TCS Daily


A Terrible Presumption

By Ralph Kinney Bennett - March 25, 2005 12:00 AM

We should take care not to make the intellect our god; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality.

-- Albert Einstein, 1950

The soul in sleep gives proofs of its divine nature; for when free and disengaged from the service of the body, it has a foresight of things to come, whence we may conceive what will be its state when entirely freed from this bodily prison.

-- Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, 45 B.C.

I have wondered at the erudition, the penetration, the conviction of good and great minds regarding the law, the politics, the medicine and morality of the "Terri Schiavo case."*

I have marveled, too, at the cheapness, the sensation, the ignorance that it has brought to light.

Theologians and philosophers and "ethicists" and experts of every type have contemplated, prayed, explored, puzzled and pontificated over this matter.

Points of law have been pondered. Politics has been played. Judges have been shopped. The depths and limits of "a persistent vegetative state" have been examined.

For those to whom this life, this earthly physical existence, is everything, with nothing beyond, "quality" becomes the issue and the whole matter is simplicity itself -- and it dictates a "merciful" ending.

As a Christian, I have a different view.

There is a soul involved.

Not merely a mind; not mere intellect; not some "spark of life."

There lives inside this woman -- so cruelly exposed on endless video loops in her present state -- a unique person, created by God, accountable only to Him, and still at the outset of a journey into eternity.

I believe in, and am in awe of, God's sublime mechanism for bringing souls into being, and I cherish a certainty that the soul is everything.

Thus, this woman, lying helpless in a hospice bed (and by no means unique in that state) has an identity, a personality and a purpose beyond even her or our understanding. We cannot begin to compass the dimensions, let alone the beauty of this or any soul.

Somehow this soul, its journey begun -- whether to perfect harmony with God, or an eternity without Him -- must remain in that God-designed physical envelope that has become known to all as Terri Schiavo.

Accident, or disease, or mayhem -- the risks of existing in this physical world -- may destroy that envelope, but God has made it plain that such destruction is not the prerogative of an individual human being.

The wisdom of this, the purpose of it, is often contravened or forgotten. But I believe that the whole force of Scripture points to one thing -- that God, in His sovereign wisdom, wishes it so.

In this wish he confounds the wise, puzzles even the faithful, and yet brings to complete understanding -- however grudging or grateful -- all those souls who have long ago completed the fleshly part of their journey.

As a believer in individual liberty, I am mighty uneasy about government's hand in this thing. But I do not see the cynical politics that others deride, so much as I see, at bottom, some instinctive western, Judeo-Christian impulse of common decency and defense of life.

As for those who so confidently say "this is all about Terry's wishes," I would suggest that it is not.

It is about life and death.

And if we should not presume to precisely know God's wishes, we can presume to know that he abhors death. His son's agonizing and glorious journey into our history and into human life itself made that plain. And his utter conquest of death (and its doppelganger, sin) is what we Christians celebrate in these very days.

I cannot judge in this thing. Greater minds than mine appear to have fixed it to a certainty. I can only pray for understanding. But, God forgive me, I come away from every musing, every contemplation, convicted that it is a terrible presumption to seize that envelope marked Terri Schiavo, still enroute on its journey, and crumple it up and throw it away. A terrible presumption.

* I refer you particularly to the elegant essay by Doug Kern that appeared on TCS yesterday.

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