Choose Life!

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Choose life so that you may live! It would seem logical to our reason and perfectly proper to our emotional life to say yes to this exclamation. It seems so utterly reasonable that one wonders why it would have to be suggested to a reasonable mind. But the suggestion needed to be made 3,000 years ago, just as it still needs to be made today. Why is that? Why would rational and reasonable minds not get that idea naturally? Well, once again, we run hard up against the only two things that can prove to be a roadblocks to reason: the ego, and the human will. Let us look at the verse first:

ʺSee, I have today set before you life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord, your God, which I am giving you today, loving the Lord , your God and walking in his ways, and keeping his commandments, statutes and ordinances, you will live and grow numerous, and the Lord, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to possess…If not, you will certainly perish…ʺ (Deuteronomy 30: 15-18)

There it is. There is the problem for the modern relativist and utilitarian thinker. ʺThere is no particular problem with the idea of choosing life and good over death and evil,ʺ they would say, ʺBut who determines what is life and good, what is death and evil?ʺ In our time, those who consider themselves to have ʺgrown beyondʺ the perceived oppression of religion, who claim to be men and women of ʺreasonʺ and science, the answers to these questions are fluid, fungible, and determined only by the individual’s present circumstances, or emotional state, or rationale. The idea that some ‘God’ has imposed some absolute sense of life and goodness, of death and, of all things, evil; and that that same ‘God’ has given the means to all human beings to understand these differences; and that that ‘God’ has also given each individual the right and the power to choose between them; and that this same ‘God’ has imposed particular, universal, and natural consequences to each choice, is brushed off as merely myth, and antiquated ‘hoohah.’ To those who have, in essence, assumed to the individual ego, the divine authority to determine what is defined as life and good, death and evil, such statements are considered to be the product of an out-of-date, oppressive institution, or are argued to be unjust limits to human freedom. The unseen irony, of course, is that the natural consequences of this hubris are everywhere around us.

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The commandments, statutes, and ordinances of God are, in fact, liberating, life-giving and life affirming. Consider the commandment, ʺThou shalt not kill.ʺ This statement affirms the natural right to life that belongs to all human beings equally. It is a recognition of the infinite dignity of every human life, and it proposes that life of every kind, at all staged, in all circumstances, should be treated with infinite respect. In essence it says that life is sacred and must be protected and honored. That is a universal, rational and reasonable good. It is not a limitation in any way. It is not an oppressive law. In fact it ‘liberates’ us to be more fully human with and towards one another. But the modern utilitarian relativist, whose understanding of freedom is really nothing more than licence, or ‘permission,’ facilely rationalizes things like abortion and assisted suicide as ‘life’ choices, that belong only to the individual and that individual’s present emotional, or financial circumstance. Because the dignity of life is no longer held as a universal idea, and has been replaced by a human constructed philosophy that assumes the power to determined such things solely to the will of an individual ego, we have seen a universal diminution of the value of human life that is unmatched in human history. If life is no longer a universal good, in all cases, at all times, then it is also no longer sacred. Life becomes a mere commodity. It is cheapened. Its universal value is denied by torturously argued rationalizations. Such thinking negates itself. It is ultimately self-destructive, and divisive at every level. And the proof of this is all around us.

Because of this distorted understanding of freedom, which attempts, foolishly, to separate the rights of freedom from the duties, responsibilities and the natural consequences of our free choices, we have entered the environment of the absurd. Life is not longer seen as an inalienable right. The concept of the universal good has been replaced by the chaos of the the tyrannical ego, and all hell has broken loose.

The mature Christian understands that God’s commandments are rooted in infinite love, both for the individual human being and for all of creation. When we ‘choose’ to ‘submit’ to God’s commandments out of love, rather than out of fear of punishment, we do so because we have come to see that they are the only true and good means through which we can most completely and respectfully honor our own infinite dignity and that of others. When Jesus says, ʺI am the way, the truth and the life,ʺ the mature Christian trusts and follows that way. He or she has come to the realization that it is only out of this wise and willing submission to our loving God that true justice, goodness, and beauty comes into the world. His or her ego remains tethered to a conscience formed in God’s wisdom. It is the ego that is no longer tethered to a conscience formed in God’s law, that thinks that it has ‘escaped’ or risen somehow above God’s law, whose allegiance is only to itself, that all that is evil enters the world.

ʺI have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving your God, obeying his voice, and holding fast to him. For that will mean life for you, a long life for you…ʺ (Deuteronomy 30: 19-20)

Lord, give us the grace to defy the irrational and selfish demands of the ego, and to submit to the loving, life-giving and liberating gift of your commandments. Give us the courage to live your commandments humbly, willingly and openly, in honor of life and goodness. Let the world see the joy in us that comes from true freedom.

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.