Ker-Splash! Like hurling a huge stone in the already unsettled waters of life-arena rhetoric, the following headline is producing a tidal wave of words: “Dr. George Tiller, one of the nation's few providers of late-term abortions despite decades of protests and attacks, was shot and killed Sunday in a church where he was serving as an usher.”1 In an ominous sea made more tumultuous by this news, how are we as life-affirming Christians to keep our sea-legs, let alone respond with gospel-driven hearts? This article is offered as a dose of “gospel-Dramamine,” restoring equilibrium to life-affirming Christians who want the gospel to rule their hearts and mouths in response to Tiller’s murder.
First Things First: Our Heart & The Gospel
No matter what we say, our starting point must be our own hearts, for “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”2 For the person with an angry, Christ-cold heart, news of Tiller’s death will only be the latest opportunity to express his heart in a blazing stream of verbal flame. But for the Christian subdued by the gospel and whose heart is warmed by Christ through faith, the lips will move quite differently. This person, out of a Christ-warm heart in the gospel, will tend to express a Christ-honoring balance of grace and truth characteristic of the Prince of Peace Himself.3
The truth is that most of us react somewhere between these two extremes – with our hearts and our mouths! We sometimes let Christ’s heart within us freshen the air through our lips, or we sometimes poison the air out of the darkness of our own flesh. How do we, in light of the Ker-splash!, live as air-fresheners not air-poisoners? The answer is simple: we must reconnect with the gospel in our own hearts and with the King of that gospel, Jesus Christ. To let Christ refresh our hearts in the gospel means letting them soak in the basic facts of the gospel on an ongoing basis:
- I reaffirm that in my natural, fleshly self, I am an evil wretch, a God-hater prone to deception, cursing, bitterness, and bloodshed the same as Tiller or his murderer.4
- I reconfirm that I justly deserve, because of my sin and rebellion against God, His divine displeasure and eternal wrath and have no hope for pardon except by His sovereign mercy in Christ.5
- I believe that the Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, willingly paid all the spiritual debt incurred by my rebellion against Him through His agonizing and atoning death on the cross. On that cross, I know that Jesus bore the wrath of God I deserved for my sin.6
- I remember that I have been made alive to these facts as a gift by the sovereign grace of God and have been enabled by Him to embrace them by faith for my own salvation.7
- I recall that my life is now entirely an expression of joyful gratitude and praise to God who lavishly loves me in Christ and who has set me free from the penalty of my own sins forever in Him!8
It is a biblical fact that a heart astonished by Christ and this gospel will emit fragrances that freshen the air. It is impossible, once we are re-subdued by this Good News, to use our mouths as flame-throwers in response to Tiller’s murder. Instead, a heart captivated by the gospel will “overflow”2 grace and truth in love no matter what news we are responding to. So, the first and most important issue for us as Christians as we frame a response to Tiller’s murder is this: where are our hearts in the gospel? To carry on with our opening illustration, we are to gladly drink from the I.V. dripping “gospel-Dramamine” which is offered freely to us at all times by the Spirit of God. Only as we do this are we ready to discuss the content of our verbal responses.
An Opportunity to Differentiate & Move Forward
“[Conservative commentator Bill] O'Reilly and the Religious right are TERRORISTS!!!!”9 As this recent blog entry indicates, the Tiller murder is re-accessing the old stereotypes of Christians and pro-life10 people as menaces to society. While dialogue with such an inflamed and brazen blogger is unlikely, his comment reveals some opportunities for those in the life-affirming10 community.
This situation reminds me of what an old boss of mine would often tell me, saying, “Doug, take a bite of the reality sandwich.” What he meant was, “Face reality and deal with it!” In context, this means that life-affirming Christians must accept the reality that many people – including many in our churches – hold some form of this blogger’s view of the life arena and those engaged in it. To embrace this sad but true reality demands that we grapple with how we can let Christ’s heart in us refresh the air and dispel the rancid odor of this reality in peoples’ minds. Here are a few suggestions on countering this reality among our peers and congregations:
- Soak in the gospel for yourself, first. Returning fire for fire will get you nowhere and does not come from a gospel-astonished heart.11
- Seek to understand the other person’s view. Ask sincere questions and then listen to the answers. It will help you to remember that in the gospel, Jesus knows you in your brokenness and sin as He carefully challenges and conforms you to holiness in Him.12
- Speak the truth in love.13 Bare truth does not reflect the gospel. Bare love does not reflect the gospel, either. Truth is to be enrobed in love, just as Christ, Truth Incarnate, is enrobed in love, relationship, and compassion.14
As we practice these movements with those who view us as “terrorists,” we can begin to differentiate our approach to the life arena. We are free to agree that some, including Tiller’s murderer, take the wrong approach. In a context of understanding and respect (e.g. “I can understand why you might view all life-affirming people as radicals”), we can then explain how the gospel permeates our approach to the life arena. Of course, this presumes that the gospel actually does permeate our approach as we discussed at the beginning of this article!
The beauty of gospel-driven engagement of this kind is that it is truly life-transforming. It is so because it comes from our heart, not merely from good arguments and pithy comebacks. By seeking to understand the one who misunderstands, we demonstrate a new kind of champion of life. Without even realizing it, we gush the gospel as it lives in our own hearts. That sort of beauty is irresistible! It is the only way that gospel-driven champions of life can differentiate themselves from inflamed pro-lifers10 and radicals like Tiller’s murderer and so let Christ redeem others’ opinions about the life arena.
Now, in the Context of the Gospel, Some Truth
There is a reason this section on truth appears last in this article. It is because truth is an affront to the gospel if it is not enrobed in love and shared with a gospel-saturated heart. The world does not need more Pharisees; those truth-lovers who were devoid of compassion!15 I will frame this discussion of truth around some questions people have been asking since Tiller’s murder. Please remember that any one of these questions deserves its own article, so for the sake of space, I am being unusually brief.
Q1: Was it wrong to murder Tiller, considering he’s a known abortionist?
A1: Yes. When individuals take justice and punishment into their own hands they operate outside of God’s ordained order. In Romans 13:1-7, God clearly gives “the power of the sword” to the state (e.g. civil magistrate/government) “for the punishment of evildoers.”
Q2: Don’t Old Testament examples of priests16 and others killing evil people justify our right and imperative to do the same?
A2: No. In cases where priests or other Israelite leaders killed evildoers they were doing so under specific and explicit directive from the LORD within the context of a theocracy (where civil and religious law and authority were married beneath God as King/Head). Since the end of Old Testament theocratic Israel, no nation on earth can claim biblical theocratic status. Today, the authority of The Church is moral and spiritual only and does not include the use of the sword. The authority of the state includes the sword, per A1, above.
Q3: Should we join those who are celebrating Tiller’s murder?
A3: No. Even God does not delight in the death of the wicked.17 King David, at the death of his murderous enemy, Saul, lamented when Saul was killed in battle.18 In addition, considering the unfathomably fiery reality of hell and the fact that release from that fate is a pure gift of grace in Christ, Christians should likewise lament the punishment that Tiller could now be experiencing (assuming, from the consistent fruit of his life that he was not a Christian).19 To rejoice in anyone’s death smacks of arrogant self-righteousness at least and a gross disconnection with the grace of Christ represented in the gospel in the heart of the one rejoicing.
Q4: But what about imprecatory biblical writings like Psalm 109 that rejoice in the death of the wicked and even plead with God for their destruction? Doesn’t their example justify our celebrating Tiller’s death?
A4: This is a difficult question. First, we must be careful as finite creatures to ultimately damn anyone as wicked and so rejoice in his destruction. True, we are told to “tell a tree by its fruit.”19 But considering our own intrinsic damnability outside Christ, the impossibility for us to truly know another’s heart, and our own fallibility in judgment, we should at least approach this question with much humility. Therefore, it is completely inappropriate for a Christian to flippantly apply anything resembling imprecatory sentiments!
Second, the overwhelming posture of Christ throughout the Canon “instructs us to pray not against our enemies but for them; to turn them from the power of Satan to God; to repay their evil with good; and to choose none of their ways. ‘As men in need, who may yet be rescued, they are to be loved and sought; as men who have injured us, they must be forgiven.’”20
Third, there are many Scriptures which confirm the rightness of reverently worshipping God for the display of His justice against evildoers.21 In the advent of Tiller’s death, a self-avowed vocational abortionist and killer of thousands of judicially innocent human beings, his death confirms God’s promise from Matthew 26:52 that “those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” For this God’s people can rejoice, though still with a humble sense of reverential awe and regard for our own guilt outside Christ and gratitude for God’s gift of pardon in Christ.
Q5: Won’t this murder set the life arena back for years? If so, how can we recover?
A5: It is futile to predict the full impact of Tiller’s murder on the life arena. It is also an unhelpful distraction considering that time is short and God has given us clear instruction in how to live as gospel-driven salt and light no matter what the culture is doing.22 This article was written to help in that responsibility. Furthermore, we must not forget that God remains seated on His throne and that His campaign of righteousness will continue as He has planned without error or hindrance. Fearful fretting and vain speculation are a waste of time in the light of God’s supremacy and the clarity of His present call upon us to abide in Him and bear fruit in keeping with His gospel.23
Q6: In light of Tiller’s murder, should we still champion life?
A6: Absolutely! The taking of judicially innocent human life at any stage has been and always will be evil in God’s sight, and as Christians we are to joyfully champion and protect human life as rescued rescuers.24 Nothing, not even Tiller’s murder, can change that. Yet, the Ker-Splash! of this news is a sobering reminder of the supreme necessity to ground ourselves in the gospel. At the very least, it reminds us to check our own hearts, and make certain that we are gospel-driven ambassadors of grace and truth.
Our mission at Churches for Life is to nourish churches as gospel-driven champions of life. The worldview presented in this article reflects our approach with churches in the life arena.
2 Luke 6:45
3 John 1:14, 17, Mark 10:17-22, 2 John 1:3
4 Romans 3:9-20
5 Mark 9:43-49, Romans 6:23a, 2 Thessalonians 1:9
6 Romans 3:21-31, Colossians 2:8-15
7 Romans 6:23b, Ephesians 2:8-10
8 Romans 12:1ff, Psalm 30, 103
10 I very rarely use the term “pro-life” for this very reason; it reinforces age-old stereotypes and makes relational connections and forward-looking conversation very difficult. Click HERE to read our article with more insights on this entitled, “Do Your Ministry a Favor - Replace the Term ‘Pro-Life’ With…?”
11 Isaiah 53, esp. v. 7, Matthew 27:11-26
12 Psalm 139, esp. vv. 1-5
13 Ephesians 4:15
14 Mark 10:17-22 shows an excellent example of Christ telling a clueless man the truth in the context of relational warmth and love.
15 Matthew 23
16 Numbers 25
17 Ezekiel 18:23, 33:11
18 2 Samuel 1:17-27
19 Luke 10:20, Matthew 12:33, Luke 6:44
20 Kidner, Derek, Psalms 1-72: An Introduction & Commentary, Inter-Varsity Press, Leichester, England, 1973, p. 32.
21 2 Samuel 3:39, 1 Kings 10:9, Psalm 101, 55 (esp. v. 23), Proverbs 24:19, 20, Malachi 4,
22 1 Thessalonians 5, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2, 13-17
23 John 15:1-11
24 Deuteronomy 24:17-22, Psalm 146:9, John 13:34, 15:1-13, 1 Timothy 2:15