John Paul II continues his meditation on the biblical message concerning life by recalling a central truth: Gods gift of life imposes a responsibility. The commandment not to kill requires us to love, respect, and care for life: "the gift thus becomes a commandment, and the commandment is itself a gift" (#52).
In Evangelium Vitae, the pope often reminds us that God is the only Lord of life: "It is his gift, his image and imprint, a sharing in his breath of life" (#39). Human life and death are in Gods loving hands.
John Paul discusses four tasks which the Bible describes in its treatment of life: the stewardship of creation, respect for human procreation, esteem for unborn life, and reverence for old age.
STEWARDSHIP OF CREATION Ecological concerns are not foreign to Scripture. Called to keep the garden of the world, we have a divinely given charge to safeguard the environment. God has put creation at our service and in our care, both for the present and future generations.
The pope cites an earlier encyclical, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, On Social Concerns (1987), to tell us that "when it comes to the natural world, we are subject not only to biological laws but also to moral ones, which cannot be violated with impunity" (#34). Human dominion over creation entails stewardship. This ministerial service is, he writes, "a real reflection of the unique and infinite lordship of God" (#52).
PROCREATION We express our guardianship for all living creatures, however, chiefly by caring for human life. This responsibility includes a profound respect for procreation by means of natural sexual relations. "Having a child," writes the pope, "is an event which is deeply human and full of religious meaning" (#43). Parents enjoy the privilege of being co-workers with God in transmitting his image to a new creature. Through the gift of self to each other, husband and wife receive, in return, the gift of a child.
The Holy Father quotes what he wrote in his Letter to Families (1994): "God himself is present in human fatherhood and motherhood quite differently than he is present in all instances of begetting on earth. . . . Begetting is the continuation of creation" (#9). Consequently, conjugal love must always show respect for welcoming and serving life according to the wisdom of the divine plan.
UNBORN LIFE Scripture, the pope recognizes, contains "no direct or explicit calls to protect human life at its very beginning, specifically life not yet born" (#44). Nonetheless, biblical revelation was not indifferent to the question. Rather, he observes, even the possibility of threatening unborn life was "completely foreign to the religious and cultural way of thinking of the people of God" (#44).
The Bible affirms that the life transmitted by parents to their children comes from God: "the life of every individual, from its very beginning, is part of Gods plan" (#44). Many biblical passages refer with awe and love to the conception, growth, and birth of a child. In particular, the scriptural authors portray the initial moment of human existence as due to Gods creative action. "How can anyone think that even a single moment of this marvelous process of the unfolding of life could be separated from the wise and loving work of the Creator, and left prey to human caprice?" asks the pope (#44).
OLD AGE The Old Testament does not explicitly condemn attempts to end the life of the sick or the aged. There was no need for it to do so. The whole of Jewish tradition recognized the elderly as "a unique source of enrichment for the family and for society" (#46). Old age was accorded prestige and treated with reverence.
When faced with sickness and death, men and women entrusted themselves completely to Gods loving plan. They knew that their life was in his hands, not their own.
While life is always a good, the pope also points out that, for believers, bodily life is not an absolute good. God can ask us to give up our lives for an even greater good. Leaving us an example, Jesus freely surrendered his own life as an offering to the Father.
Moreover, John the Baptist and countless martyrs through the ages have followed in Christs footsteps. Fidelity to the divine law is, therefore, even more important than saving ones earthly life. Jesus teaching is clear: "Whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospels will save it" (Mk 8:35).
Chapter two closes with a reflection of the Holy Father on Christ, "him whom they have pierced" (Jn 19:37). He turns to Calvary as the revelation of Jesus glory and the manifestation of life in its fullness. The blood and water flowing from the wounded side of "the Author of life (Acts 3:15) open the gates of life-giving grace to humanity.
On the cross good triumphs over evil. The life which Jesus receives from the Father, He bestows on us, so that we, too, "may have life, and have it abundantly" (Jn 10:10).