Sanctity of Human Life Sunday (2016)

Sanctity of LifeToday the Orthodox Church in America recognizes the Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.  I want to mention a quote from President Obama’s 11 January 2016 State of the Union speech.   It’s not easy to find something from him to quote for this Sunday, but he said something which caught my ears:

So, my fellow Americans, whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, our collective future depends on your willingness to uphold your obligations as a citizen. To vote. To speak out. To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us. To stay active in our public life so it reflects the goodness and decency and optimism that I see in the American people every single day.

The President called upon us to stand up especially for the weak and vulnerable, and to remember “that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us.”  That is exactly the sentiment we who are pro-life and who believe in the sanctity of human life are doing for the babies in their mother’s wombs.  President Obama said we should speak up and vote.  We do that, and we also pray.

Christ  Blessing the Children

 Here is the prayer that the Orthodox Church in America offers for the Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.  It is a prayer for all, including the unborn babies and also for all politicians, even those who don’t respect the sanctity of human life in the womb.

O Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son, Who are in the bosom of the Father, True God, source of life and immortality, Light of Light, Who came into the world to enlighten it: You were pleased to be conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary for the salvation of our souls by the power of Your All-Holy Spirit. O Master, Who came that we might have life more abundantly, we ask You to enlighten the minds and hearts of those blinded to the truth that life begins at conception and that the unborn in the womb are already adorned with Your image and likeness; enable us to guard, cherish, and protect the lives of all those who are unable to care for themselves. For You are the Giver of Life, bringing each person from non-being into being, sealing each person with divine and infinite love. Be merciful, O Lord, to those who, through ignorance or willfulness, affront Your divine goodness and providence through the evil act of abortion. May they, and all of us, come to the life of Your Truth and glorify You, the Giver of Life, together with Your Father, and Your All-Holy and Life-giving Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

Rachel Lamenting the Loss of Her Children

God Loves us Even in Our Mother’s Womb

Fetus6months“ This is the great mystery of our faith. We do not choose God, God chooses us. From all eternity we are hidden ‘in the shadow of God’s hand’ and ‘engraved in his palm.’ Before any human being touches us, God, ‘forms us in secret’ and ‘textures us’ in the depth of the earth ,and before any human being decides about us, God ‘knits us together in our mother’s womb.’ God loves us before any human person can show love to us. He loves us with a ‘first’ love, an unlimited, unconditional love, wants us to be his beloved children, and tells us to become as loving as himself.”   (Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son, pgs. 105-106)

Orthodox Bishops On the Right to Life

The Assembly of Canonical Bishops of North and Central America recently issued a statement on the 40th Anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision of the U.S. Supreme Court.   You can read the entire statement at the above link.  I reproduce part of their statement below as it reaffirms a consistent pro-life worldview of the Orthodox churches in  America.

Assembly NA Bishops

On the occasion of this 40th Anniversary of “Roe v. Wade,” we republish the following “Agreed Statement” issued in 1974 by the Orthodox-Roman Catholic Bilateral Consultation in the United States (composed of representatives from the former SCOBA and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops) a statement as timely now as it was then:

An Agreed Statement on Respect for Life

We, the members of the Orthodox-Roman Catholic Bilateral Consultation in the United States, after extensive discussions on the sanctity of marriage, feel compelled to make a statement concerning the inviolability of human life in all its forms.

We recognize that human life is a gift of God entrusted to mankind and so feel the necessity of expressing our shared conviction about its sacred character in concrete and active ways. It is true that the Christian community’s concern has recently seemed to be selective and disproportionate in this regard, e.g., in the anti-abortion campaign. Too often human life has been threatened or even destroyed, especially during times of war, internal strife, and violence, with little or no protestation from the Christian leadership. Unfortunately, the impression has frequently been given that churchmen are more concerned with establishing the legitimacy of war or capital punishment than with the preservation of human life. We know that this has been a scandal for many, both believers and unbelievers.

We feel constrained at this point in history to affirm that the “right to life” implies a right to a decent life and to full human development, not merely to a marginal existence.

We affirm that the furthering of this goal for the unborn, the mentally handicapped, the aging, and the underprivileged is our duty on a global as well as a domestic scale.

We deplore in particular the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision failing to recognize the rights of the unborn–a decision which has led to widespread indiscriminate early abortion.

We affirm our common Christian tradition with regard to the right of the unborn to life.

We acknowledge our responsibility to mediate the love of Christ, especially to the troubled expectant mother, and thus make possible the transmission and nurturing of new life and its fully human development.

We urge our churches and all believers to take a concrete stand on this matter at this time and to exemplify this evangelical imperative in their personal lives and professional decisions.

Theotokos Sanctify of Life

St. Maximos on The Sanctity of Life

LOGOThe Orthodox Church claims that the values of the Kingdom of God include cherishing life itself as sacred, a gift from God.  We are to treat God’s gifts as holy, entrusted to our care and concern.  Thus we do hold that the intentional destruction of human life through abortion to be a denial of God’s Kingdom.  Orthodox Christians do join and support the annual March for Life in Washington, DC.

Metropolitan Tikhon said in his message for the Sanctity of Human Life Sunday:

Theotokos Sanctify of Life“If we are to transform the collective heart and mind of our society, we must begin by transforming our own hearts and minds.

Heeding the Gospel, let us remain faithful to the vision of human life as a sacred gift, recommitting ourselves to defending the lives “of all mankind,” as we pray at every Divine Liturgy.”

You can view a marvelous use of technology which offers us a visualization of the miracle of how a human develops in the mother’s womb from conception to birth.  The video created and narrated by Alexander Tsiaras  originally done on TED can be viewed at From Conception to Birth.

St. Maximos the Confessor (d. 662AD) writes:

“It is a fearful and heinous thing for us, because of our love for things corruptible, deliberately to kill the life that was given to us by God as the gift of the Holy Spirit.”   (St. Maximos the Confessor, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle Loc. 16081-82)

You can read a moving story of a young mom who chose to give her disabled son a few hours of life and love rather than choosing the logic of aborting his life.  The quality of life is not the only way to measure the value of life.  Abortion – intentionally terminating the life of an unborn baby – is not the only answer for dealing with the disabilities of an unborn baby.

As one pregnant mom recently wrote in an email, lamenting society’s views of women and babies:

Babies are seen as an impediment to the progress of women, not the mystery and gift of the Divine.

 

More information about the OCA’s participation in the Right to Life March is available on the OCA Webpage, including a Photo Gallery.

From Conception to Birth

A most marvelous use of technology has created a visualization of the miracle of how a human develops in the mother’s womb from conception to birth.  Alexander Tsiaras created and narrates the program which was originally done on TED.   He marvels at what unfolds as the process of human development from the time of conception.  He talks about how in the eyes the cells link together in a different way than any of the other organs allowing for transparency and sight.  He says it is hard not to think about the hand of divinity in the creation of life.   Tsiaras’ creative technology brings to virtual life  the words of Psalm 139:13-16

For it was you who formed my inward parts;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Wonderful are your works;

that I know very well.

 My frame was not hidden from you,

when I was being made in secret,

intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.

In your book were written

all the days that were formed for me,

when none of them as yet existed.

O Lord, how wondrous are your works, in wisdom you made them all!

Sanity Minus Love

Jim Forest, well known author as well as founder and leader of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, sent out an email to members of the OPF, which I felt was just too rich not to share with others.  Jim, who wrote a biography of Thomas Merton (Living with Wisdom), offers a quote from Merton.  Jim wrote:

Having read Hannah Arendt’s book about the trial in Jerusalem in 1961 of Adolph Eichmann, the chief bureaucrat of the Holocaust, Merton was inspired to write an essay: “A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolf Eichmann.” Merton wrote:

One of the most disturbing facts to come out in the Eichmann trial was that a psychiatrist examined him and pronounced him perfectly sane…. [Eichmann’s job] happened to be the supervision of mass murder. He was thoughtful, orderly, unimaginative. He had a profound respect for system, for law and order. He was obedient, loyal, a faithful officer of a great state…. Apparently he slept well. He had a good appetite….

The sanity of Eichmann is disturbing. We equate sanity with a sense of justice, with humaneness, with prudence, with the capacity to love and understand other people. We rely on the sane people of the world to preserve it from barbarism, madness, destruction. And now it begins to dawn on us that it is precisely the sane ones who are the most dangerous.

It is the sane ones, the well-adapted ones, who can without qualms and without nausea aim the missile, and press the buttons that will initiate the great festival of destruction that they, the sane ones, have prepared. What makes us so sure, after all, that the danger comes from a psychotic getting into a position to fire the first shot in a nuclear war? Psychotics will be suspect. The sane ones will keep them far from the button. No one suspects the sane, and the sane ones will have perfectly good reasons, logical, well-adjusted reasons, for firing the shot. They will he obeying sane orders that have come sanely down the chain of command. And because of their sanity they will have no qualms at all. When the missiles take off, then, it will be no mistake. We can no longer assume that because a man is “sane” he is therefore in his “right mind.”

The whole concept of sanity in a society where spiritual values have lost their meaning is itself meaningless. A man can be “sane” in the limited sense that he is not impeded by disordered emotions from acting in a cool, orderly tier, according to the needs and dictates of the social situation in which he finds himself. He can be perfectly “adjusted.” God knows, perhaps such people can be perfectly adjusted even in hell itself.

And so I ask myself: what is the meaning of a concept of sanity that excludes love, considers it irrelevant, and destroys our capacity to love other human beings, to respond to their needs and their sufferings, to recognize them also as persons, to apprehend their pain as one’s own?    (Thomas Merton, Raids on the Unspeakable, pp 45-49)

Martin Luther King Jr.: The Image of God in Us

Martin Luther King Jr. who our country honors today as a hero of liberty and equality, was also a Christian pastor and visionary.  As such it is possible to see in his writings Christian theology which resonates well with Orthodox thinking.  King, for example, wrote:

“The whole concept of the imago Dei, as it is expressed in Latin, the ‘image of God,’ is the idea that all men have something within them that God injected.  Not that they have substantial unity with God, but that every man has a capacity to have fellowship with God.  And this gives him a uniqueness, it gives him worth, it gives him dignity.  And we must never forget this as a nation: there are not gradations in the image of God…  We will know one day that God made us to live together as brothers and to respect the dignity and worth of every man.”

Creation of Adam in God's Image

While Martin Luther King embraced the idea of each human being created in the image of God, his Protestant thinking caused him to downplay the full implication of the image in each of us.  Thus he allows each human to have “fellowship” with God but not “substantial unity.”   His concern is more with civil equality among humans than it is with the full theological implications of every human, regardless of skin color, being created in the image of God. 

For its part, Orthodoxy continues the tradition heralded in early Christianity that marveled at the full implication of each human being having the image of God imprinted on us when we are called into being by God.  St. Gregory of Nyssa (d. ca 384AD), a 4th century bishop and theologian wrote:

“‘The measure of what is accessible to you is in you, for thus your Maker from the start endowed your essential nature with such good.  God has imprinted upon your structure replicas of the good things in his own nature, as though stamping wax with the shape of a design.’

Nonna Verna Harrison explains what St. Gregory meant:

In ancient times, people signed documents by putting hot wax on the paper and pressing into the wax a seal carved with their unique design.  The wax then bore the seal’s imprint and showed that the document was theirs.  Gregory uses this example to illustrate the meaning of the divine image.  God is like the seal, and our human nature is like the wax that shows forth the same design as God, but on a smaller scale.

Notice that the wax receives the imprint by direct contact with the seal, and the copy receives its likeness to the model by direct contact with it.  So God is present within his image, making it to be an image of Godself.”    (Nonna Verna  Harrison, GOD’S MANY SPLENDORED IMAGE, pp 31-32)

Each human being is created in God’s image and likeness – this is considered to be a factual truth by Orthodoxy, not dependent on one’s personal beliefs.  Each human life from the time of conception bears this image and is thus considered sacred and worthy of honor.  The sanctity of human life is given by each human being touched directly by the Creator God who imprints His image on us.  This fact is not dependent on race, religion, gender, nationality, or for that matter on personal righteousness, sinfulness or sexual orientation.

Even before a human being takes his or her first breath, before his or her first thought or experience, that human has been touched by God who imprints His image on that person.

Today, as we honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, who defended every human being as bearing the image of God, we can consider the full implication of this theology, not only for race relationships, but for all human relationships, including the sanctity of humans conceived in the womb but who have not yet been born into this world.

Martin Luther King Jr upheld the United States Declaration of Independence in fighting for the dignity of every human being.   We see in his words a re-affirmation of the famous words penned by Thomas Jefferson:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

From an Orthodox point of view these words apply to every human called into being by God, including those conceived but yet to be born.  Life is gifted to each human being by God, not by the declaration of any government, nation or court.

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 9:8- 17 (b)

See:   God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 9:8-17 (a)

Genesis 9:8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will look upon it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.” 17 God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth.”

God’s promise to never again destroy the earth and to accept as “inevitable” the wickedness in the human heart means God is willing to accept suffering because of and for His creatures.   In deciding to preserve humans rather than annihilate them, God decides to accept having a continuously grieving heart as part of allowing humans to continue to exist. God in effect accepts His own having to suffer as a necessary part of His love for His creation. God can see humans will continue to cause Him pain, and He accepts that as the price He has to pay for having such creatures on His earth.  Allowing the continuance of the human race for God means bearing with the wickedness of humanity and accepting the pain which humans cause Him in his heart.

“…and with every living creature…”   God’s covenant has a global dimension to it.  The covenant is not limited to humans for even non-rational animals are included in it.  The rainbow reminds God that His covenant extends to all animals too.  The protection of life guaranteed in the covenant broadly includes all humans, not just Jews, males, righteous saints, the good, or believers; God’s love and concern encompasses every human being without exception and unconditionally.  The covenant is not limited to rational creatures, to believers, to the rich, to the educated, nor to those who have reached the age of reason.  This divine testament is truly “on behalf of all and for all.”  And why shouldn’t it include animals?  In Psalm 148, one of the Psalms of praises, we call upon not only animals but even inanimate objects to praise God: “Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!  Beasts and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!” (148:7-10)

The Rainbow.   Because the ancients tended to believe the sky/heavens was a solid boundary (they had no instruments to examine them closely), they had no modern concept of what the lights in the heavens were exactly (remember they had no electricity so did not and could not see the stars as light bulbs of some sort). The only things they knew created light were the sun and the stars and the moon and fire.  But the stars in heaven gave a more perfect light unlike any fire on earth.  The moon glowed.  The light of the sun was hot – that they could observe.  But what the source of the light was, they could only speculate.  The appearance of a rainbow in heaven was equally mystifying as it was always above them, and could not be explained by human reason. 

“bow in the cloud”     Though modern people tend to see the rainbow as something beautiful, the word “bow” is the word for the weapon “bow” which any archer would use (“weapon” in fact is its only meaning in the bible).  It was a beautiful bow and a sign of a promised peace, but it was seen as a weapon by the biblical authors – a sign of God’s power and anger too.   The author of the text has no understanding of the rainbow as a natural phenomenon caused by water droplets refracting light causing the spectrum of light to appear.  He assumes that the first appearance of a rainbow was after the flood – thus all rainbows are miraculous signs, not natural phenomenon.     

Photo by rwangsa

“When the bow is in the clouds, I will look upon it and remember the everlasting covenant…”   The rainbow is to be a sign to God, not the humans!   When God sees the bow, he promises it will remind Him of the covenant He has made.   When we see the rainbow in the sky, we might consider we are looking at the very same thing which God is looking at that very moment as well.  We both share a common vision of at least one thing in creation.  And if every time God sees the rainbow He is reminded of His covenant with humanity, how much more might we expect God to recognize His peace with us everytime He sees the cross, the sign of God’s New covenant with humanity.

Next:  God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 9:8- 17 (c)

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 9:3-4 (b)

See:  God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 9:3-4 (a)

Genesis 9:3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. 4 Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.

“…lifeblood…”    Right after Abel made his animal sacrifice; he is murdered by his brother Cain.  Here after Noah’s animal sacrifice God speaks to Noah about the sacredness of blood, each person’s blood – life is sacred.   This law for all mankind demands an absolute adherence to the sanctity of human life.   God lays down a rule that if anyone or even if any animal sheds a man’s life, the murderer shall be put to death.  God does not want Cain’s sin to be down played or accepted.  Murder is punishable by death.  But this certainly reflects the fact that everything has changed on earth and none can live together in peace.  God has accepted that the human heart apparently cannot be washed clean of its wickedness, but now He lays down a law forbidding murder.   God does not prevent murder from happening (and His Son will suffer the consequence of His decision!), but His law demands that humans must control themselves.  And if a human can’t control himself and kills another human, the rest of the humans by God’s command are to deal with the killer.   This will become the foundation for Old Covenantal civil society.   God does not offer nor promise to deal with human wickedness such as murder.   Humans are to practice self-control.  But if they can’t control themselves, then humans must band together and take control of the person who refuses to practice self-control.  This is God’s expectation of humanity – humans must begin to police themselves because God has ordered it.   In the New Covenant, in the new order, in the new world instituted by Jesus Christ however, on the cross He does not demand Old Covenantal justice, rather He prays, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).  He inaugurates a new Kingdom not of this world, nor of its values, not even of the ones from the Torah.

“Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.”     God forbids the eating of flesh with blood still in it even before Moses exists and he is given the law from God to teach to the people.   Genesis puts this law as one of the first laid down by God for all people – not just for observant Jews, for the law is given before Abraham or Moses lived.  It is interesting that in Acts 15 when the Apostles are considering what religious laws Gentile converts to Christianity must keep, they adopt only three rules mandatory for all Christians and one of them is the Genesis 9:4 prohibition against eating meat with blood still in it:  “abstain from the pollutions of idols and from unchastity and from what is strangled and from blood” (Acts 15:20).   They do not require all 613 laws of the Torah, nor even the Ten Commandments!   This same set of rules is repeated in Acts 21:25.   To be a Christian, you do not need to be an observant Jew – no requirements for keeping Torah nor kosher.   But Gentile Christians were expected to recognize the universality of certain moral laws.

“Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.”    One lesson God may have wanted to convey to the survivors of the flood is that life is still sacred.  They get out of the ark and witness the mass devastation which has taken place – all flesh has been destroyed.  But God doesn’t want the survivors to misunderstand the events.  All flesh was destroyed because of the distortions brought about by wickedness.  The destruction of all flesh was not a pronouncement that life has no value, nor that God favors ethnic cleansing or endorses mass murder.  God affirms the value, the sanctity of life by telling the humans the blood is holy, life is sacred.  God wanted the survivors of the flood, and all who read their story to learn that sacredness is still part of creation.  They may no longer be living in the Holy Paradise of Eden.  They may no longer be residing in the antediluvian world of Noah’s forefathers.  This however has not changed the holiness of life itself.  Meat eating is allowed, but humans must recognize the sacredness of all life and the sanctity of every human life.  God wants the humans He has saved to understand this most significant lesson.  The significance of the story is not that there is now law governing human behavior; the importance of the story is that life is holy, and in the face of the destruction of all life by the flood, humans must be told that God still sees life as sacred and He expects His chosen humans to do the same.  God will say that He will never again destroy all human life to rid the world of evil and sin; nor does He command His humans to try this method to perfect their world.

Already in this Genesis text we seen an understanding that a price to be paid for human holiness and perfection is human blood.   The rest died that the righteous might survive.  This idea is repeated in the Passover Story of Exodus where too some die in order that others may live.  The theme finds its fullness and complete meaning in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, where again a death was necessary for holiness and perfection of humanity to be attained.  In the New Covenant however, it is God who dies rather than God who purifies humanity through the death of some ungodly humans.  The death of the ungodly cannot perfect humanity, whereas the death of the perfect God-man reveals the purity of humanity.

Next:  God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 9:5-7

God Questions His Creation: Genesis 9:3-4 (a)

See:  God Questions His Creation:  Genesis 9:1-2

Genesis 9:3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. 4 Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.

The world after the flood is not a return to Paradise, nor even a renewal of the world immediately after the Fall.  No longer are humans to be vegans, for God now puts into their hands the lives of every animal to be used as food.  Humans have a new relationship with all other animals, not a renewed one.  The Flood story in the P-Source (see Source Theory) did distinguish between clean and unclean animals; no such distinction is made at this point in the text.  The ideas of kashrut (kosher) are not here established by God.   However, God does place a serious limit on human blood lust.  The permission to eat meat comes with a very controlling law.  Humans are not to eat meat with its blood in it.  Humans are not to eat raw meat, nor eat an animal while it is still alive.  Unlike carnivorous wild beasts which tear flesh and limbs from their victims, humans must prepare their meat and show all due respect to the blood.   The life of an animal is in its blood.   The direct connection of each animal to the spiritual world is in its blood.  Once again dualism is rejected.  The physical blood is life – it is the very point of connection with the non-physical (spiritual) world.  The text clearly shows that the physical world is sacred; the physical blood is life not mere cells, but is life.  The distinction between the physical and the spiritual is intentionally blurred by God.

God’s very first command to the people of the new world cleansed of sin deals with food just as it did in the original creation stories of Genesis 1 and 2.  His first prohibition endeavors to get humans to respect life.    We may eat meat, but the permission to do so is connected to a command to respect life.  Wasteful slaughtering of animals is not blessed.  Humans are to show appropriate recognition and respect for life, even animal life.  The idea of the sanctity of life was never mentioned in Paradise, though probably assumed as all in Paradise was holy; only now when the killing of animals is permitted does God pointedly reveal the truth of the sacredness of all life.

Eating animal flesh while approved by God belongs only to the world after the flood.  It did not belong to Paradise nor to the world before the flood; Biblically speaking, it is not completely natural to us.  Eating meat is not an eternal value but belongs to the world which is passing away. Many find it a delicious pleasure to eat a good steak, yet eating meat is not an ultimate good but one approved originally for this fallen world only.   It is a pleasure of the fallen world.  Fast periods acknowledge that meat eating belongs to this world, and really will not and cannot commend us to God or bring about our salvation.  There is nothing wrong with eating meat, but in fasting we deny that flesh eating is of eternal value and we admit it belongs only to this fallen world – and we do not live for this world alone.  Man does not live by bread alone (Luke 4:4) and neither does he live by and for the eating of meat!   Our roots and our true home are in paradise and our goal is God’s heaven.  We acknowledge in fasting that we belong to another world, a world beyond this fallen, carnivorous world; the ultimate values and good in the world-to-come do matter in this world.   Fasting challenges our love for flesh eating – our “blood thirstiness” and says these carnivorous pleasures belong to this world.  We can enjoy eating meat with thanksgiving, but we also must realize that this is part of our appetite in and for the fallen world.  Despite our Paschal feasts with their lambs and hams, the foretaste of the Kingdom is the bloodless sacrifice we receive in the Holy Eucharist.   Denying ourselves in the present world is a good that can lead to life in the world to come.

“…as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.”      In Genesis 2:16-17, God gave permission to the humans to freely eat of any of the trees of the Garden of Eden – with the firm exception of one tree.  In doing this God imposed on the humans the one and only rule of Paradise.  This one law we understand to be spiritually promoting self-control, self-denial, abstinence or fasting.   God saw that it was good for humans to have access to the abundance of the fruits of the earth, to enjoy the abundance, but also for the humans to learn a limit, to learn that discipline is an important aspect of being “not God”, of being human.   Now in Genesis 9:3-4, God is vastly expanding the food supply for humans.  No longer are humans limited to eating the earth’s harvest of fruits and vegetables, now every animal is added to the food supply.  The end result of being expelled from Paradise because of our sin, of having the world being overwhelmed with destructive sinfulness, is that God increases the food supply!  Humans are now far less “deprived” than ever, at least when it comes to edible resources.  The world is no longer paradise, but God opens up to humans an entirely new food source in which many humans will delight and for which many will crave to enjoy.  However, while increasing the palatable pleasures for people, God once again in the midst of abundance imposes a rule of self-control and abstinence.   We can eat meat to our heart’s content, but we are not to eat it with its blood still in it.   Certainly in the over sated and over fed modern existence, this should give us pause.  What does God know that we don’t understand?  Why does God offer abundance and then tell us to practice self control?   Medical doctor Peter Whybrow in his book, AMERICAN MANIA: WHEN MORE IS NOT ENOUGH, offers a health warning to Americans: “In times of material affluence, when desire is no longer constrained by limited resources, the evidence from our contemporary American experiment suggests that we humans have trouble setting limits to our instinctual craving…. there is considerable evidence suggesting that unchecked consumption fosters our social malaise, eroding our self-constraint and pulling the cultural pendulum toward excessive indulgence and greed”  (pp 7-8).   In other words, abundance does not seem to satisfy, it seems to increase the craving for more.   We seem to need some external reminder that enough is enough and too much is too much.  No wonder America is dotted with so many fast food places and diet and weight loss clinics.  Certainly the recent economic collapse and crisis was fostered by the greed, “more is not enough.”   People craved ever greater profits and wealth and were willing to set aside all human caution and wisdom to pursue wealth and profit no matter what the risk and how unsustainable  the effort.  And recent signs are that many are impatient with the current economic situation and eager to be able to try to climb that slippery but steep slope of greed.  As one person said to me totally straight-faced, “we are not being greedy, we are just trying to make as much money as we possibly can.”

Next:  God Questions His Creation: Genesis 9:3-4 (b)