Sunday, December 14, 2008

Before Birth

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.

                        Jeremiah 1.5

A Natural Fact

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex—Woody Allen's bawdy satire of an early 70’s “how-to” bestseller—ends by splendidly sending up human reproductivity from the inside out. The bespectacled Allen joins other spermatozoa on a jump seat, waiting to leap into the future, as it were. Being Woody, he’s racked with anxiety as he looks at the other stronger swimmers and rules out completing his mission. It’s puerile and silly, but were I cursed with teaching sex ed, I’d run the clip on the first day, open the floor for any questions, and end by announcing every class thereafter will be spent in study hall. No biology text ever explained reproduction more effectively.

Because conception is a natural fact, we classify it under “science,” which literally means “knowledge.” Knowing how, though, sheds no light on understanding why. Science sidesteps this by retrofitting Darwin’s theory to the start of life. There’s nothing wrong with that—as long as we allow that our Creator has chosen to employ a random system for predefined reasons. Think of it this way. Science regards conception as the stepping off point of natural selection, the launch of traits and characteristics that affect survival. Faith sees it as the culmination of divine election, the result of what God decides to do.

Infinitely Aware

Each of us is a fact before becoming a fetus. “I knew you before you were conceived,” God told Jeremiah. “I endowed you with singular distinction before you entered the world.” We could take this to mean that Jeremiah was unique were it not for how often the Bible confirms it in other cases, most notably with Jesus. This is a regular topic here, typically discussed in context with confidence that God creates us—and therefore accepts us—as we are for His own reasons and purpose. But there’s another side not to be overlooked or undervalued.

How long and how well God knows us defy comparison with anyone, including us, because He supersedes time and intelligence. He’s infinitely—rather than intimately—aware of us in detail the likes of which we can’t imagine. It’s there that He loves and cares for us. Jesus explained this in astonishing terms for His time: “Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” (Matthew 10.30) On this side of nuclear medicine and the Human Genome Project, He would say, “Even your atomic sub-matter is accounted for.”


It’s illuminating to note that Jesus’s “hair-count” statement arises in a discussion about social and religious bigots who “will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues” (v17). Don’t fear the wrath of those who kill the body but can’t kill the soul, He teaches in verse 28. Instead, be concerned about pleasing the One Who can destroy body and soul. Then, to avoid provoking the very response He warns against, He notes God misses nothing and nothing happens without His consent. Even sparrows, Jesus says, the cheapest sacrifices on the market, don’t escape His purview. Nor does one hair on your head. “So don’t be afraid; you’re worth more than many sparrows” (v31).

Our Maker’s unsurpassed knowledge—His eternal, bottomless catalogue of our individual biological and biographical data—precludes any notion He doesn’t understand us, can’t relate to us, or won’t attend to our needs, even those we’re taught to consider illegitimate and inappropriate to lay before Him. His microcosmic interest in us obtains cosmic significance that dwarfs any challenge we confront. Before we were conceived, He knew us. Before we were born, He set us apart. We’re different by design. Those who view us otherwise—as accidents of nature or products of nurture—belittle our Creator. Their darkness is not to be feared in light of God’s brilliant creativity and care.

A human genome sequence: breakthrough knowledge for us doesn't remotely scratch the surface of God's infinite awareness of how and why we're made.

(Tomorrow: Stuck with Straw)

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