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Sunday, September 18, 2016

Father Rutler: The Infinite Value of Life

A certain kind of journalism thrives on scandals, but they are not what theologians or any kind of deep thinkers mean by a scandal. A “skandalon” is a stick in a trap that ensnares an animal that touches it and, intellectually, it is a mental trap on the path to truth. Saint Paul said that the concept of God becoming human in Christ was a kind of joke for the Greek philosophers who enjoyed playing with words, but for the Jews to whom God had revealed himself as singular and lofty, it was scandalous to the ultimate degree. The philosophers in Athens smirked, but the rabbis in Jerusalem beat their breasts in anguish.
 

The “Scandal of Particularity,” which has challenged theologians, is the fact that the immeasurable Creator of the Universe is concerned with the minutest details of his creation, to the extent that he both dwells in Eternity and also is born as a man in his own created time and space. But a related scandal is this: each human being is of huge value to God, so much so that he dies to unite each one of us to him.
 

Some serious theologians without the gift of faith might react to this with a shudder, like the ancient rabbis. Others who do not believe in God at all simply dismiss the idea with a flick of the hand. For them, the only value of a human is what he can produce for the benefit of others, be it scientific or artistic, or just cleaning windows and digging coal. In that calculus, an individual is worth a fraction of a crow and counts only as part of a mob. If an unborn baby is inconvenient to the mother, it may be aborted, and if an elderly lady finds it hard to climb stairs or remember who she is, she may be euthanized.
 

Unclear thinkers of our day who call themselves “spiritual but not religious” want a God who is an amorphous vapor, making no demands of them and merely justifying their animal passions and providing background music when they look at a sunset. That sorry misuse of the imagination will never understand why Jesus looks for the lost sheep and embraces the prodigal son who has tired of living like a pig.
 

How many people Josef Stalin killed is debated. Solzhenitsyn figured it was about 60 million, but a generally accepted figure according to one calculation is “only 20 million.” Jesus never spoke of “only one lost sheep.” Neither would he agree with Stalin that “one death is a tragedy; one thousand is a statistic.” In our culture, the proposition that each human life is of infinite value scandalizes, but it also is the substance of our faith in the Word made flesh. “You were bought at a price . . .” (1 Corinthians 6:20).

 
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