I remember the first time I heard those words, “Let God be God.” I was pretty young. And I remember thinking, “Well, uh, yeah. Like, who is going to stop Him?”
Older now and very slightly wiser, I understand that the expression is not about us allowing God anything, as though we could put limits on Him. It is rather about us. About recognizing the limits we have as created contingent beings of very imperfect understanding. Often the phrase is used, and correctly, to point out that we should not be attempting to control others, that forcing our will upon other human beings is a very different thing from the conversion that takes place internally when God works upon their hearts. We cannot play God in our relationships.
But it is also correctly used in connection with human attempts to usurp God’s place when it comes to the beginning and end of life.
We live in a society in which technology has enabled human beings to insert their own agendas, aspirations, and ambitions into the sacred moments of human life’s beginning and termination. We see more and more the resolution on the part of human beings to be in total control of reproduction, not just its timing, but even its fruit, determining not just that a child will not or will be conceived, but its sex, hair and eye color, athletic ability, intelligence, and assorted other characteristics. And at the end of life the buzzword is “control,” ending life “on your own terms” — playing God.
As Catholics, we understand that a human being is not a commodity at the beginning of life, nor is the gift of life to be weighed against some man-made standard of “quality” and discarded if it fails the test toward the end. And we rightly seek to have the law reflect our recognition of the inalienable dignity of human life. We fight for limits on, and the abolition of, abortion. We fight “assisted suicide.”
We are getting nowhere fast.
A Short Love Story in One Act
Lisa and Bob have three children nine and under, a girl and two boys. The youngest is 28 months and has just recently been weaned from night feedings and started sleeping regularly in his “big boy” bed in his older brother’s room. They are faithful. Their marriage is strong. They communicate regularly about their goals and plans for their family. And being practiced since their wedding in NFP, they are both used to the rhythm of her fertile and unfertile times. They have an agreement going back to just before the end of this last pregnancy that they would want the baby to be at least three before they discussed the possibly of having another one.
It is a Thursday evening and Lisa and Bob are getting ready for bed. It is late and Bob is exhausted — as he always is toward the end of a demanding week at work. Relieved the baby is finally no longer sleeping in their bed, he can hardly wait to flop down and close his eyes. He goes to hang his pants in the closet where Lisa is putting away her last load of laundry for the day and her fragrant just-washed hair falls over his bare arm. He reaches over to touch her tired face, “I love you, Sweetheart. Thanks for getting all my shirts washed and hung up.” As she feels his hand brush her cheek, there is a sudden light in her eyes and she leans into him. They are surprised at the unexpected warmth and energy they both feel. They know she is fertile. They could pull away. That is, after all, what they have discussed, agreed, calculated, reasoned, planned. But this night they do not have a discussion. Wordlessly, they search each other’s eyes. There is a tentative, questioning kiss and an answering, assured embrace. As Lisa closes the bedroom door on us, we hear the click of the lock.
It’s a Baby, not a Chance
Now some would say that that night they “took a chance” on another baby. But one does not gamble with life. Instead they entered into a deep and soundless dialogue with God and said, “You are God. You have given us our love for each other. You have given us this fruitful marriage. In this tired moment at the end of a rough week, with bills in the mailbox and uncertainty in the economy, we cannot fathom what this sudden burst of warm desire means, Lord. Perhaps it is what one poet called ‘life’s longing for itself.’ We only know that our hearts overflow with love and we surrender them to You. We accept that You might choose to bless us with another child this very night. We cannot imagine how this timing could be right according to our calculations. But we know that we are weak and selfish and very limited. You are God. You know our future and our children’s future far beyond anything we could calculate. Thy will be done.”
God does not operate in the realm of “chance” but in the realm of Providence. A Providence that would have been unavailable to them if Lisa was on “the pill” or “the patch” or if they were otherwise incapacitated by artificial birth control. Which brings me to my point:
Unless, unless, unless…. Unless, and until, Catholics let God be God, we cannot, and we will not, see any progress in getting our society to turn from playing God with life. Neither at its beginning nor at its end. We will have embryonic stem cell research, abortion, terminal sedation, organ harvesting from living people, and horrors we cannot yet imagine — unless, unless, unless, we convert. And convert on this very thing.
Judgment, yes — but mercy, too — begins with the house of God.