The Exception Defines the Rule

This is a post from a few years ago, but I wanted to bring it back out of the archives with all the recent debates on abortion. 

My kids are fascinated with speed and speed limits. They are always asking me, “Daddy, how fast are you going? How fast are you allowed to go?” One day they asked me why we make cars that can go much faster than the law allows. There were several answers I could have given them, but I chose the one they would most likely understand. There may be times of emergency when we need to drive faster than the law allows. If my wife is giving birth in the backseat of our car, I’m not going to be looking down at my speedometer. I don’t expect a police officer to be writing me a ticket while I’m bleeding out on the side of the road on the way to the emergency room. The exceptions define the rule. These exceptions show that the purpose of the rule is to protect life.

But what if the speeding laws were written to say that drivers must follow the posted speed limits except in cases where they are late for work or have a screaming child in the back seat? Now what do the exceptions tell us about the laws? They tell us that the laws were written to encourage efficient travel, or accommodate personal schedules, or some other arbitrary purpose. But they were not written to help preserve life on the road.

This brings us to the current presidential and congressional races and the topic of abortion. Recent weeks have brought to the forefront the issue of abortion in cases of rape and incest. Senate candidates like Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana have come under fire for comments made suggesting that rape is not a legitimate exception for aborting a baby. Governor Mitt Romney has issued a statement and is now running ads in support of the exceptions of rape, incest, and the life of the mother. But the exceptions define the rule. To say that life comes from God, that it begins at conception, and that this new life-form has inherent value as a person, yet allow for the taking of that life because of how he or she was conceived is a severe contradiction.

Think about the exceptions Jesus gave us concerning marriage and divorce. In what cases did God allow for divorce and what does that tell us about the true nature and significance of marriage?

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”—Matthew 5: 31-33

A man or woman may legitimately divorce their spouse in cases of infidelity. This tells us that marriage is at its core a covenantal relationship. It tells us that sex is more than just another avenue of physical pleasure. It tells us that faithfulness is a primary characteristic of God and should be reflected in his people. What would it tells us about God’s design and purpose of marriage if he allowed for the kinds of exceptions we allow today for divorce?

All of this to say that as Christians, we must be careful in how we think and speak about these things. It can be very tempting to soften our convictions on issues such as abortion in a way that deflects some of the scorn and accusations of others and yet maintain a form of biblical conviction. But the exceptions define the rule. And those exceptions either support the true virtue behind the rule or they slowly erode it away.

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