A PLACE OF MERCY
When I was just out of high school, I heard a Christian pro-life advocate arguing against abortion on the radio. Interestingly, in order to illustrate the tragic irony of abortion, he pointed out that the Hebrew word for womb (racham) is derived from the word for mercy (râcham). The place that is supposed to be a place of mercy for a helpless child is a place where he can be brutally murdered at the consent of his mother. One can easily imagine how the Hebrew mind formed a link between the womb and mercy. When a person is deeply moved to compassion she feels it in her stomach (where the womb is, if I may be less than precise). The unborn child rests within the mercy of her mother, and all of us who have had a mother know that she always holds us there.
The more one studies the Scriptures (especially if you know Hebrew), the more one realizes that God loves puns (maybe that’s where our earthly fathers get it) and He loves mixed metaphors. For that reason, it would be short-sited to imagine that this is the only way that mercy and the womb are linked in the mind of God. A while back, as I was reading through Proverbs, I realized another link between the words. Proverbs 30:15-16 says, “Three things are never satisfied; four never say, ‘Enough’: Sheol, the barren womb, the land never satisfied with water, and the fire that never says, ‘Enough.’” What do all four of those things have in common? They are all four results of curse or judgment. Sheol = hell, that one’s obvious. A drought stricken land=cursed land (Deut 28:22). Similarly, the barren womb is also a sign of curse (Deut 28:18).
Now, that is not to say that everyone who is barren is cursed in particular by God (all you have to do is read the Bible and see how many of the women that God favored were barren). A person with a barren womb is, however, cursed in the same sense that all creation has been groaning under a curse since Adam’s rebellion (Rom 8:19-23). When God made mankind, He blessed them by making them fruitful (Gen 1:28). The world was not meant to have barren wombs. The result of Adam’s sin, however, was death to all mankind (Romans 5:12). Surprisingly, God did not kill Adam and Eve (physically) on the day they ate the fruit, as He indicated (Gen 2:17). More surprisingly, even in the midst of judging Adam and Eve, God promised life to them, “I will put enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen 3:15). He not only was going to let them live for many more years, but He gave Eve a living womb to produce more children. Outside of the garden, Eve praised God, “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD” (Gen 4:1).
That brings us back full circle. Because of the fall, barren wombs are what the world deserves, because we sinned in Adam. When God allowed Eve to be fruitful, it was mercy. So, that, it seems to me, is another connection between the Hebrew words. Every fruitful womb is a sign that God is merciful to mankind, providing life in the midst of sin.
MERCY DECAPITATED AND THROWN IN THE TRASH
Viewing the connection between racham (womb) and râcham (mercy), in that manner strengthens the pro-life case. Many times, we will say things like, “If a woman can choose to have sex she needs to accept the consequences and take care of the baby.” This is true enough, but I am afraid that sometimes people hear, “God has punished your sin by giving you a baby, and now you need to willingly take your punishment.” The reality is much different.
As Christians we know, “The wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). We sin very often and God should strike us dead the first time we ever sin and every time since. So, when a couple of college students sin by having sex outside of marriage, God would be just to strike them dead immediately. Instead, He mercifully lets them live. What is more ridiculously gracious, is that sometimes He gives life to her womb. Instead of killing her, or simply letting her live, God gives her a son or daughter who is made in their (and His) image. That is mercy. Obviously, she has put herself in a position where God’s grace looks like punishment, but life is full of such contradictions. If she would only value that child, there is no telling what kind of work God might do in her life. Perhaps she might see that she had made an idol out of the freedom she had as a young person, and she would grow to love to give herself for others. Perhaps, God might open her eyes to see the glory of the Son of God given for sinners.
The horror of abortion, is that two people have received a token of God’s mercy toward them in the form of a baby. The young lady goes to a “clinic” to destroy God’s merciful gift. A doctor slices or boils in chemicals this gift and sucks him out with a vacuum.
Thankfully, many women repent and are forgiven after abortions. But can you imagine standing before the Lord, having thrown away His mercy? As much as I hate to do this kind of thing. . .
Picture a young man who pressured his girlfriend to have an abortion standing before the risen Lord at the resurrection of the unjust. The young man is on his knees, begging that Jesus would not send him to the lake of fire, “Lord, have mercy. Please do not throw me into that place of destruction and darkness.” Jesus says, “I have been merciful to you your whole life and you never responded. Not only that, but I mercifully gave you a daughter. I provided offspring for you, and you rejected my mercy. You went out of your way—taking off from work—to make sure that your girlfriend killed my mercy. Therefore, I will cast you into destruction, just as you payed to destroy that little one.” On the day of judgment, Christ will not be merciful to those who have been unmerciful toward an innocent child—a child who is herself a gift of mercy.
In part 2, I will address how being truly pro-life means treating God’s gift of children as mercy rather than embracing the curse of an unfruitful womb.