Tuesday, January 17, 2017

We all suffer another loss

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Friday afternoon session from the April 1975 Conference.
In this session, Elder James E. Faust gave a powerful and forthright talk called "The Sanctity of Life." His main theme concerns abortion, but the church's position on assisted suicide seems relevant these days as well. Knowing that life, all life, is sacred and a gift from God is one of those illuminating truths that makes sense of many otherwise-confusing questions. I liked Elder Faust's comment that
Some justify abortions because the unborn may have been exposed to drugs or disease and may have birth defects. Where in all the world is the physically or mentally perfect man or woman? Is life not worth living unless it is free of handicaps? Experience in working with handicapped children would suggest that human nature frequently rises above its impediments and that in Shakespeare’s words, “They say best men are molded out of faults/ And, for the most, become much more the better/ For being a little bad” in the physical sense.
Our bodies and lives do not gain value relative to each other by meeting some societal standard of mental or physical perfection. They simply HAVE value, because they are lent breath by God.

Elder Faust quotes a physician, Dr. Henry G. Armitage, saying how tragic it is that any woman
can be deluded into the notion that she is a mere portress of unwanted luggage or be by blandishment seduced into believing that she has dominion over life not her own…An abortion is never commonplace, for the world holds no heartbreak like the death of innocence. Whenever and wherever it occurs, we all suffer another loss from that little which sustains us and holds us together (emphasis added).
As I reflected on this passage, I thought of a phrase that has sometimes puzzled me, found among other places in Doctrine and Covenants 88: 74-75:
And I give unto you, who are the first laborers in this last kingdom, a commandment that you assemble yourselves together, and organize yourselves, and prepare yourselves, and sanctify yourselves; yea, purify your hearts, and cleanse your hands and your feet before me, that I may make you clean; 
That I may testify unto your Father, and your God, and my God, that you are clean from the blood of this wicked generation; that I may fulfil this promise, this great and last promise, which I have made unto you, when I will.
I've wondered before, if man is to be punished merely for "his own sins," how can he also be tainted with "the blood of this generation"? But that phrase quoted by Elder Faust—"we all suffer another loss from that little which sustains us and holds us together"—is a powerful one. Belief in the sanctity of life is a basic, fundamental need in a civilized society. It is a baseline for cooperation and kindness. Belief that another person is sacred and worthy of respect, merely because they exist and are a child of God, is the underlying truth that gives us the ability to care about those we disagree with, those that hate us, those unlike ourselves. Without a belief in that underlying truth, why should we accord respect to those of any body type, any skin color, any political belief, any age, any sex? If virtue or merit is to be assigned on the basis of which types of life WE think are most worth living—then we are on dangerous ground indeed.

And so it seems clear that any blow to a belief in the sanctity of life is, by definition, a communal blow. It hurts us all. It implicates us all. If one life matters less because of infirmity—then another may matter less because of "usefulness to society." If one life loses "value" because of disability—then another may lose value because of opinion. If I decide one life CAN matter less than any other, I am devaluing my own life as well. Any such thinking undermines Heavenly Father's plan, which is that we should not only respect each others' right to exist, but also go much further: we ought to bear one another's burdens, mourn with those that mourn, comfort those in need of comfort! And all of this must begin with, at minimum, an acknowledgement that humanity is collectively God's offspring and that ALL LIFE, because it is sacred to Him, should be sacred to us! If our generation forgets that fundamental truth, then that blood is on all of our hands, to be cleansed only by the atonement and our willingness to reorient our views to match God's. The belief that we are merely collections of cells, from which value can be taken or given at will, diminishes us and makes us, indeed, at our own choice, more like those collections of cells. God's plan invites us to rise up and become divine—but that is only possible when we acknowledge the divinity in everyone else as well.

The more I think about it, the more it makes sense. It's like the Lamanites marking themselves with their own curse. It's a sort of downward spiral: we can't, of course, change our intrinsic worth. God values us whether or not we value ourselves. But since our value comes from that connection to God, if we choose on our side to break those ties to God and ignore our own or others' value, we consign ourselves to becoming exactly what we mistakenly said we were all along: merely organisms, acted upon by our surroundings, worth nothing beyond what others determine our value to be. Satan, in the end, no matter how many souls he claims, holds nothing of value—because in the very act of surrendering to his control, those souls have themselves chosen to deny their own worth. And certainly Satan finds none in us! Thank heavens Jesus Christ continues to reach after us, assuring us of our value and allowing us to regain it (or rather, to regain OUR KNOWLEDGE of it) as we apply His atonement in our lives!

I think the phrase Dr. Armitage used to describe a twisted view of motherhood, as "a mere portress of unwanted luggage," applies equally well to those who denigrate the sanctity of life (even our own lives) at any point during their existence. Do we ever see our children, born or unborn, as "unwanted luggage"? Do we see our imperfect bodies or our mental impediments as "unwanted luggage"? Do we wish to simply set those things aside so we can get on with the things that are easier and less burdensome? We probably all do, sometimes—but this is not God's way. He would have us trust him that our imperfect life, our failing body—our pain, our illness, our enemy, our difficult child or pregnancy or infertility or whatever this "unwanted luggage" is—is worth carrying anyway. And, indeed, worth carrying willingly—not like a porter who merely moves a bag from place to place, but like someone carrying her own dear bundle of possessions, holding them close. 

And then, God promises, at journey's end, we will find clutched in our hands not "unwanted baggage," but priceless treasure, hard-won and cherished.

When we ignore the sanctity of life, we all suffer another loss. We lose the truth of our own value to God.

Other posts in this series:

1 comment:

  1. Oh my goodness! Marilyn! This was such a powerful and beautiful argument! Andcthe tie between ALL life and our own value -- despite the burdens we carry. It all made me quite emotional.

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