I had hoped to sleep off my general discouragement about losing a whole lot of writing, but instead, I gave myself one of those “sleeping” injuries—like, somehow during the night I pulled a muscle or something, and so I can’t move my neck. I’m not exactly sure why God is trying to strike me down—was it that I sinned? Or was it my mother? Or maybe my children. It can’t be me. I’ve been trying to do nice things like reading and reviewing nice people’s books, and cleaning my house, and instigerating knowledge into my children. But this week is turning out to be one capacious handful of dust.
So, in light of so much misery, I might as well dive in and say that though I intended to try to walk by, this article has haunted me for the last two days. It’s by Shannon Dingle, who withstood a horrific personal calamity last year. She and her husband took their six children off to the beach for a nice time, and a freak wave knocked her husband over and broke his neck. He was pronounced dead the next day. I read about it at the time in horror and prayed for them. Dingle is opposite me, probably, on every substantive matter regarding the Christian faith, and I’m sure we could have some contentious go-arounds on that score, but that is neither here nor there. Along with the horrible and unexpected death of Rachel Held Evans last year, there has been a lot to mourn—and all before 2020.
So if you choose to click on and read Dingle’s piece, you should keep in mind that her grief is still very present. The writing is raw and painful, as it would be. The only fair thing to do is to take her seriously and continue to pray, because in the swirl of grief and trouble, it is possible to be in several places at once, and it wouldn’t be fair—if I may use the word again—to impose some severe theological verdict on her for what she says here.
But she does say some things, she does plant her flag, and it does feel like there is a lot of anger, which of course there would be. But I wonder if it is misdirected. I don’t know, but I wonder. Because on top of losing her husband, in the agonizing days following his death, she discovered she was pregnant. And that news unmoored her further, because pregnancy is always a dangerous business for her. There was no way, she says, she could have come out of that experience intact–she herself could have died. And so, she says, she contemplated an abortion:
I wanted to weep, but I was all out of tears after spending the last week on tasks like choosing the outfit for my husband’s corpse to wear and holding my children while they wailed, “I want Daddy!” I didn’t need anyone else to dole out shame. I was masterfully manufacturing it all by myself. I didn’t take a pregnancy test, even as the days passed. I couldn’t handle going to a store on my own yet, and I certainly wasn’t going to ask anyone else to buy a test to confirm that I needed an abortion. The shame spiral in which I was residing was strong. I wasn’t sure I could be loved if I didn’t risk everything to bring another child into the world.
She goes on:
This is how you think when you’ve been groomed by the pro-life movement to see pregnancy in black and white with no room for gray. I decided to call my friend Arinn to get her help, knowing she wouldn’t judge me. Before I could do that, the cramps arrived. These weren’t the normal menstrual ones but the kind that come when your body expels tissue that could have been a child. The pregnancy ended on its own.
I want to say first that I hope you will continue to pray for the Dingle family, that God will be gracious to them, that they will be comforted. This is not an attack on a person in grief, nor on a person who disagrees with me. The subject of abortion—as we are this moment hearing in the hearings to confirm Amy Coney Barrett—is fraught and emotional. There is no neutral ground. Witness Dingle’s use of the word “groomed.” She has been groomed by the pro-life movement to see pregnancy in black and white terms.
I think it is the other way around. I think the way those on the pro-abortion side put the matter too starkly, insisting that if you endure the tribulation of a pregnancy, one that may even end your own life, the grief and trouble of that will so completely overwhelm you that you will be annihilated and all those in your sway along with you. The only salvation for you is to end the life of the one inside you, as if that is the only true consequence-free choice.
This stark, black and white, binary choice is only possible to make by leaving out three considerations. One, God is sovereign over death and life. His providence is what keeps us alive both now, and for eternity. We don’t actually have control over death. Two, eternity lies on the other side of this life. Though we die in our bodies, we will be raised, either to an eternal destruction, or an eternal consolation. And three, none of us actually knows the future. We don’t know what will happen, for good or for ill, though the ill of yesterday presses heavily against any hope of good we might have for tomorrow.
The other missing piece, of course, is that God is good. When he brings suffering and death into the way of sinners, it is so that we will fling ourselves onto his mercy, so that we will go to him to be saved out of this desperate, dark, wilderness into an eternal, never-ending joy. To step into the midst of a trial and say that the only way out is more death—and one not your own—is a pitiful and paltry kind of salvation. Facing the ruined eyes of children who have lost their father, and might also lose their mother, is a grief no human person can withstand. And that is not the Christian, nor the pro-life call. We are not asked to bear up under our afflictions alone, without help. Jesus—who is Life—comes into the midst of human suffering to restore everything that is devoured and destroyed by death. But you do have to trust him who knew all of your days before even one of them came into being. You do have to beg him for his help. You do have to acknowledge his goodness over and against your own. Which any single one of us can do by looking at him there on the cross, going into the depths of hell so that we would never have to.