‘My God I am thine’

by David P. Easton

This article has been triggered by the case of baby Charlie Gard, a patient in Great Ormond Street Hospital with mitochondrial depletion syndrome. The hospital felt that it was right to withdraw life-support treatment from him. His parents appealed the decision in the high court. They had wanted to take him to America in the hope that an untried treatment could help his condition. Mr Justice Francis ruled that the hospital could halt Charlie’s life support.

I need to state first of all that what follows is not about this particular case. I also fully recognise that it is all too easy for those not immediately involved in situations such as this to make pious or platitudinous comments. For those intimately involved – family, friends, medical staff and, indeed, high court judges, the issues are immense, personal and deeply challenging. This may sound obvious, but I feel very strongly that it is important, before exploring ethical or theological issues arising from such cases, to acknowledge that discussion must not take place with abstract, theoretical detachment but in the context of the real lives of real people.

I want to explore two questions:
Whose are we?
How does the Church engage theologically with complex issues such as this?

Listening to a report on the radio, I heard it said that the parents believed that, as the child was theirs, they had the right to decide his treatment. Parents often speak of ‘their children’. Does this mean that they ‘own’ them or that they have a more intangible attachment of love and care? In this country we clearly do not believe that even parents have the final say on their children, as this case and instances where children are taken into care illustrate. So does the state, acting on behalf of all of us through the courts or social services, etc, ‘own’ its children? Most of us would probably be uneasy with such a notion, even if we couldn’t quite say why.

But there is a sense in which children belong to all of us. I don’t have children but I have obligations towards them that I am happy to fulfil. I am happy to pay taxes for their education. I would stop a child from running out in front of a bus. In paying taxes or stopping a child I am acting in the belief that their welfare is not just the responsibility of her/his parents; there is a sense in which they are my children too. So, I am expressing a degree of ‘ownership’ of the child, but, by the same token, the child’s parents are willing to share some of that ‘ownership’ with me – presuming that they are glad that I am paying taxes and stopping their child from being run over.

So, if children are, in the sense that I have been suggesting, ‘owned’ by all of us, when does that ‘ownership’ cease? Do I refuse to pay taxes for things that adults require, such as roads or further education? Would I ‘own’ an adult enough to stop him/her being killed? If I would, does that mean that there is a sense in which we own one another? And what does that mean in a western society which increasingly puts a premium on individualism and self-determinism? And what is the difference between the sort of ownership I have been positing and that which becomes controlling and sees the other as one to be possessed for our own ends rather than theirs or the society of which we are a part?

And where is the theology in all this? Where do we fit with one another? Where do we fit with God?

‘My God I am thine, what a comfort divine’.

When we sing this hymn with more or less gusto, are we saying that we are ‘owned’ by God because we have chosen to be? Or were we God’s possessed by his love – as infant baptism liturgies claim – even before we knew of him? And if we are owned by God, whether through design or desire, what does that have to say about our liberty and free will? Is the notion of being possessed by God make it more or less likely that someone would want to explore what it means to be a Christian disciple?

Finally, in a world that is constantly throwing up examples of the complexity and challenge of the one that we began with, how do we engage those in the wider world with what it means to be fully human and yet touched by the divine? How do we not appear to be ever-ready with the glib answer or ill-thought-through response? How do we avoid the twin dangers of appearing to know everything or knowing nothing? How do we wrestle beyond the ropes of over-simple certainties?

 

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4 thoughts on “‘My God I am thine’”

  1. I am challenged by this article, as a mother of a now 33 yr old son who has a complex congenital heart condition I have had to face the question regarding his life support on more than one occasion, through this experience I have had to conclude that he is not mine but God’s, he is part of the rich, complex and sometimes seemingly brutal/ wild miracle that is creation. My experience has Caledonian me beyond my own boundaries to acknowledge in a concrete rather than abstract way that there is more to life than the here and now. My reflections lead me to John 13 and the amazing words written about Jesus, ” knowing who he was and whose he was”.

    Maybe we can also turn to the words of our own Covenant Service, and the prayer that begins “I am no longer my own”, and wonder if a deeper question is “have we ever been our own, to which I suspect the answer is no! As a parent I have faced the question of looking for the best for my son, there have been two ocassions when the conclusion was not to resuscitate him should he deteriorate again, he pulled through, and now faces the question for himself with my support as he faces a potential transplant.

    I suspect we will always grapple with the question who are we, and whose are we, not only in relation to ourselves but also in relation to those we love.

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  2. No human being belongs to another human being.
    Our children are not ours; they are entrusted into our care for a short time but we must let them go eventually.
    Married couples do not belong to each other; we can be one half of a partnership but that shouldn’t take away our right to be an individual.
    I truly believe we belong only to God, that He knows us best and knows what is best for us. When we seek a relationship with God and feel a connection to Him we become aware of His love, protection and guidance on our journey through life. It brings us peace, stability and the strength to cope with any circumstances.
    The best we can wish for anyone is that they will become aware of God’s presence in their life.

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  3. This reminds me of the favourite evangelical phrase “I gave up my life to Jesus” as if somehow we could install a holy satnav which would relieve us of agonising decisions.
    We can’t. Clearly the baby and indeed all minors need someone to make decisions until he is mature enough to make his own and the state needs to intervene in disputes. Put this problem the other way round. The doctors thought they could save the baby’s life but the parents wanted the life ended. Whose will prevails?
    I would go for another hymn “Guide me, O thou great redeemer”. The Christian ethic guides those who subscribe to it. It does not rule them.

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  4. Nearly 21 years ago, our first son was born extremely prematurely and very sick. Two weeks later, after agreeing to put him through an unsuccessful operation, we made the decision that enough was enough. It was devastating for us but he deserved peace in place of suffering. It was not long before Christmas and, having washed his body, we were asked to wrap him up in a tiny parcel, with a name tag attached, to go to the hospital mortuary. Whilst doing this, I was overwhelmed with the sense that he had been a precious gift from God and now we were giving him back, gift-wrapped, to God. Our second son was also born extremely prematurely. If, at any time during his four months of lows and highs and ‘very poorly’ periods on the neonatal unit, the doctors had felt they could do no more, I think we would have fought tooth and nail for him. My heart goes out to baby Charlie’s parents. It is very hard to give up the last scrap of hope for someone you love entirely.

    We certainly have a responsibility to love and care about all the children of our world and sometimes this means caring for them too. The film, ‘I, Daniel Blake’ illustrates this in the love and care that Daniel shows for the family he first meets under duress at the Benefits office. They are a gift to each other. We all have a responsibility to shout about children living in poverty in the U.K. and the already high number projected to increase significantly over the next few years. We must shout, too, about the simultaneous decrease in Children’s Centres and school budgets, since these have been the places where the most vulnerable children have received extra care.

    ‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me,’ said Jesus. Are we welcoming children into the life God intends for them? My experience is that, when we step out and try to do this, we receive one hundred blessings back.

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