Have you ever asked yourself why people grieve so deeply when they lose a child to miscarriage or stillbirth? Have you ever wondered why evangelical Protestants are so scandalized by the practice of elective abortion? Have you ever considered what motivates some people to fly halfway around the world, fight through endless amounts of bureaucratic red-tape, and spend thousands of dollars in order to adopt disabled and/or traumatized children?
These and other questions like them are addressed beautifully, if unintentionally, by Mark Schultz’s song “What It Means to Be Loved.” It tells the story of a couple eagerly awaiting the birth of their little girl. Late in the second trimester, they received devastating news. Their baby had an unspecified yet perilous defect, and she would likely live less than a year after birth.
After their doctor explained the problem to the couple, he asked the wife how she wanted to proceed. It is an understandable question. Some would see the birth of such a child as an unnecessary burden on society. Others would see it as inflicting needless suffering on a creature that had no chance of living a productive life.
The mother, however, had a completely different response. Here is how Schultz expresses it:
I wanna give her the world
I wanna hold her hand
I wanna be her mom for as long as I can
I wanna live every moment, until that day comes
I wanna show her what it means to be loved
As the song continues, we learn that the child was, indeed, born with problems, but we also learn that she lived a happy, surprisingly normal life. One of the points that Schultz makes by telling this story is that, even with all of our scientific tools and medical knowledge, we cannot predict the future or control how God will act in the present. This is an important point for all of us to keep in mind, but I do not think that it is the most important thing that we can learn from this young woman’s life. Sometimes, children with devastating prenatal diagnoses do actually die. At other times, they struggle through life carrying the weight of their disabilities.
The real point that we need to take away has to do with this question: “What makes life worth living?” The mom in Schultz’s song really gets it. She understands that, even in the midst of enormously tragic circumstances, the thing that all of us need most is to love and to be loved. Deep in her heart there burned a passion for this precious little one to know that she has a mother who loves her—indeed, who loves her so much that she would risk everything to prove it.
I am convinced that this passion is not the result of evolutionary processes gone awry. It is the result of God’s creative and redeeming work. Love stands at the very heart of God’s own character (cf. 1 John 4:7-21), and it provides the foundation for all genuinely Christian ethics (cf. Mark 12:28-31 and parallels). God made us to love and to receive love. It binds us to one another, opens the way for us to experience genuine joy, and permits us to be all that God made us to be.
You see, the value of a person cannot be measured in terms of what he or she can contribute to society or in terms of how much pleasure he or she can get out of life. Assigning value on the basis of such criteria will inevitably lead to the devaluing of human life. It is, by definition, inhumane. Instead, the value of a person resides in her or his ability to emulate the Creator of all things by giving and receiving love.