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Forty Years in the Wilderness

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Abraham Lincoln, deeply troubled by four years of Civil War bloodletting, gave a great second inaugural address in 1865. By then Lincoln saw slavery as a terrible stench in God’s nostrils, so he mused about why God was taking so long to blow it away with His mighty breath.

Lincoln’s words: “If God wills that [the war] continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s 250 years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”

For years, as many on the pro-life side have said “down the drain,” I’ve been the optimist, pointing to babies saved and saying the glass is one-fourth full. This year, I was feeling pessimistic: While pro-life sentiment is growing, the death toll has lurked in the 1.1-1.6 million range ever since the 1970s. Sure, the recently achieved lower number is better than the higher one, yet how could we go on a million-corpse victory march?

Early this month, though, I read Time’s take on the abortion war. Time has been consistently pro-abortion through all of Roe v. Wade’s 40 years—but now it’s pessimistic: “Abortion-rights activists are unequivocally losing. … Part of the reason is that the public is siding more and more with their opponents.” Staff writer Kate Pickert noted that only two of five Americans call themselves “pro-choice,” in part because of ultrasound and other scientific advances that have allowed many people to see that the 8-week-olds commonly aborted “have a human shape.”

Time stopped there, but 40 years ago some folks thought unborn children were like Lego blocks, and now—does anyone not know that the “human shape” signifies a human being? Does anyone not see the coarsening of America over the past four decades? Is it not strange that our tears rightly flow when a Connecticut school murderer kills 20 children, yet we go about our business while abortionists each year legally murder a number at least 50,000 times larger?

No one can hide from the truth that we kill human beings. Early on, Christians spoke of the physical consequences of abortion but also the spiritual consequences to those who defended it. So did Ken Kesey, the 1960s psychedelic drug user who wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and was a hero of the cultural left: He called abortion “the worst worm in the revolutionary philosophy, a worm bound in time to suck the righteousness and life from the work we are engaged in. ... How can abortion be anything but fascism again, back as a fad in a new intellectual garb with a new, and more helpless, victim?”

None of us is innocent. I’ve worked as a journalist and historian to draw attention to the evil of abortion, but I haven’t carried through in my prayer life. I don’t pray every day for the hearts of mothers and fathers to be turned toward their unborn children. Yes, I’ve pointed out the natural consequences of sin, with aging populations facing demographic winters. No, I haven’t come to grips with how abortion has coarsened me, as I happily sit down to dinner and cut my turkey at the moment some babies are ingesting poison or being cut up by abortionists.

So I’m pessimistic when I contemplate the tens of millions killed, and the way that abortion is proof of our universal sin and ability to rationalize or overlook evil. But Time’s distress helps me to be optimistic about what God is doing, in His time. Two decades ago we were one Supreme Court vote away from curtailing abortion. More recently we’ve been one Senate vote away, and then one Supreme Court vote away, from stopping Obamacare, which seems likely to extend abortion. So close. So far. Why, Lord, why? But, as Lincoln learned, “The Almighty has His own purposes.”

Lincoln had the right words in 1865: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.”

Ah, wounded nation!

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