When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice; correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (Isaiah 1:15-17).
The confession we recite during our Sunday service goes as follows: “We confess that we have sinned against you, in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.” In other words, we will confess to not doing what we should have done for our neighbors. So when we read Isaiah’s condemnation of Judah—“your hands are full of blood”—we do well to pay attention to ourselves. We live in a country stained with the blood of the innocent, and, even if we have not participated directly in the bloodshed, many of us have done little about it. Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” One wonders the extent to which this is the case with the persistence of legal abortion in the U.S.
The Bible can be uncomfortably binary. We either love our brother or we hate our brother (1 John 4). We either walk in light or we walk in darkness (1 John 1—2). We either love God, or we love mammon (Matthew 6). Either/or is everywhere in the Bible, usually without middle ground. So with our passage today. Cease to do evil, learn to do good. We will do both or we will do neither, for it is impossible to cease doing evil without learning to do good. And what is that good? Seek justice, correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.
Who are the fatherless? The most fatherless people in the U.S. and Canada are unborn children. Not only does a father have no legal rights in regard to his unborn child, most babies are aborted because their fathers have abandoned them. Who are the widows? Women left alone—without the support of a man, and without the wherewithal to make life work for themselves and their children—describes both the widow and the abandoned mother. Women left with child in crisis pregnancies are surely among our widows.
The Lord will regard his church in one of two ways. If we let evil persist and refuse to do good, he will despise our assemblies, call our offerings abominations, close his weary ears to our prayers, and surrender us to judgment. If we repent and learn to do good, he offers full forgiveness and cleansing, and the promise that we will eat the good of the land.
Beware of defining abortion as an “issue.” Doing so allows us neatly to set it aside, as one important issue among many. We do this not only to the peril of unborn children and their parents, but to our own as well. For if we would turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the unborn and their mothers, we might as well shut down our worship. At that point, we serve only ourselves, and the Lord is not pleased.