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FIRST-PERSON: Lessons from the lemur

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–On a recent Sunday evening after church my wife and I settled in for the evening and began watching a nature program on television titled “Born Wild: The First Few Days of Life.”

As the title suggests, this program was devoted to baby animals. Since my wife is a real animal lover, it did not take long before sounds of “awww!” were heard from our family room as furry little creatures frolicked across the television screen. This reaction soon changed, however, as the film began to portray the dangerous side of animals born in the wild.

There was one particularly heart-wrenching scene near the end of the film. The scene took place in Madagascar and featured a troop of ringed-tail lemurs. Ringed-tail lemurs spend most of their time foraging for food on the ground and not in the trees. When lemurs give birth, their offspring must be strong enough to cling to their mother’s belly as she moves from place to place.

Running low on food in the midst of a drought, the particular troop of lemurs portrayed in the film began to move off in search of a more productive area in which to forage. One of the female lemurs had recently given birth but the baby was not yet strong enough to cling to its mother’s body as she walked. What followed was a heart-wrenching scene as the mother lemur had to choose between leaving her offspring behind in order to remain in the safety of the troop or staying behind with her newborn and risking her own life as well as the life of her baby.

At first, the mother lemur attempted to carry her baby, but being an animal that walks on all-fours, this quickly proved to be impossible. She could not carry her baby and keep up with the rest of the troop. Leaving her newborn on the ground, the mother Lemur began to walk away in order to catch up with the troop. She did not make it far. With her own pitiable cries mixed with those of her baby, she returned to her weakened offspring. Nevertheless, the drive for self-preservation was so strong that she attempted, yet again, to leave her newborn. However, just as before, the cries of her baby held her back. It was obvious that she was torn between remaining with her baby and keeping up with the troop. As the narrator explained, she returned to her baby a total of five times before finally abandoning it and running to re-join the troop.

As this disturbing scene ended, I turned to my wife and remarked how gracious God had been to mankind when he created us upright. Since we walk upright, we never have to choose between self-preservation and the life of our children as this mother lemur had to do. If our circumstances force us to leave our homes, being creatures who walk upright means that our hands are free to carry our children with us. More than this, since God also created us with intelligence and nimble hands and fingers, we are able to invent things that make it even easier for us to carry our children with us, be it some sort of sling that we wear across our shoulders or an automobile and car seat. The grace of God displayed in how He chose to create us means that we need never abandon our children as this mother lemur was forced to do.

Several weeks’ reflection have led me to contrast my initial reaction to this scene with the prevailing wisdom of many members of our society. There is an increasing opinion in our culture today that children are an insurmountable obstacle to our independence, prosperity and self-actualization. Children are no longer viewed as a blessing from God but as an economic drain on the family and society.

One need only consider how often pregnancies end in abortion in order to realize just how much our culture considers its children to be disposable. Imperfect children in particular, children who will be born with handicaps such as Down syndrome, are viewed as not being worthy of the time and effort needed to care for them. Not only are they unworthy of being carried with us after birth, they are not even worthy of being carried to term in the womb.

What disturbs me nearly as much as this attitude of disposability is the fact that this very attitude is so contrary to the grace of God displayed in how God created us. The very care which God lavished on us in creating us upright and with intelligence means that when we are moved to pity, we need never fail to show mercy to the weak among us. Our arms are free not only to hug a laughing child but also to cradle a sick child. If our circumstances force us to leave hearth and home, God created us in such a way that we can always show mercy to the weak and carry them with us. This task may not always be easy, as in the case of a child born with a severe handicap, but God created us in such a way that we need never be overwhelmed by pity. We can always show mercy and carry our children with us.

That we can show mercy when presented with the occasion, I think, demonstrates to us that it is God’s desire for us always to do so. Otherwise, why did God create us in such a way that we need never abandon the weak among us? Furthermore, as we practice mercy in our daily lives, we are awakened to the fact that mercy is the proper response when confronted with someone who is weak.

Perhaps we were created in just this way so that we would be able to appreciate the great mercy which God has shown us in the provision of salvation in His Son, Jesus Christ. God viewed us with pity as He contemplated our sinful condition. Instead of abandoning us in our miserable state, God took upon Himself the burden of our sins. As we show mercy to those who are weaker than us, we soon come to realize just how costly mercy can sometimes be. Our own practice of mercy creates in us an attitude of thanksgiving when we contemplate the grace and mercy which God has lavished on us. Perhaps this is part of what Jesus taught us in the Sermon on the Mount, when he declared: “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

In our culture today we are constantly bombarded with messages that an unplanned pregnancy is an insurmountable problem best dealt with through the destruction of the unborn child. The prospect of having a handicapped child is portrayed as an even greater burden that no one should be willing to accept voluntarily. However, upon reflection of the grace of God displayed in how He chose to create us, I think that we must conclude that children, even handicapped children, are never an insurmountable burden. We have been created in such a way that we can always carry our children. Let us carry our children to term, and when they are born, let us show mercy and carry them with us as God intended us to do.
Kevin D. Kennedy is assistant professor of theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

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  • Kevin D. Kennedy