The bigger picture 

Love is in the air. The big focus at the time of writing, with the shops and cinemas full of the usual pink hearts and chubby cupids, is, of course, Valentine’s Day. But just one month later we are giving flowers once again as we celebrate another type of love on Mothering Sunday.

Romantic love is famous for being narrowly focussed, but parental love sees the bigger picture. Romantic love can come and go, but parental love is there for the long-haul. Parents are under great pressure to give in to demands for more junk food or screen time than is good for their children, but they have to take the long view – choosing what is ultimately best for their children, who often don’t appreciate the reasons.

We discipline our children for the same reason. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Heb 2:11). And this is the approach that our loving heavenly Father takes with us. Because of their love, parents need to see the bigger picture and take the longer view.
Science, too, needs to take account of the bigger picture and take the longer view. Parliament has recently been debating and voting on so-called ‘Three Parent Families’ – the possibility of using ground-breaking IVF techniques to try to prevent the transmission of the terrible and currently incurable mitochondrial diseases that can afflict whole families. It is a technique that involves creating an embryo from material from either three or four individuals.

The prospect of preventing terrible diseases is exciting, but many concerns have been raised, including about the destruction of human embryos, potential identity confusion of any resulting children, and uncertainty about the long-term effects on children; some scientists believe that children born this way could have an increased risk of cancer or premature ageing. This proposal would also broach the internationally-agreed ban on ‘germ line’ modification (resulting in genetic changes that would be passed on down future generations, for good or ill).

A fundamental problem that I have is accepting the principle that we should be able to genetically modify our children. We might be wanting to consider doing this for the best of intentions, but need to stand back to see the bigger picture and take the longer view. We need to ask how this might affect our treatment of those with disabilities, our view of children as a gift, and our attitude to human life itself. Love requires us to do this.

So whether in good times or bad, in the intimacy of our families or the grandeur of public discourse, let us take account of the bigger picture and take the longer view in our loving. For “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Cor 13:7-8a).

Revd Dr Jonathan Mobey
Rector of Harwell and Chilton
March 2015