“GOD IS PRO-LIFE”, a billboard shouted at me yesterday. Sure, I thought, but like me, God is also pro-choice.
“Pro-life” is an effectively meaningless term used simply to avoid real political thought, sanctify a particular political position and its proponents, and demonize proponents of alternative public policy. “Pro-life” can’t really distinguish candidates or policymakers, because every living, morally reasoning being values life. Every morally reasoning being also values other things besides life—liberty, justice, dignity, autonomy… all of which may be viewed as elements of “choice”. Values often conflict, and morally reasoning beings thus struggle to prioritize and balance those values, often striking different balances in response to different questions. Democratic and Republican politicians alike demonstrate that we are all pro-life and we are all pro-choice.
So is God.
The Christian God, the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent deity I hear about from fervent billboarders and other people around me, is said to have created all living things, so that God evidently values life. But that God created a natural system in which the life of all creatures is sustained by the death of other creatures. Plants take root and draw nourishment from compost, the remains of past living creatures. Many animals eat plants. Many animals hunt, kill, and eat each other. Microbes ultimately consume us all. God likes life, but not enough to make it permanent and absolutely unalterable or unendable for any creature.
That Christian God also likes choice. That God imbued a subset of living creatures—us, humans, the only ones we know of asking ourselves these moral questions—with free will. God created living beings who could choose to do dumb or dangerous things that would end their lives. God lets those dumb and dangerous choices kill people every day. A God who can be everywhere and do anything can interrupt those choices and stop those deaths. But the Christian God does not. The Christian God evidently values choice… and in many situations values it more than life.
If God’s values were limited to that one sentence on a billboard (infinity in a slogan—probably not going to work), if God really valued life and nothing else or life above all else, absolutely without exception, God would not let cars crash. God would not let Russia invade Ukraine or America drop nuclear bombs on Japan. God would not let coronavirus kill millions of people. God would not let his most highly valued creatures, the ones God created in God’s own image, make dumb and fatal choices.
But God does not breathe life back into the dead. God does not put that hedge of protection around every living being, believer or nonbeliever, to prevent fatal mishaps and misdeeds. God makes life, but God then lets humans make choices, and God lets those choices end life.
The Christian God’s whole story gets meaning from one woman’s choice. Absent Eve’s choice, God’s story would have been pretty boring. We’d all still be running around Eden, blissfully unaware of our nakedness, petting lambs and lions, and not blogging about theologically unsound billboards. A purely pro-life God would never have let Eve choose to set the Biblical plot in motion. But the pro-choice God said, “Here, Eve, make choices,” and when her choice crossed God’s will and the value of perfect life, let her choice stand.
God is pro-life. But God is also pro-choice. And when life and choice conflict, God chooses choice.