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Bernard Nathanson, rest in peace

I just learned with sadness of the passing of Dr. Bernard Nathanson. Nathanson’s life was a bit reminiscent of that of Paul of Tarsus. In the early 1970s, he pioneered the ushering in of unlimited abortion in the United States. As this compelling and eloquent obituary states, he personally performed thousands of abortions, including that of his own unborn child. Say what you will, Nathanson was not in it merely for the money. He believed in what he was doing.

But at the appointed hour, truth unbidden barged in on Nathanson’s life. When he finally saw an ultrasound of a live abortion, a moment which he later immortalized in the Silent Scream movie, he realized the moral horror of what he had done. Unable to deny the truth, Nathanson turned completely around and became a forceful advocate on behalf of human life.

And more than that, his awakening opened up for him an issue he had previously been closed to – his own compelling need for forgiveness from a God he knew was morally perfect. Jesus said that everyone who seeks finds. Nathanson’s crushing weight of sin drove him to the only assurance of forgiveness we are given, Jesus.

While Nathanson’s passing is the end of an era, there’s encouragement in his life for us. Our God is so big that there is no sin He will not forgive, if only we come to Him with a sincere heart and ask. Paul the great apostle persecuted the church murderously, but when he finally saw the truth, he too could not deny it, and he converted. When God forgives, He forgives completely; it is a done deal. Despite Paul’s past, God chose him and commissioned him to be His vessel:

This man is My chosen instrument to take My name to Gentiles, kings, and the Israelites. -Acts 9:15

Later Paul would testify:

I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. -1Tim 1:16

So it is too, with so many of us, who early in our lives found the lies taught by our morally adventurous culture pleasing to our flesh, but who later discovered the terrible cost of sin, a cost that in many cases had been hidden from us.

Nathanson courageously embraced truth at great personal cost. There was a massive disruption of his professional associations and his friendships, to say nothing of his finances. For this reason, leaving his previous error behind, he went on to become a moral giant. Like Paul he earned the right to say:

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. -1Cor 15:10

There is sadness in loss, but the grace of God marches on, collecting trophies such as Bernard Nathanson. He is an example for us of casting off sin and every weight of encumbrance, and pursuing grace and truth, even when it is costly to do so.

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  1. Charles Lenn
    April 5, 2012 at 9:47 am

    You are right on with Dr. Nathanson. I had the VHS “Silent Scream” that he produced. He left a great legacy.

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