A Culture of Life

What should society do with the unborn, the disabled, the dying, the abused?
A Culture of Life

When my husband and I were expecting our first child, we knew it would be miraculous. But nothing could have prepared us for the bizarre wonder we experienced when she made her appearance in the visible world. After her birth we spent a lot of time pointing to her, then pointing to my stomach, asking, "Wait, so that was in there?" We understood the biology, but in some ways, nobody can explain the process of life. There is no other word for it—it's simply a miracle.

This miracle is worth receiving from God and worth the pain—physical and emotional—it causes us. But we don't have to be biological parents to think of ourselves as life-bearers. Because we are created in the image of a loving God, we all have the opportunity to share with him in this mystery of life. We are each called to support a culture of life in whatever context we find ourselves.

We Fear Life and Death

For Christians, though, it's not always easy to encourage life around us. We live in a culture that doesn't foster life. In fact, we're pretty backwards when it comes to issues of life. In some states, women cannot legally give birth to their baby in their own home, but they can end their baby's life with a "simple" out-patient procedure. The international demand for trafficked persons—many of them children—grows each year, even as Christian and non-Christians organizations tirelessly combat this societal evil.

We fear life. Children are seen as a burden. They get in the way of our careers, our ambition. They make a mess of our bodies, our homes, and our lives. We even fear certain lives in our society because we don't understand their struggle. People with disabilities scare us because we don't know how to interact with them. We'll just make a fool of ourselves; we'll be awkward. Or we don't have time to go at their slower pace.

We fear death just as much as we fear life. The thought of visiting a terminally ill person paralyzes us. What might we say to them as their mortality wanes? What feeble words could we possibly offer that would be of comfort? How would we interact with their grieving family?

Somehow these natural processes are distorted in our culture. Rather than taking place in the home, the cycle of life is begun and completed in a foreign, sterile environment. Many of us don't see trafficked, sick, or disabled persons on a regular basis. Therefore, we're not sure how to interact with these issues when we encounter them. We don't know how to give or receive life.

But Jesus did.

The Life-Giving Green Shoot

The prophet Isaiah foretold, "A green Shoot will sprout from Jesse's stump, from his roots a budding Branch. The life-giving Spirit of God will hover over him, the Spirit that brings wisdom and understanding …." Seven hundred years after these words were written, they were fulfilled: Jesus brought life into the dry, godless place that had replaced the once flourishing nation. He burst through the stump-like Israel to bring new life to all who believe in him.

And how did Jesus breathe new life into Israel and all of humanity? By living and dying as one of us, stepping "into our frailty," as worship leader Kathryn Scott writes. Jesus died the death we deserve and lived the perfect life we aren't able to live. Through his life, death, and resurrection, all of us can find redemption for our weary souls and for our world.

Jesus dignified all persons he encountered in gutsy, tangible ways. Born into the rigid culture of the ancient Near East, one with clear social boundaries, he was a radical. He loved unconditionally, recognizing no social, economic, gender, or religious hierarchies. In this way, he humbled himself to elevate and dignify human life as created in his very image.

Jesus isn't the benchmark for us, for we could never love as fiercely as he did. But we can follow him by admitting our inability to love well and our need for his life-affirming love to work through us. And we can look to other saints who have dignified the undignified in society.

Henri Nouwen was one of these life givers. Once a well-known scholar at universities like Notre Dame, Harvard, and Yale, Nouwen spent the later years of his life in obscurity, serving mentally handicapped people at a L'Arche community called Daybreak. To many, this choice was foolish. To Nouwen, it was a chance to follow Jesus by loving those our society ignores. He did this not through theology, but through a humble spirit that affirmed the significance of each life he touched.

Every Man a Father, Every Woman a Mother

All of us are called to build a culture of life. Some of us are called to be like Henri Nouwen, gentle servants who love and respect others simply through quiet humility. In this way, we dignify the existence of all persons, the little ones in our society. We can express, as philosopher Josef Pieper writes, that "it's good that you are here; it's wonderful that you exist!"

Others, however, are called to fight for issues of life, to heal the leprous limbs of society. We shouldn't fight through violence or force, but we certainly shouldn't be passive either. We desperately need Christians in politics and in conversations with society's leaders to bring Christ's light into the darkness of our world, to be a voice for the voiceless.

We are all called to foster this culture of life, whether or not we are parents who witness the miracle of new human life. My pastor has a phrase he often uses to illustrate a culture of life: "Every man a father, every woman a mother." We are all intrinsic life bearers, for we know the light of a life in Christ. The possibility for new birth and spiritual formation is all around us.

In the Nicene Creed, an ancient yet relevant profession of faith, God is referred to as "The Lord and Giver of Life." Only he is able to truly create the miracle of life, but we can share with him as he works, affirming it in others and fighting for life where we see death and decay in our hearts and in our world.

—Bonnie McMaken is a freelance writer and worship leader at Church of the Resurrection in Glen Ellyn, Illinois

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