Consider Mei Shunping's story:

Mei was married in 1981, and gave birth to a son two years later. At the time, women were supposed to automatically get an IUD implanted or husbands were to be sterilized after the first child's birth. Doctors refused to implant the IUD in Mei, though, for medical reasons.

"Without the IUD, I became the prime target for surveillance by the factory's Family Planning Commission," Mei said. "From 1983 to 1990, because of the one-child policy, I had to have five abortions."

"My factory's Family Planning Commission used three levels of control: at the factory level, in the factory clinic and on the factory floor. If one worker violated the rules, all would be punished. Workers monitored each other . . . Colleagues were suspicious and hostile to each other because of the one-child policy. Two of my pregnancies were reported by my colleagues to the Family Planning Commission," she said.

"When discovered, pregnant women would be dragged to undergo forced abortions—there was no other choice. We had no dignity as potential child-bearers . . . Every month during their menstrual period, women had to undress in front of the birth planning doctor for examination. If anyone skipped the examination, she would be forced to take a pregnancy test at the hospital. We were allowed to collect a salary only after it was confirmed that we were not pregnant."

Mei said that despite her kidney disease, doctors implanted an IUD after the fifth abortion and gave her husband the bill. When he protested her treatment, he was arrested for "violating and obstructing the one-child policy, disturbing the normal operations of a hospital, and disturbing social peace."

Yet the policy goes much further than this. Chen Guangcheng and his associates have documented the terrors visited on the population of just one district in China, where the entire extended family of a typical one-child policy violator is "implicated"—detained, tortured, extorted—and neighbors may well be too, based merely on physical proximity to the miscreant. "Family-planning" officials, meanwhile, are drunk, foul-mouthed, and capricious, beating the elderly, snatching children to terrify parents, and intimidating their victims into despair and suicide.

Something like the one-child policy cannot be enforced antiseptically or in a benign, orderly manner. Its nature is to be brutal and destructive, distorting, overwhelming: it preempts everything else; it becomes, in a grotesque inversion, the very spirit of law and community. In that role, it condemns the people to perpetual discomfort, irresolution, hopelessness, and gnawing fear.

It is, in short, the inevitable consequence of setting out to systematically administer death. We can't pick and choose which lives we will value. We don't have that power. If we give ourselves over to a cavalier mindset about anyone—the unborn, the broken toddler, the elder struggling for dignity—we have sold out on all fronts, and the consequences will come.

I'm not sure we remember often enough why that is. We cannot pick and choose, because God doesn't. When He made us in His image, He gave us the need to see as He does: to see His hand in the unborn child, to see the face of Jesus in the helpless, and to see the tragedy of the proud and arrogant.

I do think, however, that He has to carry us through those times when we are stunned by the enormity of what is going on in the billions of hearts and minds around us. The past century has seen an unprecedented surge of world wars, civil wars, and bloodthirsty ideological dictatorships. It has seen genuine holocausts as well, and a rise of banal inhumanity in our "rational" arrangements for modern life. And none of these things was remote or hard to imagine for God. The nameless victims, lost to history, are not nameless to Him. He has heard their every cry. He knows their tormenters too, better than they know themselves. He knows the uncaring, and He loves them.

His ways are not our ways (Is. 55:8), but He has told us what we need to know: "Love your neighbor as you love yourself" (Mt. 22:39, NIV). What an amazing thing it is to realize that He has made us with an endless capacity for love, but a very limited tolerance for being aware of, dwelling on, and trying to figure out cruelty and vice. We aren't built for communing with those things. His nature is to see them unflinchingly, without fatigue, and without being corrupted or discouraged—because He is God.