Almost forty percent of the births in the United States each year result from unintended pregnancies. Unsurprisingly, then, there are scores and scores of articles offering parents advice on whether or not to tell their children that they were an “accident.”
Some parents fear that their children will feel unwanted if they learn the truth. Most child development experts assure their readers that well-loved children will not be bothered by the truth that their mother’s pregnancy was unplanned.
In other words, when children are sure that they are loved, they know in their gut that they are not really an accident. They belong here. Without them, their family—and for that matter this universe—would have a ghastly, aching hole in it.
That’s how powerful love is. Giving and receiving love makes life meaningful. Makes life worth living. In fact, without love, we would cease to exist as individuals and as communities.
Jesus said as much once when he was being indirectly criticized for playing fast and loose with the Torah. You see, a few leaders in the religious establishment perceived Jesus as a threat to their status. So, in order to discredit him with his followers, they asked, “What is the greatest commandment in the law?” (Matthew 22:34-46)
Earlier in Jesus’s ministry, this group had criticized him for violating the Sabbath law. His friends had plucked grain for their lunch and, on the same day, Jesus himself had healed a man with a withered hand. (Matthew 12:1-14) They weren’t really asking him to give them a lesson on higher and lower laws. They were implying that Jesus willfully flaunted the law.
Jesus responded with words from the Torah itself. Love God with all your heart, soul and mind (Deuteronomy 6:5) and love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18). Today, many of us call this the Summary of the Law.
But Jesus was not interested in trying to justify breaking Sabbath law with reference to a higher law. He was explaining the very essence of God’s law: the role of love in human existence.
When Jesus teaches us to love God with every particle of our being, he’s not urging us to muster up devotion for a Being that we might just as well live without. He’s telling us to recognize that, by our very nature, we are what philosophers and theologians call contingent beings.
God’s love not only brought us into existence but also sustains us at every nanosecond. The theologian Karl Rahner put it like this: “You are the One without whom I cannot exist, the Eternal God from whom alone I, a creature of time, can draw the strength to live, the Infinity who gives meaning to my finiteness.” (Encounters with Silence, p. 7)
Without love—God’s love that brings us out of nothingness into life at each instant—we would not exist. We are, from head to toe, the beloved. And so is everyone else.
In this world so obsessed with measuring others by their productivity for the sake of economic competitiveness, we can lose sight of Jesus’s basic message that our neighbor is the beloved. Period. Instead, we can treat our neighbors as commodities, as disposable means to the end of a larger bottom line. We can make life into a competition in which there are winners and losers.
Jesus reminds us to recognize our neighbor as the beloved, not because of their achievements or their usefulness, but because that is who they always already are. The beloved of God. As Wendell Berry puts it, “Rats and roaches live by competition under the law of supply and demand; it is the privilege of human beings to live under the laws of justice and mercy.” (What Are People For?, p. 135)
There is no escaping it. We love God by loving our neighbor whom God already loves. “If we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” (1John 4:12) Without love for neighbor, we destroy community and forfeit the sense of belonging and significance it conveys. We begin to feel like accidental humans.
But Jesus’s message is clear and consistent. No one is an accident. Everyone is God’s beloved. Everyone belongs. And it is our role, our calling in life to reinforce that truth for one another.
Once again, Thank you. It really is all about love, isn’t it? Your friendly Canadian, I always enjoy your Statistics from the US and then dig to find out our stats! well “unintended pregnancies” in Canada range from 1/3 to 50-60% some surprises are welcomed and others not so much, I wonder how these words might affect those who are told that their presence was unwanted? I am critically aware when I preach on the love of parents, i.e. the recent 10 commandments about the love that some parents demand when a child was unwanted and then abused and the guilt that the child suffers because it’s hard to love those parents, especially when they really don’t want or love you.
Always good to hear from my northern neighbor. I’m not familiar with the recent reference. Can you drop me a link?
Sorry, Bishop Jake, that was mostly a run-on sentence. I have in mind persons whose parents are abusive physically and mentally. These persons believe they are obligated to love their parents even though there is no love, nurturing or caring in return. They tell their children, both of them, that they were a mistake and a curse! I am a proponent of Love, Love, love. I am aware of the majority of folks where were a blessing, I was a post-war “surprise” and welcomed with joy.
I once had a brutal experience, psychologically, when I was in a car with my then boss and his wife, and she didn’t know me and was asking about my brothers. I explained they’re much older (17 and 20 years) and she came back with the ‘Oh, so you’re an accident!’ response. I quietly and firmly denied this and she doubled-down and strongly asserted I was naive! You can be sure I stayed quiet, preferring to be thought naive than to explain there’d been two sisters in that ‘gap’ period who’d suffered sudden violent deaths, or that my mother had also had miscarriages during that time. Before I turned up Mum believed she’d been given the promise of another daughter. That person (a nurse as it happens) couldn’t have been more wrong! Because of this experience I have strong feelings about the casual way people talk about others being ‘accidents’; it’s appalling and de-humanising.
So many people speak before they think and make assumptions instead of asking. I’m sorry you had to go through this.
What a hurtful experience! I have no words that I should say out loud about such behavior.
What a lovely Reflection – Bishop Jake – on the reality of our human existence. As you so tellingly reveal here, no single one of us is a ‘mistake’.Our existence is God-intended. What we make of this reality is up to us – and to the people around us. If we each do our part in giving and receiving love, we are doing what was intended for us in the great cycle of Creation.
I really love this and the quote by Karl R
“When Jesus teaches us to love God with every particle of our being, he’s not urging us to muster up devotion for a Being that we might just as well live without. He’s telling us to recognize that, by our very nature, we are what philosophers and theologians call contingent beings.“