In Psalm 139, the favorite text of self love, “For you formed my inward parts, You wove me in my mother’s womb; I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” …
You’ll see how interpreting it literally will create problems.
For example, this is a text often quoted to condemn abortion. Unfortunately, this introduces religion into a topic embraced by the non-religious, which makes it a non-starter. But you don’t need Psalm 139 to condemn abortion. Its barbarity is plain enough—depending on how you define a human being, of course. So you must do your homework. However, information alone often won’t change people’s mind.
Furthermore, to suggest that God had direct involvement in each and every birth causes problems, too, when we consider birth defects, miscarriages, and delivery complications.
Psalm 139 and the miracle of birth
Consider the “miracle” of birth. With over seven billion people on the earth, from the young to the old, then add the births throughout history, this makes giving birth hardly rare or exceptional. More like an assembly line in a factory.
The case of defects or miscarriages makes sense in this context. We expect mistakes in a factory. Randomness will account for mistakes. However, allow God direct involvement behind each birth — “you wove me in my mother’s womb” — and on occasion he screws up. Misplaces a chromosome, wraps a feeding tube around a neck, gives the nod for an early exit. But no worries, despite these mistakes, he had a pretty good record, ye ole literalist.
In addition, infant mortality rates were higher one hundred years ago (not to mention maternal mortality rates). Who’s fault was that? There was a reason large families were more popular back then.
Not so much today because of the improvement in medical knowledge and technology, raising our expectations so each and every birth we expect to be “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Out of duty, we thank God.
What a poetic reading of Psalm 139 looks like
Allow a non-literal reading, a poetic reading, and we begin here: God commanded Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply.” In other words, reproduce. Have babies. Subdue the earth.
Adam and Eve inaugurated the use of the reproductive system (designed by God). However, before they could get the venture off the ground, the system was warped by sin. Birth is now cursed. And this admits a better explanation of defects, miscarriages, and complications.
Finally, we must not read this literally for this reason: it pins the responsibility of the birth of both good and evil people onto God.
Ivan the Terrible reads Psalm 139?
Lying on his bed as a small boy, Ivan the Terrible may have recited Psalm 139: 13 – 14 to himself in the dark. Unfortunately, Ivan went on to become a ruthless, paranoid czar of Russia.
Argue it was his freedom of the will that is to blame for his wickedness, but God was not blind to who he was forming in the inward parts of Elena Glinskaya, his mother. Why not allow the uterine lining to slough off in week 16? Or not craft the baby at all?
God cannot be the literal hand behind each birth. Too much riding on that.