Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Last week, Aimee and I stumbled across Look Who’s Talking, the 1989 romantic comedy, starring John Travolta and Kirstie Allie. Allie plays Mollie, a young woman living in New York City who becomes pregnant during a brief affair and decides to raise her baby as a single mother. Travolta is a cab driver who takes the pregnant woman to the hospital, ends up witnessing her son Mikey’s birth, and then becomes increasingly involved in their lives. Bruce Willis provides the voice-over for Mikey, Mollie’s son, who offers humorous commentary on life from his perspective beginning from conception and going through the first year or so of his life. Through special effects, we get a realistic peek (at least for the day) into the developmental stages of a baby in the womb from conception through birth.
In our text, Psalm 139, David gives us a similar perspective of life—though much more poetic and introspective—as he meditates on God’s attributes: His omniscience, His omnipresence, His omnipotence, and His holiness, how God was involved intimately in our creation, how He knew every detail of every one of our days, even before our first one came to be.
David’s words can be a little frightening because you quickly realize God knows all about you! He knows where you are, what you are doing, what you’re thinking, and what you’re going to say even before you say it (v. 1-4)! You also realize that there is no place you can go to escape this all-knowing God. “Where shall I go from Your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from Your presence?” David asks rhetorically (v. 7). It is almost like Psalm 139 is God’s version of George Orwell’s 1984 poster, “Big Brother Is Watching You”!
But God is not watching you as some “Big Brother in the sky” but as your Creator. God knows you because He made you. “For You formed my inward parts,” David says, “You knitted me together in my mother’s womb” (v. 13). There is a progression here. God created you, your very essence, and then wove or knitted a covering for “you”—your body. You were uniquely “you” at the moment of your conception. Your genetic makeup, your “inmost being” was there.
We know, of course, that God does not have tiny little knitting needles that He uses inside a uterus. However, guided by the Holy Spirit, David poetically paints a picture of God’s intimate and delicate involvement in the formation of life from the moment of conception. It’s not hard for me to imagine the strands of individual DNA being interlaced, the muscles, nerves, and veins being plaited and interwoven within the tiny human body.
Weaving or knitting is delicate work. It takes concentration to make sure the right strands go in the right place to produce the pattern that will lead to a recognizable whole. The scarf that your grandma knit is not only beautiful because of the amazing pattern of the woven threads, it is beautiful and valuable because of the hands that made it. Your life is beautiful and valuable, not only because of the miraculous complexity of your body, but because of the hands of your Creator.
David is awed by the contemplation of this: “I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are Your works; my soul knows it very well” (v.14). Do you know very well how amazing and miraculous you are? It doesn’t matter what you look like, or how good you are at math, or whether all your parts still work! You are the work of God’s hands! Don’t ever question your value!
David goes back to God’s intimate knowledge of us. “My frame was not hidden from You, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth” (v.15). The metaphor for the womb, “woven in the depths of the earth,” recalls that God shaped us as He shaped Adam, and that we, too, are dust and to dust we will return (Genesis 2:7; 3:19). David’s point is clear: God knew us even before we were born.
This thought is repeated in verse 16 with an addition: “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 none of them.” God not only knew you while you were being formed inside your mother, but God also had a plan and purpose for your life! It just makes you want to say, “Wow!”
That’s how David continues. “How precious to me are Your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I could count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and am still with You” (v. 17-18). Just think about it: you are always in the thoughts of God! You have been from before the very beginning of your life. God knows you because He was intimately involved in your formation.
That brings us back to the idea that God is watching over you. Yes, He sees and knows everything you do and that’s not always good! But don’t be afraid! God has provided a means of forgiveness. His Son, Jesus, took our place from the very beginning. He, too, grew and developed in the womb of His mother, Mary. He lived a perfect life in our place. Then He took our sins upon Himself and suffered and died in our place on the cross. He satisfied God’s justice and endured the punishment for sin for all people for all time—including you! Through faith in Jesus, whom God brought back to life from the dead, you are seen by God as holy and pure. No, it’s not frightening to think about God knowing and watching you. In fact, it’s very comforting. As the work of His hands, you are precious to Him!
In addition to describing so amazingly God’s involvement in human life from the very beginning, Psalm 139 also provides a platform upon which to face a terrible reality: Not everyone sees the preciousness of human life in the womb. There are those who favor invading this “knitting room” of God and killing the life God creates there. Abortion has been around so long that many have become desensitized to what it really is and does. Even many Christians ask, “What’s so wrong with the right to choose?”
It all depends upon what is being chosen. Everyone knows that this phrase is not referring to a woman’s right to choose a new dress or new shoes. It refers to choosing an abortion, the intentional taking of an innocent human life. It’s a biological fact that a genetically unique human life begins at conception. The heart begins to beat at around 24 days. Brain waves can be recorded at 43 days. Movement begins at 45 days. By eight weeks every organ is present and functioning. The rest of the time in the womb is spent in further growth and development. It is important to know that it is not something that is killed in an abortion. It is someone, someone God created and redeemed.
But that little one knitted in the womb is not the only victim, here. The “right to choose” deeply affects those who take part in that choice. Abortion has physical, emotional, and spiritual effects on the women and men involved. It is not as harmless and casual an event as many insist. Someone dies in an abortion. Someone else is deeply wounded. This is important for us to remember: The still living victims of an abortion choice who regret their part in such a choice, also need to hear the Good News of forgiveness and life available for penitent sinners in the death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. Even as you champion the value of each human life, make sure you share the Gospel!
David’s pondering words also have applications to sanctity of life issues involving biotechnology. When stem cells are taken from a human embryo, a human being, a little girl or a little boy, dies. This is fundamental biology and yet it must be denied by those favoring embryonic stem cell research.
It is denied in the “size” argument. “The embryo destroyed for its stem cells is smaller than the period at the end of this sentence,” they will argue, as if the value of a human life is determined by his or her size. But every human being, including anyone using that phrase, was once that small. Regardless of size, it is someone not something that is destroyed when embryonic stem cells are taken.
The humanity of the embryo is denied in the “therapeutic” argument as well. “Embryonic stem cells hold the potential to cure devastating diseases,” we are told. This is a true statement although there have been no cures to date, and none are really expected for a decade at least. But even if a cure were found tomorrow, killing human beings to cure human beings is not a moral option.
The humanity of the embryo is also denied in the “good as dead” argument. This is the argument that even some who claim to be “pro-life” have used. “These embryos in fertility clinics are going to die anyway. Why not use them to preserve life in others?” But we don’t talk about harvesting body parts from inmates on death row or little girls and boys with terminal cancer to preserve life in others.
Beware of being led astray by such rhetoric. We are better served and serve better when we are tuned to the poetry of God. “For You created my inmost being; You knitted me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13). Every human life is hand-crafted by God Himself. That gives it priceless value, no matter at what stage, what condition.
In 1920, two German physicians published a book called The Permission to Destroy Life Unworthy of Life. In it, they argued that “death assistance” should be extended to “empty shells of human beings” such as those with brain damage, some psychiatric conditions, and mental retardation. They argued that money spent to care for “meaningless life” could be better used by those socially and physically fit. History demonstrates that such thinking led to brutal Nazi experiments and death camps, forced sterilization programs in some European countries, and radical “eugenics” movements in Britain and the United States.
The value of human life does not depend upon what someone is able to do or not to do. God creates life. God made the first two human beings in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). Even though this image was lost when sin came into the world, this original, lofty position still gives value to human life (Genesis 9:6).
First, when God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28), He set in motion a biological process for procreation. But God is still involved in this process. Remember: You are handmade by God! Everyone is. Whether you are an embryo growing in a womb, a young man in his prime, or a grandma in a nursing-home bed—every human life has this God-given value.
Second, God redeemed human life. God loved what He had made with His hands so much that He sent His Son to pay the price to buy all human life back from sin and death. You know what that price was. It was not with “silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-19). Every human being is a human being for whom Jesus Christ died. The embryo in the Petri dish, the child with Down syndrome yet to be born, the young woman who is brain damaged, the man or woman worn down by the guilt and shame of a previous abortion decision, the elderly man with Alzheimer’s disease, have all been bought with a price. That price gives them value regardless of their stage of development or their condition.
Finally, God gives special value to those He calls as His own. God’s grace given in Baptism flows to the infirm as well as to the healthy, the mentally retarded little girl is as much a child of God as the pastor who baptizes her. Value comes from what God can do in and through His children, not from their capabilities. We minimize God’s power when we say He cannot be at work in and give value to the grandma who has lived 95 years but no longer remembers her family.
An elderly pastor living in a nursing home struggled each day to care for his wife, who had lost virtually all physical strength and the ability to communicate. Despite these troubles, her husband visited with her each day, recalling the life of love and commitment they still shared. They little realized that their simple gestures were carefully and thoughtfully observed by a young man working at the nursing home. The couple’s loving interaction moved the young man to consider dedicating himself to the pastoral ministry.
“Why is God keeping me around?” “The quality of Grandma’s life just isn’t what it used to be.” You may have said similar things. Take note: such statements reflect a view of the value of life based on people’s abilities rather than on God’s ability. Assigning value to human life based on mental or physical capacity can lead to the foreboding conclusion that maybe there is life not worthy of life. But this is not so! All life is worthy of life because God makes it so.
This psalm gives a clear answer to today’s controversy about the value of human life and when life begins clearly condemning abortion and other assaults on developing children. And yet, this psalm, above all, proclaims God’s love, which He expresses in His personal care and involvement in all of His creation. God’s knowledge, power, and presence were manifest most fully when He Himself assumed our substance, with a human body knit together in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and grew up to bear in that body God’s wrath for sin at the cross.
David recognizes that without forgiveness he too would fall under the wrath of the holy God. So, he circles back to the beginning of the psalm, closing not with pride but with humility. We would do well to end the same. “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (v. 23-24).
Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy. You are forgiven for all your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Some of this sermon was adapted from a presentation by Rev. James Lamb, former director of Lutherans For Life.