The Choosing Human

written on 15 March 2021 by Nathaniel Reichley

Art by Nat Iwata

Earlier today I went to the Post Office to mail a letter, and as I walked out, I noticed a woman walking up with a large box. She seemed to be holding it awkwardly and it was wrapped in tape, so it was probably heavy. In the few moments I had walking down the sidewalk I thought about whether I should offer to carry it for her.

I decided to just nod to her and head to my car to continue my errands – it would be awkward if she didn’t need help, or thought I was rude. But as I walked up alongside her, she fumbled with the box and turned towards me. So, I turned back to her and offered assistance, and she accepted. With a sense of relief, I carried the heavy box into the Post Office for her.

In this split-second decision I was torn between doing the right thing and offering help or minding my own business and walking past. At first, I had decided to just walk past, to do nothing. That was the easy path, and I decided to take it. But her slight turn gave me a second chance – another opportunity to do the right thing.

Giovanni Pico Della Mirandola, a Renaissance theologian, wrote about the place of mankind in Christianity. He wrote that there existed three types of beings: angels, humans, and beasts. Angels would always do the right thing, no matter what. Beasts would never do the right thing. But humans – well, humans were in a privileged position, because humans could choose whether or not to do the right thing.

That free will is what makes doing the right thing so pious. When an angel does the right thing, it doesn’t matter, because the angel has to. There is no choice and therefore no weight to its decision. When a beast doesn’t do the right thing, that action also carries no moral weight. But a human’s decision to do the right thing matters, because we can choose. We can choose to be lazy and not think about what’s right and wrong, or we can choose the easy and selfish wrong thing, or we can step up and do the right thing even though it might be difficult. And that’s what makes humans special.

Through the gentle, subtle touch of divine intervention, humans have evolved consciousness, the ability to think about our actions. With this bite from the Tree of Knowledge we have the ability to think about whether our actions are good or evil, right or wrong, pious or sinful. And this is a great gift – without it, we would be either mindless angels or vulgar beasts, with no ability to reflect on our lives.

But we can reflect on our lives, just as I am reflecting on my decision at the Post Office. In that split-second, minute decision I had the ability to think about my actions – to decide whether I would do the right thing (offer to help) or the wrong thing (walk away and ignore her). And initially I decided to do the wrong, easy thing – just walk past. I would have forgotten about the entire incident in a few minutes. But then – that gentle, subtle divine intervention came back.

As I came up beside her, she fumbled with the box. With a little nudge, God reminded her to put on a mask (to comply with COVID protocols) and she shifted for a brief moment. This was a second opportunity for me to do the right thing. And, with relief in my heart, I did. Even though this was a small, chance encounter, I was given an opportunity to do the right thing, and the ability to choose to do it.

There are always opportunities for us to make decisions. Sometimes we are given these opportunities – they come to us unsolicited, unplanned, like that moment at the Post Office. Sometimes, though, we are asked to find them, because they are hidden just beneath the surface. Choosing to look for opportunities to help is itself an important decision.

When one chooses to look for opportunities, one will find them. There are many problems facing God’s children all around the world. This website is dedicated to fighting one of them by sharing the stories of people who are silenced for being different. Sadly, this doesn’t just happen in far-off countries, but in the Church, too. Some of us, myself included, may not know very much about what silenced people go through – we may be ignorant, or skeptical, or doubting. But we should have faith and treat their struggle not as a sign of weakness but as an opportunity to help – to speak up, to be their ally. Many of us don’t see or seek out the opportunity to help. But you can.

God gives you the ability to choose between good and evil, and the opportunities to do so, but He doesn’t make the decision easy. He doesn’t force you to take those opportunities; you alone can choose to do so. And that choice is what makes your decision to help so important. When you decide to speak up for someone else at your Church, your actions have moral weight – you are not an angel, you are not a beast, but a good person.