralston stated it clearly:

I am pro-choice and I believe all women and couples should have the right to and access to abortion services regardless of their motivations. Period. Asch, p. 339.

Lest you think he was just being dogmatic in his beliefs, I found most of his chapter to be nuanced and thoughtful, which makes the above statement even more sad.  For example he also wrote:

I found myself continually questioning my underlying assumptions about prenatal diagnosis, genetic testing, parenthood, families and disability.  I wouldn’t say I was thrown into an existential crisis, but I certainly spent a lot of energy trying to resolve what for me was clearly a conflict: my belief that society would be better if it were more tolerant and accepting of those with different abilities and needs, and my belief that insofar as the world is not yet ideal, the decision to terminate a pregnancy with an abnormal fetus is reasonable.

He’s right about the conflict; those are two contradictory beliefs.

Unfortunately, his belief system is ultimately about a radical, unconstrained self-determination of the powerful, granting big people ultimate authority over tiny people.  How else to describe his conclusion about abortion “regardless of motivations”?  Even Dr. Asch includes ‘parental expectations’ as part of her argument even though no parent has ever accurately predicted what parenting would be like.

Those are not principles upon which anything can stand.

Self-determination leads to death, not just through abortion but in an eternal sense. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)” and “the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23)” and “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot (Romans 8:7).”

There is an eternal answer!  “BUT GOD, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:4-5).”

And it is that God who supplies every need for families in our situations (Philippians 4:19), who truly knows the ends from the beginnings (Revelation 21:6), and who has plans to benefit us (Jeremiah 29:11).

In fact, the best argument of all is that because we are weak and unable to control or predict the future we should welcome our children with disabilities into our families, churches and society.  God himself has regard for the weak, will fulfill every promise he has made, and longs for us to enjoy him forever.

Because only God is truly strong and wise and knows the future, our weakness becomes a strong argument against aborting our children with disabilities – or any children.

So, I admit to being grateful for a secular argument being raised against aborting our children with disabilities.  But it does not have the power to save the little ones, nor does it have the power to save for eternal life.  And I fear in the end it actually makes it worse.

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As I write this I’m sitting about 200 yards away from more than 200 junior- and senior-high aged young people at a retreat in northern Minnesota.  Next to me is a book, Prenatal Testing and Disability Rights, that just makes me want to weep in frustration.  It is full of illogical conclusions from some very intelligent people.  And, for the most part, the people writing for this book are arguing against the destruction through abortion of babies with disabilities – I should be encouraged!

But there is no real, lasting defense of babies in this book.  There are lessons I’m learning, but I’m not sure how to articulate them just yet.

So, I’m thinking about those 200 young people, who are being lead by some of the most disciplined, most Bible-saturated, most delighting-in-God men and women Bethlehem has to offer.  Their schedule is full of Bible (and recreation – those young bodies do need to move around!).  Yet, that won’t be enough if God doesn’t do what only he can do, calling them from death to his marvelous life and light.

So, I find myself praying this morning, please, father, please, save them all, call them all, fill them all with the wonder of who you are and a desire to know your word.  Please give their leaders words of praise and life and hope.

And then, Lord, help us to teach them to think so that they will respect but not be blinded by academic credentials or peer-reviewed journals that do not have one hint of the eternal reality to come or the present, daily help you provide.  Help us to teach them to search for truth, even when that truth is hard, like the reality of living with disability – but in the knowledge that you will never leave us, you will never forsake us, you will always supply what we need, that not one of your children can be snatched from your hand.  That it is better to live ‘as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing’ with a hope in future grace than it is to kill our babies.

Father, please let us be examples of trusting in you.  Let these young people be surrounded by adults who love them and love you.

Lord, help us prepare them for a world that will be perplexed, confused and hostile to a young couple who are not afraid of prenatal tests, but fear you and know they are only safe when close to you.  A world that will wonder at, question and confront why they choose not to destroy their unborn child with Down syndrome or spina bifida, why their grandparents and church don’t counsel them to get rid of that baby, why they choose a life they know will be complicated and full of hardship.

Father, let these young people at this camp taste a little bit of real, God-centered joy this weekend.  Please, Lord, open the eyes of their hearts.  In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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I hate the health, wealth and prosperity gospel. Pastor John does as well:

In D.A. Carson’s book, How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil, Carson goes directly at the question of sin, sickness and death.  These are hard subjects, but he looks at them through a Biblical lens.

And in a few short sentences, he puts a dagger into the health, wealth and prosperity gospel on one of their worst principles – that God will automatically give us what we want if we just have enough faith:

Practically speaking, this means that it is almost always wrong, not to say pastorally insensitive and theologically stupid, to add to the distress of those who are suffering illness, impending death, or bereavement, by charging them with either: a) some secret sin they have not confessed, or b) inadequate faith, for otherwise they would certainly have been healed. The first charge wrongly assumes that there is always a link between a specific ailment and a specific sin; the second wrongly assumes that it is always God’s will to heal any ailment, instantly, and he is blocked from doing so only by inadequate or insufficient faith.  D.A. Carson, How Long, O Lord?, p. 101.

Personally, nobody has ever hinted at a) in my presence, and usually just the opposite (citing John 9:3).  But I’ve heard hints of b) a few times.  Neither one is helpful.

Rather, let us hold tightly to Jesus in the midst of great suffering!  Jesus knows suffering.  And God knows what he is doing, and he wants us to ask him for help with our full knowledge that he will provide what is best for us.  So, let us continue to ask from the one who can supply and trust that he loves us to give us the best thing!

To repeat from yesterday something Pastor John wrote (emphases in bold mine):

But let us not tell Jesus what love is. Let us not instruct him how he should love us and make us central. Let us learn from Jesus what love is and what our true well-being is. Love is doing whatever you need to do to help people see and savor the glory of God forever and ever. Love keeps God central. Because the soul was made for God.

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