I have the greatest compassion for women who find themselves facing a terrible choice about their pregnancy. The issues can be very complex, and while I’m very strongly opposed to abortion, I’m also very strongly allied to love; so if a friend were to make such a choice, however sorrowful I might feel, I would sit in the clinic with her and hold her hand.
There’s a story I heard many years ago that went something like this. A pregnant woman, toddler in tow, sits in her doctor’s office and tells him she wants an abortion. The doctor sighs, removes his glasses, and says, “The bother, the expense, and the risks to your health aren’t really worth it. It would be much simpler if we just kill the child in your lap instead.” The woman gasps, clutches the toddler to her chest, and cries, “You monster!” The doctor sighs again, eyeballs her, and says, “The only real difference between your two children is their ages.”
I have to differ just a little with the good doctor. While I believe he’s right, in terms of personhood and right to life, there was one other crucial difference between the woman’s two children: she had met one of them. And this is my premise: we are only really concerned about people we actually have relationship with.
While a baby is tucked away in a uterus, unseen, unfelt, unheard, it’s much easier to regard it as non-human. Never mind that its DNA is just like ours: if it can’t interact with us, it doesn’t “count”.
We see this principle played out in several areas of life. There’s a bushfire raging in Tasmania. Our immediate thought: who do I know in Tasmania? Are they all right? There’s a cyclone in the Philippines, an earthquake in New Zealand, a tsunami in Japan – who do we know there? What places have we visited, never to be the same again? These are the first hurdles to our charity. It’s only natural to think of our loved ones first. Once we get past “I hope Jim is all right” we may have to forcibly remind ourselves that there are thousands of other-people’s-Jims who need our prayers and our aid too.
Someone once said, “If everyone takes care of themselves, care is taken of all.” But what happens when you’re unable to take care of yourself? Doesn’t this fly in the face of disaster victims, disabled people, infants, hospital patients, and the elderly? All these people need outside help. In fact, every human being begins life unable to take care of themselves, and most of us come to the end of it in the same situation. No man is an island, but that doesn’t mean that the only peninsula that has any meaning is ours. We’re in danger of reducing everyone who doesn’t directly touch our lives, to movie extras: so long as our protagonists survive, everyone else can be faintly-regretted cannon fodder. And from there, if you extrapolate far enough, you can arrive at a plausible case for euthanasia; which, aside from genuine cases of compassion, is all about getting rid of that which we do notwant to touch our lives.
What must it be like to be God? To be directly, intimately acquainted with every soul on the planet – the seven billion current people, the six or so that went before, the how-ever-many that are still to come? For Him, there are no extras. There are no non-protagonists. There may be the chosen and the not-chosen, but even the not-chosen are regretted not with a sad look but with an inner anguish that their choices met the point of His election at a juncture that inevitably took them far from Him. Nobody wants their children to fail or flee from them. He who is “not willing than any should perish” has to live with the fact that freewill is a two-edged sword. You can’t be freely loved unless you allow for the possibility of being freely rejected. God does not ask of us what He does not ask of Himself: to be open to love is to be open to pain. And while God does not cower, sniveling, in a corner, it doesn’t mean He doesn’t feel things. His feelings are more likely to be an ocean compared to our line-drawing (though never out of control).
God knows your name. You may never have sat down over coffee with Him, or met Him at a party, or grown up with Him, or made any of the hundred connections that bind to us the people we care about. You may not know Him. But He knows you. And while The Police’s immortal stalker-ballad may be slightly creepy in human interaction, when you think that God may well sing it over you, as the Bible says, it becomes the most beautiful love story ever told – with you at the centre of it, where He is. Love that waits and does not force, that sacrifices itself, love that is embodied with joy and generosity and beauty, the breath of spring, the kiss of Heaven, sings over you: “Every breath you take, every move you make, every bond you break, every step you take, I’ll be watching you … oh, can’t you see, you belong to Me!”