Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man. For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth. Upon you I have leaned from before my birth; you are he who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you (Psalm 71:4-6).
We have no idea what to do with mystery.
Of course, it has not always been so. Hear the lines above, the poetry of Psalm 71. The writer calls upon God for deliverance from the unjust and the cruel by calling the Lord’s mind to the Lord’s faithfulness over his life, even from before his birth. This worshipper has trusted God even before he knew trust, and recognized that God has been with him, even before he could realize that it was so. He praises the Lord who, like a midwife, took him from his mother’s womb. This kind of language is everywhere in the Bible—the Lord calls people to his service before they were born (Jeremiah 1:5), the Lord knits children together in the wombs of their mothers and numbers their days even before they arrive (Psalm 139:13-16), he keeps the tears of his people in a bottle (Psalm 56:8). The Lord even sent his Spirit into the unborn John the Baptist, who rejoiced in the presence of Jesus even before he could have known who Jesus was (Luke 1).
But we don’t talk like this. Not in our culture. Instead, we have become profoundly reductionistic. We have determined that our politics be divorced from religion, and that God have no place in public life. Because this is so, we are therefore unable to even scratch the surface of matters that are most important to us. What could be more important than life? However, because we have set God aside, we are forced to talk about life in very clinical and sterile ways. We say that life begins when the sperm unites with the egg, and the DNA is complete. Of course, there is truth to that claim. But look at what we have done—we have reduced life to DNA, and thereby raised a whole host of questions. What if the DNA is incomplete, or has somehow gone awry, as is the case with the Trisomy disorders, the most common of which is Down Syndrome? If life is reduced to biological chemistry, without reference to God, then what makes life valuable? Is it “quality of life,” something both nebulous and largely determined by others? Is life valuable based on one’s potential contribution to society? What contribution, and who gets to determine? Is life valuable because it is wanted by others? Wanted by whom? And is there any reason to hold human life special, more valuable than the life of a groundhog or a trout, which also have complete DNA upon conception? If so, why?
Our world increasingly looks as truth as that which can be quantified, charted, observed in a test tube or under a microscope. I am in no way denigrating scientific discovery. The ability to search and discover is a gift from God and a blessing to man (Proverbs 25:2). But when what we can measure becomes coextensive with truth, such truth becomes false, for the most important things in life defy charts and theorems. Are we really willing to say that our culture’s perspective that life is ultimately chemistry is more true, more real, than the Bible’s conviction that we are fearfully and wonderfully made? (Some will, but will curiously lack a scientific basis for saying so.)
The world will, of course, dismiss any talk of God and mystery as either irrelevant or as an attempt to impose one’s religion and/or values upon another. So be it. But truth has a way of getting in and through the cracks of stubbornly erected philosophies, and exposing things for what they are. In the end, people don’t really believe that life is reducible to chemistry, even those who insist upon it most tenaciously. Because even so-called atheists yearn to love and be loved, and are not content to sign off into nothingness after their threescore and ten. And therefore the church will continue to have a voice in matters of life, a voice that is compelling because it does not reduce life, but embraces mystery and celebrates life as the gift of God it really is. But she can only speak a clear and compelling word if she maintains her true voice, and refuse to conform her speech to the narrow, reductionistic rules of the world.