After narrowly escaping death by firing squad, the author declared: 'life is a gift, life is happiness'

Yesterday was the day of our monthly pro-life prayer vigil outside our local hospital. I held up two placards. One had the words “Have Mercy on the Unborn” on it; the other, “Life is a gift.” This latter statement, so foundational for all who believe in a loving Creator God, so simple and yet so profound, is often forgotten by those who govern our country, as well as by the Opposition parties.

I was reminded of it in another context when reading The House of the Dead: Siberian Exile under the Tsars by Daniel Beer. Beer relates the case of the 28-year-old writer, Fyodor Dostoevsky, who was convicted at the end of 1849, along with other young St Petersburg intellectuals, of membership of a subversive discussion group i.e. one that criticised the institution of serfdom and hoped for political reform. Sentenced to death by firing squad and lining up in the prison courtyard just minutes from execution, the writer and his companions were granted a last-minute reprieve from the Tsar, Nicholas I. Instead, Dostoevsky was sentenced to four years penal labour in Omsk, Siberia.

Writing a letter that night from the Peter and Paul Fortress to his brother Mikhail, the writer “declared his burning ambition to savour every moment of his life”, stating “Life is a gift, life is happiness…Now, changing my life, I will be reborn in a new form. Brother! I swear to you …that I will maintain my spirits and I will keep my heart pure. I am being reborn as something better. That is my great hope and my great consolation!”

It is when you are about to have your life violently snatched from you that you appreciate what a gift it is. Dostoevsky never forgot that stark lesson in his later life, despite all its triumphs and disasters. Christians know it too, for themselves and for the unborn whose lives they seek to defend. It is a sad reality that among all the promises both sensible and stupid made by the contending political parties in today’s General Election, none of them, to my knowledge, has mentioned the protection of preborn life or a shift in our abortion laws.

We have to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. Yet at the same time Christians must bear in mind that although in this country no-one is condemned to death by firing squad for wanting political reform it cannot be called truly civilised as long as we condone the legal abortion of thousands of babies every year.