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The Unborn

When Hitler attacked the Jews I was not a Jew, therefore I was not concerned. And when Hitler attacked the Catholics, I was not a Catholic, and therefore, I was not concerned. And when Hitler attacked the unions and the industrialists, I was not a member of the unions and I was not concerned. Then Hitler attacked me and the Protestant church— and there was nobody left to be concerned.
—Martin Neimoller: Anti-Nazi Activist in Germany during Hitler’s reign of terror [1]

 

Introduction

At 3:20 a.m. on March 13, 1964, Kitty Genovese, a 28-year-old manager of a bar in Queens, returned to her quiet residential neighborhood, parked her car in a lot adjacent to her apartment building, and began to walk the thirty yards to her door. Noticing a man at the far end of the lot, she paused. When he started toward her, she turned the other way and tried to reach a police call box half a block away. The man caught and stabbed her. She screamed, "Oh, my God, he stabbed me! Please help me! Please help me!" Lights went on in the apartment building across the street, windows opened, and a man called out, "Let that girl alone."

The assailant shrugged and walked away. Windows closed and lights went out. The assailant returned and stabbed her again. This time she screamed, "I’m dying! I’m dying!" Windows opened and lights went on—many more of them than before. The assailant walked to his car and drove away. After he left, Kitty Genovese crawled along the street, reached the outside door to her apartment building, and dragged herself inside. The assailant returned once more, found her on the floor at the foot of the stairs, and killed her.

During the three separate attacks spanning 35 minutes, none of Kitty Genovese’s neighbors tried to intervene. Even worse, while more than thirty respectable people saw at least one of the knife attacks and heard her screams, not one of them picked up a telephone to call for help. Finally, one man did call a friend and ask for advice on what he should do; he ended up urging another neighbor to call authorities, which she did. Police arrived in only 2 minutes, but it was too late.

Interviewed afterwards, the residents admitted, sometimes sheepishly, "I didn’t want to get involved," One mumbled that he had been too tired to call police and had gone back to bed. [2]

The Kitty Genovese incident—so dramatic, appalling, and public—was perhaps the defining moment in our consciousness of our national apathy. When it occurred, it shocked the nation—a nation of polite, courteous people—people who do not want to get involved. People who only wanted to mind their own business.

Yet, her death served as a wake up call. It reminded our national conscience that to do nothing was in effect to be an accessory to the crime. God has always called the powerful to take up the cause of the powerless. One of the places we see this is in Psalm 82. There we see that it is not simply heroic to defend the weak, it is our duty and privilege as children of God.

1 God presides in the great assembly; he gives judgment among the "gods": 2 "How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked? Selah 3 Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. 4 Deliver them from the hand of the wicked. 5 "They know nothing, they understand nothing. They walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. 6 "I said, 'You are "gods"; you are all sons of the Most High.' 7 But you will die like mere men; you will fall like every other ruler." 8 Rise up, O God, judge the earth, for all the nations are your inheritance. (NIV)

God is in His royal court and has convened a meeting of all the gods. This isn’t a verse supporting polytheism. Rather, in a poetic way, the psalmist is painting a picture of a royal gathering. The exact identity of these gods has been debated by scholars, but there is general agreement that the ones referred to as gods with a little g include human beings.

We know this because in John 10, Jesus applies verse 6 to human beings. Because we are made in the image of God, because Adam is called the son of God, then all the descendents of Adam are sons of the Most High. Since we are bearers of the image of God, then there is a sense in which all humans are royals. We are kings and as kings, we have a royal duty.

It is Our Royal Duty to Defend the Defenseless

As Psalm 82 opens, God summons all of these kings or gods before his throne. Here, God charges them with a failure to do their duty. Specifically, they have abused their royal authority by defending the unjust and showing partiality to the wicked. How have they done so? Look at verses 3 and 4.

3 Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. 4 Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

It is our royal duty as human beings to defend the weak and the powerless. Whenever we fail to defend the weak and the powerless, we are aiding and abetting the acts of the unjust and the wicked. What this means is, even if you do not sanction oppression, if you are doing nothing to stop it, you are an accessory to the crime.

Yet, instead of defending the weak and the powerless, what have the gods done?

5 They know nothing, they understand nothing. They walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

These gods have been the three monkeys—hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil. They have not seen the injustice in the world. They have not heard the cries of the poor and oppressed. Yet, their ignorance is no excuse because it is a willful ignorance. The result has been that the very foundations of the earth are shaken.

Since we are sons of God, since we are made in the image of God, we are to reflect His character. He is just. Therefore, we are to be just. He is opposed to the wicked. Therefore, we are to oppose the wicked. He defends the defenseless. Therefore, we are to defend the defenseless.

Next, God pronounces His judgment on the gods. Because they have not taken care of the poor and the oppressed, God says to them:

6 I said, ‘You are "gods"; you are all sons of the Most High.’ 7 But you will die like mere men; you will fall like every other ruler.

Because they have not defended the weak, because they have not fulfilled their royal duty, God’s judgment comes upon them. They may be royalty. They may claim that they are gods, but they will die like mere mortals because they have not done their royal duty.

Therefore, it is our royal duty as children of God to defend the defenseless. Whenever we fail to defend the defenseless or to come to the aid of the needy, we are aiding and abetting the oppressors and are failing to do our royal duty.

Who are the Defenseless?

3 Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. 4 Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

In these two verses, the psalmist refers to the defenseless in three different ways. He calls them the :

Anyone who cannot care for himself, anyone who is powerless in our society, those who have no voice, those who have been marginalized. We are going to apply this to one particular group today, but before we do, let’s recognize that it is our responsibility to care for any who are marginalized, those who are powerless in our society.

The powerless include:

The point is that all human beings, whether black or white, rich or poor, young or old, are entitled to justice because they are human beings. To deny them justice is to deny their humanity. Yet, not all human beings are capable of fending for themselves. They are in a position where others can and do take advantage of their weakness. In those cases, we are to be their defenders. It is our royal duty as those who bear the image of God to protect the weak and defend the defenseless.

So far, I have not written anything of substance with which anyone would take issue. There have been times when people would have argued with you about the rights of minorities or the rights of the poor, but not today. We all agree in protecting the rights of these people, don’t we? It is when we reach this fourth category that there is a stir.

According to US News and World Report, if current rates are sustained, 43 percent of American women will have an abortion in their lifetime. That would mean abortion is as common a life experience for women as divorce—and more than three times more common than breast cancer. It would mean that more than twice as many women have abortions as get college degrees. And, the article goes on to state, it would mean that 25 years after Roe v. Wade, abortions are anything but rare. [3]

[1] According to Harry W. Mazal, the exact text of what Martin Neimoller said, and which appears in the Congressional Record, 14, October 1968, page 31636.
[2] This account is taken from newspaper accounts recorded in Not the Way It’s Suppose to Be: A Breviary of Sin, by Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.
[3] U.S. News 01/19/98 Abortions: So many have them, so few discuss them," by Steven Waldman, Elise Ackerman, and Rita Rubin.