Saturday, November 24, 2007

Control or Surprise?

Genetic engineering—it is now part of our present, not the future. Soon and very soon, well-off parents-to-be will be able to make a list of the traits they want in their offspring, arrange for the contraception to take place outside the womb, and accept only the embryo that has the proper genes to fit their order.

Kind of scary, isn't it? I wonder what my parents would have ordered if they have been able to do that before I was born? I'd still be a girl—they already had birthed a son, and my dad wanted a daughter badly. But surely my hair would have been far less curly, I'd have extensive musical gifts (my father's favorite phrase about my voice: “You can't carry a tune in a bucket”) and I'd be at least four inches taller. I also hope I would be more organized, but don't know yet if there is a gene for that.

What I would have ordered had I been able to do that with my own children? Would I have born three sons? Surely I would have picked a daughter somewhere along the line, but which of my sons could I possibly envision my life without? Not one, of course. They are each so precious, and I have been enriched beyond words by their births and lives. Would I have liked them not to have suffered from asthma? Yep, that one is easy. And yet, much of that suffering also shaped their lives and mine, teaching us patience and faith in God and persistence and compassion and reminding us often daily of the fragility of life. Those are such good gifts. On the other hand I would have liked for my oldest son to be able to carry a tune!!!

As I ponder these thoughts, I'm aware that it is easy to be afraid of this move to manipulate our genetic makeup by science and decry it as against God's will.. Christian people have struggled with scientific discoveries like this for recorded history. It wasn't all that long ago that pain relief for women in childbirth was seen as distinctly anti-biblical because of an interpretation of a passage in Genesis that suggests that God WANTS women to suffer in childbirth. But even so, is it God's will be to able to order our children's genes to fit what we think we want?

That's a tough one.

I suspect the real issue here is the human need to be able to control, or at least think we control, our lives and our future. We want to be able to think that we can make things safe enough that we can actually insure our happiness and comfort. One of the ways to do that is to control our environment as much as possible. After all, is anyone reading this upset about the use of central air conditioning on 100 degree days or an efficient heating system now that it has turned chilly?

I was thinking about our need to control the universe when I heard the rain start to fall on Saturday morning. What a glorious sound that was. We are way too dry again, and rain is such a blessing for us. Will we ever be able to really control the weather? We can predict it with some accuracy now (but no one guessed that it might snow on Thanksgiving Day!), but controlling it is a very different thing. I have a feeling we will live at the mercy of weather for many, many lifetimes in front of us.

I think that is a good thing. If nothing else, our inability to control weather can remind us that we humans really are not all that powerful. We can't stop a tornado, or create a noisy thunderstorm or cleanse the oceans with hurricanes or create new islands with volcanoes (OK, that's not exactly weather, but you get the idea). We think we're important—but we're not all that powerful. Not really. Not even when we can play with genes.

So, maybe we should consider that there is something a lot more powerful in our universe, and consider whether that powerful something just might be interested in us, in our souls, in our redemption, in our present lives and in our future life. Maybe, just maybe, that powerful something, whom we call God, may even be interested enough to enter our experience in the form of humanity. Maybe, just maybe, a baby was born in strangely inauspicious circumstances a long, long time ago. And maybe, just maybe, that baby offered the possibility of peace on earth.

Maybe, just maybe, we need to get ready to receive that peace. Maybe, just maybe, God is full of surprising love and chooses to express it in surprising ways. Just something to think about while we try to order our lives so we don't have any surprises.

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