Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Excerpt from "The Faith"

I'm finishing up The Faith: What Christians Believe, Why They Believe it, and Why it Matters by Charles Colson.  Excellent book outlining the foundations for a Christian worldview.  Here is a story he tells in the chapter titled, "The Sanctity of Life."  (This LONG excerpt is several pages into the chapter which discusses the Christian belief in "the sanctity of life at every stage, from conception to death.")

Belief in the sanctity of life may be fine as an ideal, many will say, but there are real-world problems that demand exceptions.  It's hardly compassionate to bring millions of unwanted children into the impoverished nations of the world where they will experience hunger and be afflicted with disease from the moments of their births to their premature deaths.  There are genetic "defects" that can now be detected in the womb that condemn children to lives of misery.  Why should we obliged to perpetuate their lives through modern medicine when nature has so clearly decided against them?  And there are many less extreme but still difficult situations in which reasonable people believe that the termination of a pregnancy or the practice of euthanasia offers the only way out.  What about the promising, bright, fifteen-year-old girl whose pimply-faced boyfriend as much as forces himself upon her in one overheated backseat encounter?  Why should that young woman and her family's hopes and dreams be dashed unnecessarily? 

Many Christians think this way; our secular neighbors generally all do.  So many people, in fact, that even if the U.S. supreme Court were to return the abortion issue to the states, half would vote to legalize it.  Even many Christians have succumbed to a "lesser of two evils" mentality.  After all, this world is hard - it truly is - and the prospect of avoiding further pain by choosing the seemingly "lesser" evil has strong appeal.

I thought about this appeal when I visited my daughter, Emily, in Massachusetts.  One Sunday afternoon we attended a special needs basketball game in which Max, my autistic grandson, was participating.  The game was in an elementary school on a tree-lined suburban road.  The school itself was... the epitome of New England architecture. But the gymnasium had been added on.  It looked like a big sandy-beige concrete-block cube... I thought it would be dreary inside.  But inside it was anything but dreary. There were about thirty children in attendance who suffered from autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, or other conditions.  Almost an equal number of parents and high school student volunteers ahd shown up as well so that each youth or child had his or her own caregiver.... Not one kid among the thirty could fully manage for himself or herself.  One of the boys, who looked to be in his midtwenties, was helped onto the court by his middle-aged mother... She held on to her son, keeping him drawn up with a tight grip on his jacket in order for him to stand.  He wasn't able to speak but evidently communicated well enough with his mother through his eyes.  The parents and volunteers were excited to see how eager the kids were to play.  

After everyone had dribbled and thrown the balls about for a while, the group assembled for a prescribed warm-up.  They formed a big circle around one of the baskets and every participant took a turn shooting baskets until he or she made one.  A few scored on their first shot.  Max was actually one of the more functional kids, although his first couple shots missed wildly before he sank one.  Most of the kids had to take five or six or as many as ten shots.  Every time a participant scored, a look of pure joy appeared on his face and on the volunteers' faces and the family's.  There was tremendous enthusiasm with whoops and hollers at every basket...

Then they had a game.  Half the kids composed one team and the other half their opponents.  No one was allowed to interfere with anyone who had the ball.  The coach, his assistants, and some of the volunteers now turned into helping-hand referees, supervising the kids as they dribbled, passed, and took the ball up and down the court... It was well organized and exciting for the kids.  

After the game, the mother who had to help her son stand was about to leave a bag behind when Emily noticed it and brought it to her.  It was filled with diapers.  Imagine being the mother of a twenty-year-old whose diapers still need changing.  I wondered whether I could ever summon the stamina and grace these kids demand of a parent.  My daughter will tell you, however, that Max is the greatest blessing in her life.  What occurred to me that day, though, was that all of these parents, as well as coaches and volunteers, displayed a love that was utterly missing in most of society today.  Their reaction to the situation was, indeed, the exact opposite of what one might expect.  They were the happiest group of people I'd met in a long time.

Why were they so happy when so many others in Western society who live privileged lives, utterly free of such cares, are so miserable?  It's because, whether they know it or not, they are doing God's work.  It's not that autism or Down syndrome or cerebral palsy are good things; they are consequences of the fall.  It's not that raising such children or caring for the hungry in distant lands doesn't entail incredible sacrifice.

But when I reflect on the joy in that gym, I realize God gives a special anointing to those who care for others - even to those who don't believe in the God who is blessing their actions.  [This reminds me of something my dad says often, The Bible is working for or against you whether or not you believe it.]  The disabled and the poor end up being God's gifts to us, for they present opportunities to serve our common Creator, who has fashioned each of us in His image.  As Mother Teresa said, "The poor, in whatever part of the world are to be found, are the suffering Christ.  In them, lives and dies, the Son of God.  Through them, God shows us His face."

I left that day with two other thoughts.  The greatest advocate in our day for utilitarian ethics, Professor Peter Singer, argues for infanticide and euthanasia as good things, since they are free resources to maximize the happiness of the majority.  And if life has no inherent worth, he's logically correct.  So why don't we get rid of these burdensome kids?  Because the truth about life is understood - the imago Dei is in us, even when we don't want to acknowledge it.  

Also, how could anyone watch that game and still believe that Darwin's theory of natural selection is correct?  According to his theory, natural processes would have selected out those characteristics which do not strength us in our struggle to live.  In other words, the strong would eliminate the weak.  But why hasn't that happened?  It's because of what Darwin and his defenders could have never understood - human kindness and altruism.  Darwin's defenders would deny us the blessing of caring for people like Max and those who played basketball that day.  It's not a burden, thank you.  It's a joy.

Later, Colson concludes his chapter with this statement: 

Christians propose to society a biblical humanism "deeply grounded in the dignity of the human person at every stage of development, disadvantage, or decline."  It would be difficult to find a more effective answer to the encroaching culture of death than the love and justice of God.  

~Colson, p.180-185