Sunday, November 6, 2011

Man: crown or frown of God’s creation?

I WAS once on my way to Borongan and was driving very slowly as I climbed a hilly road at Brgy Can-abong. In fact, my speed was between 30 to 40 KPH. All of a sudden a dog crossed the road. I remember reducing my speed to 25 KPH. To my horror, as it reached the other side of the road, the dog made a turn-around and ran back to the middle of the road right smack against the car. It was too late. I had neither way nor time to avoid it. Before I knew it, the car hit the dog. I heard an incredible noise as I automatically stepped on the brakes. I said to myself, “I could have killed a dog today.” But, to my surprise, the dog was not hit by the tires. It simply ran through the middle of the car’s tires and, when I looked back, I saw it running away in the direction of a house. I breathed a sigh of relief. But a thought occurred to me, “What if it was a child?” I felt a cold sweat run through my neck.

Why is it that when drivers talk of running over dogs or chickens there is not much concern? But when they talk of accidentally hitting a child, the equation changes radically? The answer is simple. Because it involves a human life and a human life is notches higher than those of dogs and chickens or any other animals. But where did we get this idea? Where else but from the Scriptures, specifically from the book of Genesis 1:26-27. It is only when he creates the human being that God makes a radical change in the form and substance of his act of creating. Form because he no longer just wills and commands into existence a creature he envisions. He seems to speak to another person or other persons with him, “Let us make man in our image and likeness”. Biblical experts are at variance about what this signifies.

There are those who say the expression is just ‘majestic plural’ underlining God’s transcendence. But there are those who say that these words contain the seeds of the doctrine of the Trinity. However, our point at issue is the high value of the creature, the human being—in God’s image and likeness. Scholastic philosophy had taught that this can only mean that the human person shares in God’s properties of intellect and will. Genesis does not explicitly explain what it means. But we are given an important hint when it speaks of how the human being must have “dominion” over creatures under him, namely, the birds, the fishes and all others lower in rank. Gaudium et Spes again declares that it is a unanimous teaching of “believers and unbelievers alike” that “all things on earth should be related to human persons as their center and crown” (GS 12).

Psalm 8: 5-7 is even more explicit: “What is man that you should be mindful of him or the son of man that you should care for him? You have made him little less than the angels, and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him rule over the works of your hands, putting all things under his feet.”

This is why we say no to extra-judicial killings, the capital punishment, wars, murders, homicides, abortions and, by extension, to contraception. Why no to contraception? Let me illustrate from our everyday experience. Why do we fence our houses or lock our doors especially when we are resting? Because we want to defend our lives and the lives of those inside the house. Saying no to contraception is our act of fencing around human life, whether or not that life is already in the womb or still to be formed. We want to defend it because it is not just any creature’s life. It is the life of God’s ‘image and likeness’. We say no to suicides for the same reason. By what logic do we appropriate for ourselves the act of ending life since it is not our own to dispose of but God’s? We certainly are alive but only because God has gifted us with life. In the case of human life the receiver does not own the gift.

Not only that. Human life has such a soaring value because, as the gospel of Luke 1:26-38 attests, the Son of God became a human being through Mary. As the Blessed Pope John Paul II once taught, when the Son of God became a human being, he effectively united himself with every human being. In other words, human life is valuable not only because the human person was created in God’s image and likeness but, more so, because the human person through Christ has become God’s son, God’s child. When people tell me of times when they are tempted to give in to thoughts of abortion, abuse or contraception, I tell them about my first-year college friend who is fond of the words “paradigm shift”. And I would say, “Why don’t you too make a paradigm shift to more positive thoughts on the dignity of human life and how before the Lord every human life is sacred because it is life that has no identification other than ‘of God’, ‘for God’ and ‘with God’ as his child?”

When we consider the mystery of God becoming man, Mary provides us the example of how to respond to God’s action. She is disturbed when the angel tells her of the news because, apparently (as the early Fathers of the Church taught) she was not intent on marriage. But as God’s plan becomes more transparent, with the involvement of the Holy Spirit and God’s power, Mary decides by faith. She gives her assent and, with it, her complete and full obedience to God’s plan. “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to your word.”

I was struck by a nun’s story of a woman who wanted to have an abortion so she could apply for a visa to Japan. She was brought to the nun’s convent. Thinking she could get an abortion there, she was given counseling instead. Still determined to have an abortion, the nun just entrusted her to the Lord in prayer. The next time the woman called, she informed the nun she had decided to keep her baby and say goodbye to Japan. That, to my mind, was a definitive paradigm shift. When a healthy beautiful baby was born, the happy mother said how right her decision was and thanked the nun for her counseling but, especially, for her prayers.

The only paradigm shift worth taking is one that leads to preserving human life because the human person who possesses it is the crown of God’s creation. The opposite paradigm makes the crown a tragic frown.