Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (Luke 1:1-25) transports me to a crime scene in New York City, where detectives Olivia Benson and Elliot Stabler are investigating the rape of a young Asian woman at a burglary site. They initially suspect rival Asian gang members, but another Asian victim leads them to track down serial rapist Darrell Guan. He is arrested and the case seems open and shut, until it goes to trial. Guan’s lawyer defends him on the basis of genetics; he was the product of a rape. His father had been a serial rapist, and the lawyer produces expert witnesses from the world of neuro-science and psychiatry to testify to the existence of a “violence gene.” Guan was not acting on his own free will, according to the testimony. The case provokes a great deal of philosophical ponderings on the dynamics of free will and determinism, and it has an unusually profound effect on the generally stoic Detective Benson; she was also the product of a rape and begins to question what kind of inheritance this conception has given her.
Long before the existence of Law and Order: SVU episodes, and long before the science of genetics and the human genome project, people were talking about the predetermined inheritance some children bring into the world with them, especially when their birth comes about through unusual circumstances. The elderly woman Elizabeth, star of chapter one in Luke’s gospel, is hardly the victim of violent rape; her special circumstance involves miraculous intervention as an answer to prayer. The angel of the Lord appeared to her husband Zechariah in the midst of a smoky room of burning incense, and gave him the good news that his wife would soon bear a son. This boy would be a true destiny’s child – destined for greatness, bringing joy and delight. And in a curious note that is sure to raise many theological questions, the angel says that this child would be filled with the Holy Spirit even before birth. Talk about preconceived notions! Not only was he destined to have the Holy Spirit working in him well before he reached any age of accountability where he could choose to receive or reject such an offering, he would be doubly possessed – the spirit and power of the prophet Elijah would also animate his life, as he went before the Lord preparing the way and getting the people ready.
We see the evidence today of a lot of predetermined pathways that children are born to follow. We talk about it as the deck of cards a child has been dealt; that’s the determinism part, and the way they play those cards is the free choice part of the equation. For some, the spectrum of freedom is pretty narrow. A child born with severe emotional disturbance and developmental disabilities due to fetal alcohol syndrome does not enjoy the range of choices inherited by a child born with a relatively high iq born to a mother who followed all the prenatal care advice of her doctors. It makes me wonder about John, this child born to an elderly couple in a backwater hillbilly community on the edges of an empire. By all outward observation, people may have thought he was dealt a bad hand, born as he was in poverty, to parents well beyond the age of parenting. Sounds like the makings of a misdeal, were it not for one card that stood out – he was deemed a holy child, filled with the Holy Spirit even before birth. That was his ace in the hole. It was his trump card, and he played it well. When I think about all the children born who have been dealt a relatively rough hand of cards, through genetics or abuse or neglect or whatever, I wonder if what was true for John is true for all of them, for all of us, that we are all born having been filled with the Holy Spirit, and the key to life is how we play that card. Could it be that we are all intimately connected to the animating force of God, possessed by this Spirit of peace and love and joy and faith, along with all the other spirits and animating forces of nature and nurture that also possess us, and the challenge of faith is to sort all this out and allow the animating force of love to be primary in our lives? Could that be the real meaning of the sanctity (i.e., the holiness) of human life? Could it have more to do with what Spirit or spirits we allow to animate our conversations and our communities and our decisions and our relationships than the question of when life begins? If so, we would all do well to play the card of holy love a whole lot more than we do, if we really want to promote the sanctity of human life.
How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.