"Valued By God"
(Delivered "Sanctity of Life Sunday," January 26, 2003 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James version.)
Last Wednesday was the thirtieth anniversary of the Supreme Court decision known as Roe v. Wade - a decision that is a dividing-line down the middle of our culture. And the pivotal question in that division is this: Is the fetus human, and therefore intrinsically valuable?
If we don't consider a fetus to be a human being, for example, then the anniversary of Roe v. Wade is an anniversary that celebrates personal moral autonomy, freedom of choice, with the federal protection and provision of a reproductive service to women that ultimately harms no one. Such an anniversary would be a good thing to celebrate. But if, on the other hand, we DO recognize a fetus to be a human being, then the anniversary of Roe v. Wade is an anniversary of an unspeakably great cultural and moral evil. It becomes the anniversary of a decision that has allowed at least 42 million unborn - or partially-born - innocent and helpless human beings to be put to death in our land "legally". (That's the approximate equivalent of The Holocaust twice over. That's the equivalent loss of the 9/11 attack every single day.) What's more, it means that it's the anniversary of a decision that has enabled the devaluing of human life in a host of other ways - allowing our culture to increasingly consider "thinkable" what was unthinkable to be done to human life just shortly before.
I was a teenager when that Supreme Court decision was made in 1973. It was a decision I little understood at the time, and about which I little cared. I was made to believe back then that abortion was a matter of 'women's rights' over personal health choices; and that was the extent of my conscience on it. But a few months after that decision was made, something life-changing happened to me. You see, this year will also mark for me the thirtieth anniversary of my having placed my faith in Jesus Christ. God's act of grace toward me through my faith in His Son not only saved my soul, but it also began the process of the renewal my mind. And as the years passed after Roe v. Wade, while many around me became increasingly hardened to it's consequences, I grew more aware of them and broken-hearted over them. I'll admit that I wasn't outraged by abortion at first; but the outrage in me definitely grew as the implications of my Christian faith also grew.
Personally, a definitive turning-point in my attitude toward abortion - and really, about the immeasurable value of human life - occurred many years ago, when I discovered Psalm 139. I'll never forget studying that portion of Scripture for the first time; and how I was so moved by it that I felt led to memorize it. The change in my thinking that it brought about in me became powerful and permanent; and this wasn't because it spoke directly about abortion and death. Rather, it impacted me because it so clearly affirmed God's expressed value of human life in all its stages. In other words, the Holy Spirit changed me - not through a denunciation of a great evil, but through a celebration of a great good - human life: something that God Himself created, loved and cherished. When I came to appreciate how God valued human life, I naturally grew to love what He loved, and to hate anything that devalued it.
I have a great affection for this portion of God's word; and I felt led by God to share it with you on this morning - Sanctity of Life Sunday. My hope is that, if we grow to love that which God loves, and feel as He feels about it, we will also be led to feel how He feels about anything that would devalue it or attack it.
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The psalm begins with the ascription, "For the Chief Musician. A psalm of David." What the circumstances were under which David wrote isn't told us. But perhaps that's intended. This psalm has a timeless quality that makes it an assertion of the absolute value of all human life for every individual - in any age - that lays claim to it. The sublime message in these words - written three millennia ago - has never been more needed than in our own day.
I want you to notice both how this psalm begins, and how it ends. It begins, in verse 1, with an affirmation; "O LORD, You have searched me and known me." In the Hebrew, this is stated in what is called the 'perfect aspect' - suggesting that this "searching" is something that God has already performed as a completed act. The perfect aspect is, in fact, expressed throughout the next several verses - as if the psalmist were affirming that God has already, completely turned the full force of His omniscience on the psalmist's every activity, every thought and every word.1 The psalmist is beginning his psalm with the affirmation that God has already known him through and through.
And yet, notice how the psalmist ends the psalm in similar words - not with an affirmation, however; but with an invitation. He says, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (vv. 23-24). Even though God had already thoroughly searched and completely known the psalmist, the psalmist presents himself to God after coming to terms with all that he considers in this psalm and says, "Search me again, O God. I present myself to You willingly, that You might shine Your search-light upon me and search me yet more." The first "searching" is a theological expression of the fact that God had already searched him; but the second is a practical response of worship to the God that knows him, that He might search him yet again.
And I would suggest that, after having gone through this psalm together, that willingness to be searched is what God would wish to hear from us. If we simply study this psalm to get information about how God feels about human life, and then walk away from it with our heads full of information, we will not be treating it as God intended. God wants us to respond to it all by recognizing that we're not where we need to be before Him, to humbly confess our sinfulness and failures to Him, and to present ourselves to Him willingly that He might further transform us from the inside out. The objective of this psalm, then, isn't to produce just increased knowledge in us, but also increased holiness and increased availability to Him. It's not meant to merely impact our minds but to also move our hearts.
I believe that approaching this psalm in this way is also crucial to the whole issue of abortion. The debate about abortion isn't, in an ultimate sense, an argument of facts and figures, but a product of the sinful condition of the human heart. Abortion exists because we are sinners. The battle for life isn't ultimately going to be won in our day through converting heads but through redeeming souls. Before people can change their minds about the value of human life, they must be redeemed from their sins, and their hearts must be made new by God's grace.
Our stand on abortion is ultimately a spiritual matter; and before anyone can be right about the value of human life, they must become right with the Creator of human life. That's why the closing words of this psalm absolutely must become our own. Only by presenting ourselves to God, and allowing Him to search us and change us from the inside-out, can we transcend the conflicting opinions of this world and value human life as God Himself values it.
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Many people believe human life has value only inasmuch as people award value to it. But if that's true, then human value can - and will - be adjusted and changed, raised or lowered, however people wish. In reality, the value of human life is absolute and unchanging; and it has intrinsic value, ultimately, because God - the Creator of human life - has declared it to have value to Himself.
How, then, does this psalm teach us that God values human beings? First, notice that it tells us ...
1. HOW THOROUGHLY HE KNOWS THEM (vv. 1-6).
In a spirit of worshipful wonder, the psalmist writes ...
O LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O LORD, You know it altogether. You have hedged me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it (vv. 1-6).
Have you ever complained that no one understands what you're going through, or knows how you feel? Have you ever felt that no one cares about what's going on with you? Here, you can see that God knows you thoroughly - far more than you could ever know yourself. That's how He knows every human being on earth.
We can see, for example, that He thoroughly knows every detail about your daily conduct and actions. He knows your "sitting down" and your "rising up". He knows your "path", when you're up and walking around in daily life; and He knows your "lying down", when you cease from walking and are reclined in inactivity or inability. He is "acquainted" with all your "ways"; that is, He is well familiar with your habits, and behavior patterns, and the complete history of all your actions - past, present and future.
We can also see that He thoroughly knows our thoughts. He not only knows what we think; but we're told that, "You understand my thought afar off." What an amazing statement! This can certainly mean that God knows our thoughts from a distance; but I believe it must mean more than that, because we're later told how constantly close God is to us. Instead, I believe it means that God knows our thoughts far before we even think them. We can only know our thoughts when we are thinking them - and then, only imperfectly. But God knows our thoughts perfectly and completely - not only from a distance, but also well in advance of our thinking them at all!2
We see further that God thoroughly knows our words. "For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O LORD, you know it altogether." If He knows our thoughts in advance, then He certainly knows those thoughts as they are expressed in words before we even form them or speak them. He not only knows what we say, but what we mean by what we say. He not only knows what we say in public and shout from the rooftops, but also what we mutter under our breath or whisper secretly into a friend's ear.
There are at least two things about this that should leave us astonished at His grace. The first thing is that He knows us so thoroughly, and yet He still loves us. The psalmist says that knowing all that He knows, "You have hedged me [or "enclosed me"] behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me." We sometimes fear that, if God really knew what we were like inside, He'd pull His hand away from us and let the devil have his way with us. But He knows us perfectly - sins and all - and yet surrounds us with His unfailing, protective love and care. Second, we should be amazed by the fact that it's this thorough knowledge of us that confirms to us that He indeed truly loves us. His personal scrutiny of us is proof that He holds us dear to Himself. Jesus said, "Are not two sparrows sold or a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows" (Matthew 10:29-30).
We all tend to watch carefully over whatever has great value to us. Think of the average guy who buys a brand new car. Why is he outside polishing it the next day? Why does he inspect and admire it before he goes to bed at night? It's because he values it. But when a sparrow lands on his backyard, he doesn't even notice. He doesn't jot down the time and place of the landing; or record the serial number of the sparrow. How many of us know - or even care (anymore) - how many hairs are on our heads? You and I don't think about such things, because they aren't valuable to us. But God demonstrates how valuable you are to Him by the fact that He knows you so thoroughly, and watches over you so carefully.
In this way, God demonstrates the inexpressible value He places on each human being. As we see later in this psalm, God's same watchful and knowing care is applied even to the tiny baby forming in the womb of his or her mother. Even the unborn share in the immeasurable value God places on all people; because He knows them thoroughly too.
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We can also see how valuable people are to God by ...
2. HOW CLOSE HE IS TO THEM (vv. 7-12).
The psalmist goes on to write,
Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, "Surely the darkness shall fall on me," even the night shall be light about me; indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You (vv. 7-12).
The psalmist, here, begins with a question; "Where could I possibly go to be away from You, God?" And in saying this, he certainly isn't expressing a wish to get away from God's scrutiny. Rather, he's asking a rhetorical question to affirm the fact that - indeed - there's nowhere he could go that would put him outside of God's constant, continual care.
It seems that the psalmist runs through the entire universe in his mind; and he finds that, even if he wanted to, there IS no place he could go to be away from God's Holy Spirit or to flee from His presence! If he were to ascend to heaven, there he would stand - before God's very throne. If he were to spread out his bed, as it were, in the bowels of the earth (literally 'Sheol'; the place of the dead), he'd find that God was there too. The furthest reaches one could extend vertically are to the points of either heaven or hell; and at both points, God is fully and equally there - and at all points between.
Then, the psalmist not only considers all points on the vertical plain, but also to all points on the horizontal plain as well. "If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me."
This reminds me of something I saw a week ago. My son and I were spending some time at the Oregon coast. The house we were staying in had a full view of the ocean. When we got up one particular morning, we saw the streams of sunlight as they peeked through from between the houses and buildings, and shined out on the ocean - sending beautiful orange and yellow streaks of sunlight shooting across the waves. And then, as the sun rose up in the morning sky, the sunlight completely enveloped the horizon in all directions. The psalmist was in effect saying that, even if he could hitch a ride on one of those sunbeams, and travel across the furthest reaches of the vast ocean at the speed of light, he'd still be as much in God's loving presence than as if he had stayed on the shore.
But what about the places that the sunlight cannot reach? If the psalmist were to panic, and cry out in fear, "Surely the darkness shall fall on me", or "cover me"; would this then mean that we would be hidden from God's sight, and made distant from His protective presence? No; not even the darkness will hide us from God's loving care. "Even the night shall be light about me; indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You."
God not only knows all people thoroughly - thus showing how valuable they are to Him; but He is also ever present with them. God has so structured His universe that there is no place even the most seemingly insignificant human being could ever be that would place him or her outside of God's presence. Distance cannot separate them from Him; nor can even the envelope of darkness. Not even the darkness of the womb can hide the tiniest human being from His presence. That's how valuable all human life is to God, our ever-present Maker.
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Another way God shows how valuable human life is to Him is through ...
3. HOW INVOLVED HE IS IN THEIR FORMATION (vv. 13-16).
I can never think of the value of the life of an unborn child without thinking of these breath-taking verses:
For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them (vv. 13-16).
We live in a privileged age; because, through modern technology, we've been able to peer - albeit dimly - into a realm that, before our time, only God saw. We are now able to watch a baby as he or she is actually being formed in the womb of his or her mother. And here, we're told the truth about what we can now see. Who is it that forms inward parts of the tiny unborn child? It's God Himself. Who is it that causes all the cells to multiply just so, and that covers the unborn child with flesh? God Himself does it. He personally supervises the process and is deeply involved in all of it. And He deserves our praise for it. What better words could we find, when we see such a thing, than those of the psalmist: "Marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well."
Look again at how deeply involved God is in the process! Our "frames", that is, our bone structures - most likely a figure for our whole physiologic selves - were "not hidden" from Him. We were made in secret - far from the eyes of others; in, as it were, the "lowest parts of the earth" - and yet, we were "skillfully wrought" by Him as if by His own hands.
And what's more, we're told that His own eyes carefully observed our "substance" as a completed product while it, at that point, still remained "unformed". And He had carefully planned not only our whole substance, but even the days "fashioned" for us in advance. As the New Living Translation has it, "Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed."
If we put the pieces of these Spirit-inspired affirmations together, we see that every tiny individual baby in the womb is a product of God's pre-conceived plan. He designs the unique features of the tiny body in advance; and even pre-ordains the days and events of life in which that tiny person will live. Then, in perfect accordance with His plan, He skillfully constructs the tiny frame of the body, forms the tiny inward parts, and covers the child over in his or her mother's womb. He is so intimately involved in the creation of each human being that what results is something "fearfully and wonderfully made ..." What other creation of God receives such attention from God?
Do you remember how the Bible tells us that God first made man? All the rest of His creation - including all living things - came into existence in the same way: He simply spoke them into being. But when it came to making man, God did something utterly unique. He purposed to create beings who were made in His own "image" - beings who were like Himself in a way that was unique among all His other creations. And the Bible reveals to us that He "formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being" (Genesis 2:7). When He made woman, He didn't simply speak her into being, or form her from the dust of the earth; but He made her from out of man - so that all humanity is a single unite of God's workmanship. This makes the creation of human life something utterly unique from all other things; because it was a creation that God was intimately and uniquely involved with. This makes human life more valuable and wonderful than anything else God has made.
And here, we find that God's creative involvement goes on. He is still intimately and uniquely involved in the creation of each member of the human family born from Adam and Eve. This reinforces to us how valuable each life in the womb is to God.
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Finally, God shows us how valuable each human being is to Him by ...
4. HOW MINDFUL HE IS OF THEM (vv. 17-18).
The psalmist expresses it this way:
How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand; when I awake, I am still with You (vv. 17-18).
How would you feel if you heard that some eminent person knew your name? How would you feel if you found out that the president, or some foreign king, had been thinking about you and was interested in your welfare? What's more, what if a coalition of all the kings, presidents, dignitaries and rulers of the world gathered together at once to say that they personally cared about you. Wouldn't you begin to think that you had value? If you can imagine such a thing, perhaps you can imagine just a fraction of what it means that the God of the universe thinks about you personally. The thought that God was so concerned for the psalmist, and gave so much thought to him when he was still unformed in the womb, was something utterly overwhelming to him. God's thoughts about him were very precious to him.
Notice, first, that God thinks much about each human being He made. If you were just to think about all the thoughts God had in the formation of your own body, you'd be overwhelmed. But there's more. He also has thought about the days and events and individual circumstances that make up the life He has planned for you - so that all things work together for your good. And then, there's the fact that He thinks about all your thoughts, and all your words, and all your choices. Then, just think about all the thoughts He has about all the other people around you, whose lives impact yours. And then, think about all the thoughts He has of His own pleasure and delight in you - just His thoughts about thinking about you! To say that, if counted, those thoughts would be more in number than the sands of the sea is an amazing understatement!
And second, notice that God's thoughts about each human being are constant. We all too often forget about God; but He never stops thinking about us. The way the psalmist puts it is, "When I awake, I am still with You." In Psalm 3:5, it says, "I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the LORD sustained me." When we sleep, we stop thinking about things. Often, we wake up and remember what it was we were thinking about when we went to sleep and resume thinking about it again. But God's thoughts toward us never cease. When we go to sleep, He is thinking about us as we sleep; and when we wake up, we find that He is still thinking about us just as much as before we went to sleep!
His thoughts toward each human being, then, are innumerable - more in number than the sand of the sea. And His thoughts toward then are constant - never diminishing, no matter how aware they may be of Him. Again, God shows us that human life has great value to Him by the fact that He is constantly and abundantly mindful of each human being He has made - even the tiny baby in the womb.
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What a beautiful psalm this has been so far. Sometimes I have referred to this psalm as "God's Book of Me". I learn so much revealed truth about God by looking at myself as His own precious creation!
But then comes the closing words that follow. They seem, at first, to be strangely out of place; and some folks may even be tempted to wish that they weren't there. As out-of-place as these words may seem, however, I would argue that they are essential. They present us with some important implications of all that proceeded them.
Notice, first, that the psalmist says,
Oh, that You would slay the wicked, O God! Depart from me, therefore, you bloodthirsty men. For they speak against You wickedly; Your enemies take Your name in vain. Do I not hate them, O LORD, who hate You? And do I not loathe those who rise up against You? I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies (vv. 19-22).
And in viewing this psalm from the standpoint of God's value of human life, I suggest that this implies that we should hate the shedding of innocent blood as an attack against that which God values.
The psalmist expresses high praise to God in this psalm. He says that the knowledge of how deeply God knows him is "high, I cannot attain it" (v. 6). He says that the knowledge of God's presence comforts him; causing him to trust that, no matter where he went, God's hand would lead him, and His right hand would hold him (v. 10). He considers the intimate way God was involved in his own development in the womb, and says, "I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made" (v. 14). He says, of the fact that God is constantly mindful of him, "How precious are Your thoughts to me, O God!" (v. 17). No wonder, then, that he would hate sin as an act of rebellion against such a God. No wonder that he would hate that which rises up against such a God. No wonder that he would count God's enemies to be his own enemies as well.
But I would like to point out a particular aspect of these words on this particular morning. In the light of God's own value of human life as expressed in this psalm, it's important to notice that the psalmist mentions "bloodthirsty men" - or, as it literally reads, "men of blood". This is a poetic reference to the sin of murder - the sin of taking an innocent life. To raise a hand against the innocent life of another human being is to raise one's hand against that on which God has placed immeasurable value. It is, in effect, to raise up against God Himself!
As we grow to appreciate the value God places on human life, may we grow increasingly to hate that which - in any way - seeks to destroy that life or diminish its value.
And a second implication is that we should long for the God who values us to remove everything from within us that is displeasing to Him. The psalmist writes,
Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (vv. 23-24).
God has shown us how much He values us in another very important way. He has given the life of His own precious Son Jesus Christ as the atonement for our sins. And because He has done this, we can pray the closing prayer that the psalmist here prayed, and know that it can and will be answered for us as well.
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Abortion is a great evil because it is a direct attack on innocent human life - something which God has shown to be of immeasurable value to Himself. May the anniversary of Roe v. Wade renew in us a new hatred for such a great evil. May the words of this psalm ignite in us a new commitment to love and cherish human life as God loves it. And may God so move in us that, thirty years from now, we will be able to celebrate the reversal of that awful decision because we fought for the sacredness of human life in our generation.
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