A Hierarchy of Desires

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. (Isa. 5:20)

I like food. Good food. I like ice cream and baked goods (no, not casseroles, pastries!), in particular. I’m not a huge candy fan so I would usually prefer if the candy were left out of the ice cream. If I eat ice cream and baked goods in excess, it will be to my detriment. One could say that by doing so I will be accumulating a debt that has to be paid off with dieting or disease in the future.

It is necessary… to make a distinction between pleasure that is true or legitimate and pleasure that is not. We know that a pleasure can be as heavily debited as an economy. Some people undoubtedly thought it pleasant, for example, to have the most onerous tasks of their economy performed by black slaves. But this proved to be a pleasure that was temporary and dangerous. It lived by an enormous indebtedness that was inescapably to be paid not in money, but in misery, waste, and death. The pleasures of fossil fuel combustion and nuclear ‘security’ are, as we are beginning to see, similarly debited to the future. These pleasures are in every way analogous to the self-indulgent pleasures of individuals. They are pleasures that we are allowed to have merely to the extent that we can ignore or defer the logical consequences.[1]

The abortion industry likewise counts on an economy that is heavily debited to the future. It sets out to capitalize on an immediate felt need. It may be couched as anything from not allowing an unexpected baby to ruin one’s whole life (as if producing life is ruining one’s life), to the ability to have sexual freedom (modern wording for “enslavement to our desires”), to having control over one’s body (without consideration of the other person’s body within). (I do not deny that in some cases the it involves an anguishing decision over a child produced by incest or rape. That is a subject beyond the scope of this post.) The desires sought in these cases at the cost of a life can only be achieved by leveraging a heavy debt in the future, a future that is not far off.

Paying Abortion’s Debt

How might the future have to pay the debt created by the abortion done today? It will have to pay a compounding debt paid from the future emotional health of the mother and/or father making the decision. It will pay from the future health of the community they live in. And from the future health of the nation they live in.

This is not speculation. One merely has to consider the economic crisis abortion has already created. If one looks at the U.S. population by age group, it is easy to see that since the 1970s there has been a rapid shift. Naturally, one expects (as was always the case) that younger age brackets would always be the greater portion of the population than the older brackets. (The 3 charts acting as the “photo” for this post are taken from the U.S. Census Bureau at Census.gov. They are called pyramids because in all history one would expect them to be shaped like one. In the 1965 chart, it is easy to see the effect of WWII on the population. In the subsequent charts, the effect of easy access to abortion on the shape of the pyramid is obvious.)

The 2020 chart above shows the radical change such that now, despite the attrition caused by aging (i.e. death), population by age is almost the same across the board. This is why Social Security is in crisis. I am not denying other reasons, but the biggest is that the need will naturally outrank the supply because of population decline of younger workers. Meeting the need of an aging population will require more from each worker since there are fewer workers per older person drawing Social Security.

Will the debt be paid by increasing costs (taxes) to the younger people? Or will it be paid for by ignoring the needs of the aged? In a culture willing to discard its new life, certainly one would expect that they would gladly discard the aged who aren’t even cute. The consequences cannot be deferred forever.

Will the debt be paid by increasing costs (taxes) to the younger people? Or will it be paid for by ignoring the needs of the aged?

Discerning Desires

I don’t think the church can solve the nation’s economic problems, but we can live differently than the world. We cannot be the light of the world if we are conformed to the world. If we want to make a difference in the world, we must think differently about life. In the scenario this post speaks about, that begins with how we view pleasures.

We must distinguish between pleasures that are true and legitimate and those that are not. Our culture has rapidly moved in the direction of defining good or morality by whatever makes you happy. To be led by our desires has historically been considered bondage. Yet all of us, Christians included, know that there are legitimate pleasures we should indeed want to experience.

For believers to navigate the pitfalls of this logic that good is defined by what makes us happy, we must recognize that not all desires are legitimate. What makes a desire illegitimate can lie in the actual thing itself, but also in just how intensely we desire it. For example, if we desire it so much that we are willing to do evil in order to achieve it, it has become an illegitimate desire.

In the opening example, there is nothing inherently evil in ice cream (except, in some cases, the additives). But over-indulging in the pleasures of eating ice cream exacts a price of our future health and/or our future desires. Such debts always come with heavy interest payments!

Wanting financial security is a good desire. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be fed and clothed. But Jesus teaches us that to make even those basic needs a higher priority than generosity is a problem for His people (Matt. 6:19-34). Financial security is good, but if it cannot be placed above generosity (sharing with others), then it certainly cannot be placed above the life of another. Doing so (culturally) has created a debt that is coming due.

How will this debt be paid? It is already being paid by the economy: ours is a consumer-based economy, and we’ve killed a bunch of consumers. Maybe it will be a future national security crisis. Nations require young people to defend themselves, an age bracket has dramatically declined since abortion has become increasingly an option. It will likely be paid in all these areas and more.

Financial security is good, but if it cannot be placed above generosity (sharing with others), then it certainly cannot be placed above the life of another. Doing so (culturally) has created a debt that is coming due.

Where does the church fit in?

Jesus told us that the poor will always be with us. Yet, in the church, there was a time when that was not the case. We read about it in Acts 2:42-45 and 4:32-35. This is often read as an idealistic, unrealistic, unsustainable experience. Certainly, because of human sin it will not be without its trials (Acts 5, 6). But to experience it as the early church did, the church must be willing to live differently than the world around us. To pursue different desires.

How did the early church accomplish this? We are told, “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.” (Acts 4:32) They were thinking and living in line with the Sermon on the Mount (see Matt. 6:19-34 also referenced above). They were yearning for God’s “kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.” That was their chief desire.

Only when people see us living by a different hope, will they ask about the reason for the hope that we have. That hope is God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

I’d love to see a time when killing a child in the womb is unthinkable in our society but that won’t happen until it is unthinkable in the church. And it won’t happen in the church so long as we believe achieving our desires (whatever they are) is the essence of good. We must begin to live as if we are not our own but belong to our Lord. We must begin to realize that bearing God’s image toward other image-bearers is the purpose for which we were created.

Only when people see us living by a different hope, will they ask about the reason for the hope that we have. That hope is God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

The church ought to be the place where life, all of life, is so valued that the idea of snuffing out the life of a baby in the womb would be unthinkable. But it cannot be that place until the life of the elderly, the life of the disabled, the mentally ill, or the immigrant, etc., is so valued that a young couple finding themselves pregnant would immediately know that that life is valued in this community.


To be prolife, truly prolife, one needs to be consistently prolife. We need to respect life at every level (infants in the womb, elderly, poor, underprivileged, etc.). But the reverse is inherently true. If one is not prolife in the womb, simply by the debt abortion creates it is not prolife in the future because it degrades the lives of the elderly or the young (depending on how things are handled) or both. The costs will be paid in a compounding way in the future.

Heavier costs to the young, disregarding our elderly, and lack of security as a nation can all create burdens that ought not to be born. If the church is going to make a difference, it must begin with the household of God. We must begin to live and think differently about our desires in order that we might be the light of the world, a city on a hill.

[1] Wendell Berry. The World-Ending Fire: The Essential Wendell Berry. 275.

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  • Christopher DeVito says:

    I fully agree especially in the context that this is simply talking about the morality and practical consequences of abortion. I think you’re spot on and did a great job of avoiding working through the consequences. I appreciate that your conclusion is that the world won’t care about a consistent pro-life view (as not just the unborn, but also all states of life) until the church cares.

    That said, I would play “devil’s advocate” (perhaps more apt here than most of the times we use that phrase) and pose a few counterpoints specifically on the practical consequences side as I think from a Bible believing perspective there is little more to say about the morality of the issue than what you said. At least nothing contradictory to what you’ve said concerning the moral consequences.

    My first counterpoint is that average wages and US GDP, even accounting for inflation, have gone up since then, so the economic consequences you mention could be offset by our increased national wealth. This counterpoint is specifically based on American results, and certainly we could reach a point where the inverted population by age chart reverses these trends. For reference, US GDP per capita adjusted to 2017 dollars went from about $28k in 1973 to $67k in 2023. Increased wealth nationally per person could, depending on how it’s handled, make caring for our elderly even easier despite the reduced younger work force. Doesn’t change that your analysis could certainly result in problems eventually, but could be an argument to offset that practical consequence.

    The second counter point I would make is a policy based one, which I notice you were careful to avoid. You didn’t seem to argue for criminalization of abortions, so much as the consequences morally and practically, so this perhaps is slightly outside the scope of your post. As far as the goal is to change the hearts of believers and through us the hearts of others and eliminate abortions by changing the nations morality, this counterpoint is moot. However, that’s rarely where we leave it and if we address this from a legislative perspective, there are additional consequences. Assuming laws are passed that have the teeth to enforce bans on abortions, one must be willing to jail or fine those who would get or perform abortions. If we are jailing doctors who perform them and any continue to do so, we risk affecting healthcare by diminishing the number of doctors available. If we are jailing those who get abortions, we risk reducing the workforce in general which could have some similar effects to what you described as those in jail cost society money rather than contribute. If these are effective enough deterrents that doctors refuse to perform them, we risk far more dangerous abortions that will also potentially cost lives or if successful and caught take these women out of the workforce and put them in jail, in this case again diminishing the workforce of the younger end of your charts. Likely this will be less impactful over time as the deterrent would probably mean fewer abortions than we’ve had over the last 50 years, but this is still a point to consider.

    Lastly, if we ban abortions and are truly consistent, things like IVF will have significant liability risk as we’ve seen recently which could make it harder for those who want children but can’t have them naturally to have kids. In reality, if we consider life to begin at conception, the current IVF practices would be illegal if one passes complete abortion bans. While this is less of an issue as far as consequences, it would take an emotional toll on those who are now unable to have kids, though one could hope that adoption would be a natural alternative.

    In the end, none of this changes the fact that the moral consequences of a society indulging in evil actions to further their otherwise good desires is a terrible cost. Ending abortion should definitely be our goal as any life ended early is a tragedy and these counterpoints in no way change that.

    • Jerry Cisar says:

      Christopher, Great to hear from you. I appreciate your comments. As for the adjusted wages, I think if one also adjusts for inflation, the problem remains the same. (I found out last week that a house my parents built in the early 70s for about $60,000 (while my dad was an executive earning around $35,000), just sold for 1.2 million (it isn’t all that!). Not all inflation is that extreme but I think figures show that buying power today is much lower per capita even if “wealth” is the same.
      As for legislation, you are correct: I intentionally avoided that path of discussion. Not that I don’t think laws should be passed to protect the most vulnerable members of our society… they should, but I think the church has become so accustomed to a Constantinian way of working in the world (where the bride of the Lamb marries the Beast and uses the power of the sword to enforce its ways) that we’ve forgotten that our primary means of bringing about change is by laying down our lives and loving our enemies, etc. In this case, living a different way of life based in different desires. I fear that like those Jesus was rebuking in Matthew 23, we may not be those who killed the prophets, but those who build their tombs. Or put into this situation: we may not be those who abort babies, but those who build their tombs (by living in more or less the same indulgent ways).
      I know one set of parents who did IVF and, as believers, refused to kill any of them and have 10 children (last I heard). God is good.
      Grace to you.

  • Debi Walter says:

    This post, Jerry, is so well-researched and written. Only by the grace of God can we live unselfish, generous lives for His glory. II wanted to see the charts you mentioned but they didn’t show us using my phone. I’ve always thought with so many lives lost through abortion that it would be the baby-boomer generation that would suffer the consequences of a failing social security system. And here we are.
    Blessings to you.

    • Jerry Cisar says:

      Debi, try your computer (laptop/desktop) and if you can’t get the charts to show, I will email you the graphic. Not sure why that is. Thanks so much for your comments.

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