Monday, June 08, 2009

Without Exception

Whether one would see a glass as half-empty or half-full would depend entirely on one’s outlook on life. Whether one is a pessimist or an optimist depends, in large measure, on whether one has the faith to get through from one day to the next. It is a given, of course, that even Christians get a little “down in the mouth” from time to time; the world has a way of closing in around us whenever money is tight or the kids have too much going on or there are sick friends and family members or … or …

It also occurred to me not long ago that we Christians are sometimes a little too free with negative thoughts, for instance, when we refer to those who are terminally ill as “dying”. Such a mindset helps to lend credence to such laws – clearly laws “of the flesh” - as those created in Washington State and Oregon known as “death with dignity”, laws that appear noble on the surface but come up severely short in biblical and practical wisdom especially when we consider and then dismiss the sacred nature and value of human life, regardless of the state of that life. Terminally ill patients are indeed dying, as is so often said, but no more or less so than any one of us at any given time. We are all on borrowed time.

Death is imminent; without exception, we are all going to pass from this world sooner or later but until life passes from us, we are all, also without exception, very much alive. Our existence, our very being has intrinsic value that goes far beyond the human capacity to adequately or accurately measure. So it must necessarily be not a choice between “living and dying” but, rather, “alive or dead”. There can be no in-between without creating the so-called “gray areas” in which the definition of a “life worth living” becomes a debatable topic subject only to the secular value our society chooses to assign according to the usefulness of that life.

In such “slippery slope” areas as abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, cloning, and euthanasia, divine value is not even taken into consideration not only because such value is immeasurable and incomprehensible by human standards but also because, by these same human standards, the value of life becomes relative. Relative to what would remain to be seen and is ambiguous at best, but that relativity is defined only in moment-to-moment social situations and political circumstances. Not only does such thinking violate the premise that Life is in the realm of our Holy Father and no other, but “slippery slopes” lead to such deranged thinking as human life being only slightly more advanced than that of a monkey or a rat or any other “lab” animal subject to human experimentation. Think of the Nazi era.

The divine value of human life is poetically expressed in Isaiah when the prophet is called forth in chapter 6. The prophet acknowledges his unworthiness as with “unclean lips” from among a people of “unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5) especially while in the Divine Presence. In spite of his perceived unworthiness and in spite of his perceived unworthiness of the people whom Isaiah will be preaching to, the Lord sees fit to continue to reach out, refusing to disavow His own people, His own creation. They are all, without exception, still very much alive and worth the effort; even those who will ultimately reject Him. They are all, without exception, of intrinsic value not only to one another but to the Lord and His purposes. It is, by decree of the Lord alone, that all life has value and cannot – in fact, must not – be subjected to measure by man’s arbitrary, conditional, fickle and, ultimately, finite standards.

In the book, "Seven Theories of Human Nature", Leslie Stevens writes, “The Christian doctrine of man sees him primarily in relation to God, who has created him to occupy a special position in the universe. Man is made in the image of God, to have dominion over the rest of creation; he is unique in that he has in him something of the self-consciousness and ability to love freely which is characteristic of God Himself. God created man for fellowship with Himself, so man fulfills the purpose of his life only when he loves and serves his Creator ... It is a common and recurrent misinterpretation of Christian doctrine that it asserts a dualism between the material body and an immaterial soul …” (pg 45)

Think of it in Paul’s terms of our being “debtors … to the Spirit” (Romans 8:12-13), that whole sum and source of our existence by which our true and genuine value is not only given but is also divinely measured. Living “according to the flesh” places a finite and limited value on our existence; we’re only good and useful until we die. And if we choose to live “according to the flesh … [we] will die”, Paul writes, as opposed to our ability to “freely choose” to reflect the characteristics of our divine nature with and in our physical, mortal selves, having been called into being by our Divine Creator. Our existence is measured by our own choices but is ultimately assigned its value by the Lord from the very beginning.

Even though we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), we cannot deny that we are born of flesh and Jesus does make such a distinction between the two and even suggests a certain “dualism” in John 3:6; “What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of Spirit is Spirit”. Jesus implies a distinction between our physical, fleshly selves and the Divine Nature which comes when we are in communion with the Spirit. It is only then when there can be a fellowship between God and man. Nevertheless, we are still occupying our mortal bodies and using our mortal minds. And it strikes Jesus as strange that Nicodemus, “a teacher of Israel” (vs 10), lacks a clear understanding of this spiritual – and Scriptural – reality.

In Isaiah 44:3 it is written, “I will pour water on him who is thirsty and floods upon the dry ground. I will pour My Spirit on your descendants and My blessing on your offspring.” It is also written in Ezekiel 36:26, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you”.

Spiritual restoration, then, is not an exclusively New Testament doctrine. It was the Lord’s intent to restore Israel after the Exile even after they betrayed Him and profaned His Name by their actions, and these were mortal, physical bodies that were to be restored. It is the intent of the Holy Father to restore us all to that Divine Image in which we were first created. And it is by His Hand and His decree alone that humanity is restored to that Divine Fellowship for which we were “fearfully and wonderfully made”. And Jesus wraps it all up nice and neat with this statement: “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17).

If we, then, know and appreciate and even embrace this Truth, then we must surely know and appreciate that the Lord is no respecter of persons. That is, He does not play favorites. He loves totally and completely ALL of His creation. That which is in store for you and for me is also what is in store for others. Having been born again through baptism, that Sacrament of the Church by which we are brought into the New Covenant and given the gift of Life by the Holy Spirit, it then becomes incumbent upon us to serve as witnesses of this Truth: Life is God, and God is Life. There is nothing ambiguous about it. And the Scripture is clear: the value of our lives is not measured according to our fleshly usefulness though it is our flesh that “freely chooses” that Great Gift.

The passing of our mortal bodies is a given and will come to us all sooner or later but for those who “freely choose” to walk and live in the Spirit, Life is far from over and we are NOT “dying”. We are LIVING … and will forevermore.

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