Part 2 of Psalm 139, by Rosie Moore.
“For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them (Ps 139:13-16)
David is remembered as a great king and leader, poet and musician, courageous warrior and tender shepherd, sinner and man after God’s own heart. But I doubt any of us would regard David as a man of science. Yet, three thousand years ago, he understood the truths about conception and human development, which have been confirmed by the study of embryology and DNA in the last few decades.
The process of three-dimensional DNA helixes, winding and unwinding to make proteins for human growth, looks a lot like knitting or weaving. And now we know, without a doubt, that an unborn child is a living, distinct, unique, whole human being from the time of conception.
Fearfully and wonderfully made.
In these verses, David demonstrates a healthy attitude towards himself and his Creator. He assumes that God rules providentially over his life even when he was just a dot in his mother’s womb. He doesn’t view himself as an accident or a mistake. Thanks to ultrasound technology, we are now able to see just how fearfully and wonderfully God has made every human being, as He is the inventor of procreation.
An unborn baby not only bears a unique human fingerprint, but also the fingerprint of a loving God stamped on its forty-six chromosomes.
From the moment of conception, the embryo has its own unique genetic code that is different from its mother and father’s. It grows by cellular reproduction; metabolizes food into energy and responds to stimuli. Between twelve and eighteen weeks, the foetus feels pain and reacts to stress in a way that resembles an adult’s response.
But David’s positive understanding of his life and his body is not just a mantra to affirm his self esteem, nor is it wishful thinking. It is firmly rooted in the imago dei, namely that human beings are different and distinctive from animals, plants and the rest of Creation. As God’s image-bearers, men and women are made to be the Creator’s visible representatives on earth (Genesis 1:27), to rule in his place. Thus, David’s self esteem is based squarely on God’s estimation of him:
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them”.
David understood himself through the lens of Genesis 1:27-31, which our society seems to be defying at the deepest level. He knew that God has a plan for each of his image bearers from conception, throughout their lives, through death and into eternity.
David knew that mankind was made to “be fruitful, increase in number and fill the earth” (Gen 1:28); to rule over every living thing and produce food from the earth, whilst living in harmony with the rest of creation (Gen 1:29-31). Of course, sin spoilt everything, but David knew that God’s image remains in humanity.
And because David assumed the imago dei, he knew that his intrinsic worth had nothing to do with his accomplishments or status as king. His value was not conferred on him by society, but endowed by God the Creator. His value as a human was therefore inalienable.
We can either praise God for being the wonderful Creator that He is, or depose Him and adopt our own ideas of what it means to be human.
Whatever happened to the human race?
Recently I re-read Francis Shaeffer’s classic, “Whatever Happened to the Human Race,” and was struck by his prophetic warnings about the war on Western society’s foundations for faith and freedom. In 1979, Schaeffer wrote,
“If man is not made in God’s image, nothing stands in the way of inhumanity. There is no good reason why mankind should be perceived as special. Human life is cheapened. We can see this in the many major issues being debated in our society today: abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, the increase of child abuse and violence of every kind, pornography (and its particular kinds of violence as evidenced in sadomasochism), the routine torture of political prisoners, the crime explosion and the random violence which surrounds us.”
I think there are at least three practical principles that flow out of Psalm 139:13-16:
- Every human has intrinsic value.
- God has ordained the days of our lives.
- Our bodies matter to God.
Today we will focus on the first one. Let’s ask the Lord to make this principle real in our lives.
- Every human has intrinsic worth.
Ps 139:13-16 answers two crucial questions: What does it mean to be human? What makes us valuable? These questions are the volcanic hot spot of every emotive debate in our culture.
The fact that God creates, knows and cares for the unborn in the unseen haven of a woman’s uterus, means that God’s concern for all life begins at conception. And logically, this must mean that God’s people also have the responsibility to care for children in the womb.
The reason for abortion on demand is that our society has assumed the right to determine human value. Humanity has re-defined what it means to be human and usurped God’s right over life and death. Quite simply, our culture no longer believes that God has knitted us together in our mother’s womb, nor that there is a purpose for our existence.
You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
The recent overturning of Roe v Wade should be celebrated by every Christian worldwide as a small step in pushing back what Francis Schaeffer described in 1979 as “the slaughter of the innocents”. Schaeffer warned that the judgment of God would be upon any nation involved in this slaughter.
Yet, today’s desperate fight for the right to kill babies in the womb, (and even shortly after birth for the harvesting of human tissue) is framed as a reproductive health or choice issue; a women’s rights or constitutional issue; an economic, philosophical or religious issue. It is often seen as a private matter between a woman and her doctor. It’s presented as the compassionate option.
But it’s impossible to ignore the silent, small victim who is ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ by our loving Creator. What if the unborn had a voice and could express their choice? One person’s unfair or hard circumstances can never justify intentionally taking the life of an innocent victim.
So, while God is concerned for every pregnant mother, he sees another person in the mother’s womb who is worthy of care and protection. Psalm 139:13-16 tells us that an embryo is not a constructed thing, a clump of cells or a piece of flesh. God sees both the unborn child and the mother, made in his image.
Human worth is totally unrelated to how independent or ‘viable’ a person is. My son is dependent on an insulin pump for survival, but his life has equal value to any other twenty-three year old. The elderly, sick and disabled rely on caregivers and chronic medications, but that doesn’t make them less worthy of protection. Human dignity and worth only exists because we’ve been made in God’s image.
Moreover, since we are not the Creator, we do not have the right to confer or withdraw the rights of ‘personhood’. Human beings have rights simply because we are human. They are automatic and intrinsic, because God has bestowed them. This is the basis for human dignity and the only safeguard against terrible atrocities and degradation.
The basis for human dignity.
The ‘image of God’ remains the only basis for human rights. We have taken these rights for granted in Constitutional democracies, but they are under siege from every angle—The right to life and freedom from cruel treatment; the right to property, privacy and bodily integrity; the right to work, think and express one’s thoughts, the right to human dignity and equal protection under the law.
But what happens to human rights if we reject the imago dei? We are walking on dangerous quicksand if we remove the foundation set out in Genesis 1 and 2.
One example of this quicksand is evident in the Sustainable Development goals imposed on the world’s nations as part of Agenda 2030. As Christians, the Bible says that God has entrusted mankind with dominion over Creation, but it’s limited because we are creatures and not the Creator. So our role is to responsibly rule the creation and make it a suitable habitat until the Creator comes back to reclaim it. We are to be good stewards of the earth.
However, there are many who argue that the world can only sustain around half a billion people. They claim that we have until 2030 to get the numbers down in order to survive, as we’re in a climate emergency.
I am tempted to ask: “Who are the seven billion people that must eliminated on this planet, and who is going to decide that? What if the fertilizer bans and zero carbon emissions goals destroy agricultural industries and lead to mass famine and starvation?” Time and time again in history, so-called ‘utopias’ have led to human devastation, degradation and enslavement.
The dangerous truth is that atheists do not believe that God created human beings in his image. They reject God as Creator, his order of Creation, man’s inherent value and the mandate to rule that God established at the beginning of the world. Consequently, this worldview does not see human beings as unique, worthwhile and irreplaceable. We are no different from the animals and the trees.
When the human race is no longer seen as made in God’s image, there is really no basis for treating people well and no barrier to abusing or even eradicating them. Even the words ‘crime’ and ‘cruelty’ lose their meanings. Thus, the cruel calls even for late term abortions come as no surprise.
When humanity is devalued for long enough, the unthinkable becomes acceptable.
A fierce spiritual battle.
While we should pray for those who do not see the value of every human life and show grace and truth in conversations with those who disagree, Christians cannot celebrate choices that inflict suffering on the poor and the weak, even if they’re couched in compassionate words.
As Randy Alcorn points out here, there is a fierce spiritual battle raging at the heart of abortion. “Abortion is Satan’s attempt to kill God in effigy by destroying the little ones created in God’s image.” It is essentially a war against God.
As a final word on the principle of intrinsic worth, I thought I’d share the comments of a profoundly handicapped man called Craig who was born without a left leg and without arms below the elbows. Today he would probably have been eliminated in the womb due to serious birth defects:
“They don’t really see that what they are talking about is murder. I know, when I was born, the first thing my dad said to my mom was that “this one needs our love more.” An individual with a handicap needs our love and needs us to help him grow into the being that God has made him to be. They are advocating that we destroy these children before they’re even given a chance to live and conquer their handicaps.
I’m very glad to be alive. I live a full, meaningful life. I have many friends and many things that I want to do in life. I think the secret of living with a handicap is realizing who you are—that you’re a human being, someone who is very special—looking at the things you can do in spite of your handicap, and maybe even through your handicap.” (Schaeffer, Whatever happened to the human race?)
Lord, thank you that we are fearfully and wonderfully made in your image. We are built and designed by you. Our unique bodies, brains, eyes and ears bear your unmistakable marks as master craftsman, master designer and master builder. Thank you that we are not just the product of impersonal forces such as time and chance and natural selection. Help us to trust in your providence as our Creator and to represent you well on this earth until you return. Help us to to protect the dignity and worth of every human being, as you do. And help us to nourish and respect our bodies, as we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Amen.
Join us next week for our final devotion in “The Days formed for me.” We’ll look at the last two principles from Psalm 139:13-16:
- God has ordained the days of our lives.
- Our bodies matter to God.
2. Francis Schaeffer, Whatever happened to the Human Race? (Crossway Books, 1979)
3. Randy Alcorn, There’s a fierce spiritual battle at the heart of abortion.
4. Randy Alcorn, Why Pro Life? Caring for the Unborn and their Mothers.