After 50 years of reading Bible passages and listening to others read and discuss the book, the story of Jesus of Nazareth has suddenly become stunningly, blindingly relevant to me. Here was a spiritual savior whose principal lesson was the voluntary sacrifice of his own life for the good of others. He said, explicitly, that the only path to God was through his example. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”[i]
And His example is the voluntary sacrifice of his own life for a greater good.
Jesus even acknowledged our direct, intimate connection to future generations and the web of life, a connection that is consummated in death. At the Last Supper on the night before His execution, He served bread and wine to the disciples who would carry his message forward. Breaking the bread he said “This is my body given for you; do this is in remembrance of me.” Even more pointedly he said, serving the wine, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”[ii]
And so God invites us to share in this New Covenant, to give our own flesh and blood for the good of future generations. It seemed, as I read those words, that Jesus was speaking directly to a human dilemma now at the forefront of our consciousness 20 centuries after his death. We have proven that our technology can push cultures aside and extinguish life forms if they don’t support our expansion and prosperity. We can alter God’s creation until it seems to be almost purely a reflection of human dominance and the human ego.
And we may be on the verge of living much, much longer than previous generations, compounding human population growth.
But still the words of a wise prophet echo across the millennia, telling us the salvation from our sins is achievable only through mortality – voluntary mortality.
I have come to believe that continued expansion – both in our numbers and in our life spans – dooms future generations of human beings to increased misery and a steadily diminishing quality of life. The splendor of God’s creation will be progressively corrupted as we pack the planet more and more tightly with our cities and machinery. Birth rates diminish, but then life spans increase. Every form of habitat destruction is justified by the need to feed, house and clothe more people.
Since Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden, it seems we’ve been working full time on our species’ expansion. From a biological perspective, it is the most natural of all goals. From the perspective of virtue, it personifies the very nature of human sin.
The New Covenant, which expiates our sin, seems to me now to be shockingly simple. Our New Covenant is sanctified in the voluntary, individual sacrifice of our lives for a greater good.
Please don’t mistake me. I will never advocate the imposition of mortality by any human being on any other. I believe killing another human being – in war or for any other purpose – is wrong. And Jesus’ example is, quite explicitly, an example of voluntary mortality.
For that matter, I don’t support laws or rules that impose birth control. From my perspective, we are doomed unless we can accept these necessary sacrifices on an individual basis with free will.
If we impose limits on life span or fertility through any of our authority structures, we will only feed ongoing conflict and human strife. Neither governments, nor religions nor communities can dictate mortality or fertility to individuals without inspiring resistance and backlash. Imposed limits might hold back the tide of destruction for a little while, but they won’t provide any sustainable benefit.
Our salvation is contingent on voluntary sacrifice.
Only through selfless, voluntary, individual sacrifice can we expiate our essential human flaw and restore the Garden. We have to accept mortality as the necessary and – if voluntary – heroic alternative. We must divert the resources we are using to mindlessly expand human life and work and invest them, instead, in the improvement of all life both human and non-human.
To do that, of course, we have to change our minds.
Photo by Bryan Welch