I have received via the internet (and seen on TV actually), two stories which are supposed to be inspirational and/or inspire guilt or I'm not sure.
One story is of a man who is the person who raises and lowers a bridge so the trains can cross. One day he takes his son (who is about 5 years old) to work with him. As the father is occupied and the bridge is up to allow a boat to pass, the son climbs down in the underside of the bridge. Then a train comes. The father looks for the son and notices that where the son is, if he lowers the bridge, the son will get crushed. He calls to the son but the child does not hear him. He must now make the agonizing decision of saving his son (by not lowering the bridge) or killing his son by lowering the bridge to save the hundreds of people on the train. He decides in favor of the people on the train and lowers the bridge.
In the second story which I just received, it's the same principle only this time, a father is told his young son has the only pure blood with which they can make a vaccine to cure thousands of people. Ignoring the questionable medical basis of this one - vaccines are generally NOT made from human blood - the bottom line is the same as the first story. The father "donates" the son (after lying to the son and saying he would not allow anything to happen to him) and the son dies and the doctors say basically (though not so bluntly) "oops, we didn't know it would take so MUCH of his blood".
The analogy is supposed to be God the father, giving His Son to die for us. In each story, the apathy of the people who are saved is commented on. "Didn't you know I killed my son to save you?"
If we think about each story, at least, this was MY reaction, it's troubling. Could WE make that decision? To destroy our own kid to supposedly save other lives? I doubt that any of us could do this. So it ends up being a dilemma rather than something which is uplifting. (at least to me).
I have been troubled by these stories every time I've heard them or seen it passed on the internet and recently, realized WHY I've found the story so confusing and so troubling and not really LIKE the sacrifice that Jesus made.
Because there are some things which are very different here and perhaps not religious at all.
First of all, the underlying idea is that by the death of a small innocent, lives can be saved which is not really that far away from the idea of abortion or murder or embryonic stem cell research etc. Certainly NOT a religious idea at all. Quite the contrary.
But secondly, what is REALLY wrong with these stories is that we are being compared to God the Father which is totally inappropriate. We are not God, we are human and God is not us - He is NOT human but infinite. And our creator.
And finally, in the story, the small child has no choice in the matter. In the first, no choice at all - the father makes the choice and in the second, choice based on the idea that it will NOT kill him, the child and choice at an age where free will is not developed yet - hardly more of a choice than in the first story.
I don't know if anyone really, if they think about it, finds these stories inspirational. I know they are often told as inspirational stories.
But these are so different from Jesus. Jesus, unlike God his Father, was/is man as much as He is God. And God did NOT make this choice FOR HIM. God ASKED Him to make the choice of allowing Himself to be sacrificed for the salvation of mankind and He could have said "no" just as any one of us has the free will to say "no". But Jesus, at the age of 33, did NOT say "no". He said "yes". Of His own free will. And that is what is so beautiful because Jesus loved us THAT much as to, though not really wanting to suffer that much, telling the Father that if He "must drink this cup then so be it".
And interestingly enough if we wish to look for analogies, there are many and even a couple in the 20th century... i.e. individual humans who had a choice to make a sacrifice and said "yes" to God much as Jesus did.
One of them was Gianna Beretta Molla, a pediatrician who, if she followed the line of the stories above, would have sacrificed her unborn baby in abortion so she could live and save many lives (as she did in her job as a pedriatrician) as well as be mother to her other 3 children. But instead of following the two above stories and sacrificing her unborn child (when she was found to have cancer of the uterus and require treatment to live), she said "take the child first - save my child".
And the child was born (Gianna just had the tumor removed) and they named the little girl, Gianna, after her mother. Gianna the mom, died a week later but to the end had no regrets.
On the morning of 21 April 1962 Gianna Emanuela was born by Caesarian section. Despite all efforts and treatments to save both of them, on the morning of 28 April, amid unspeakable pain and after repeated exclamations of "Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I love you", the mother died of septic peritonitis. She was 39 years old.
Like Jesus whom she followed, she said yes to sacrificing HERSELF and although one might say, this was hardship on her children and husband (and it likely was), these children and certainly Gianna the daughter (who later became a pediatrician like her mother and has saved many lives) would say, could a mother love any more than this? (not withstanding that many of us believe Gianna is in Heaven praying for all of us - she was proclaimed saint by the Catholic church a few years ago).
I think it is really important to make this distinction and to clarify these confusing stories which compare US to God the Father.
Sacrificing someone ELSE's life (without THEIR choice being involved) not only does not necessarily save anyone but is a decision God would NOT ask us to make in the framework of the scenarios given in the stories and even in the Bible when Abraham is willing to sacrifice his son, God stops him. A pretty clear message.
But sacrificing OUR OWN lives is another story. Perhaps for some of us, that might be the ultimate act of love, to follow our Savior in His Choice to do this. And for many of us, to read about this IS a great source of inspiration.
What did Gianna the daughter (pictured here with her father and Pope John Paul II) feel about this sacrifice that her mother made to save her life? Here is what she wrote when a church dedicated a stain glass window to a rendering of her mother:
I am very honoured and moved to be here today with all of you and I thank Fr. Thomas Rosica with all my heart, and his staff, the parishioners and friends of the Newman Centre who are present at this important ceremony. Three days ago, when Padre Tom showed me the church windows for the first time and I saw my mother smiling, I was filled with joy and so pleased, because I have always imagined her in this way, knowing that the message of her life couldn’t be represented better.
Every moment of her entire existence was a real testimony of Christian love and faith, lived concretely and with joy in everyday life: as a young girl, as a fiancée and wife, as a mother and doctor. She always trusted in Divine Providence and she has crowned her exemplary life in the name of a love without measure. She is always with me and since the momentous day of April 24, 1994, I have felt myself to be part of an ever growing family comprised of so many people throughout the world who, like me, pray to her, confide in her, and feel close to her. I believe that this is also the design of Divine Providence, that now I shall never be alone.
Dear Mom, I ask you to fill me and all those who suffer and are in difficulty with your own strength of soul, your hope, your courage to live life to the full. Protect and help all mothers, their families and all who turn to you and entrust their needs to you.
(Imagine praying to a saint who is your Mom!)
Gianna was born on April 21, 1962 which was Holy Saturday, that year and her mother died on April 28, 1962, the eve of what would become Divine Mercy Sunday a few years later. I was received into the Catholic church on April 11, 1963, Holy Thursday, the following year and I truly feel that Gianna's prayers had a lot to do with my OWN conversion...
St Gianna Molla is a saint ESPECIALLY for our times when the lives of children are thought to be so expendable or even sometimes as a way of thinking that destroying their lives can save others (as in the stories of the internet forwards).
The story of Dr St Gianna Beretta Molla
Beautiful recounting of the St Gianna story and many photos