The Power of One
“To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.”
The American College of Radiology, of which I am a member, recommends, among other things, that an ambulatory patient not have a preoperative chest x-ray (CXR) unless acute cardiopulmonary disease is suspected or unless there is a history of chronic stable cardiopulmonary disease in a patient over 70 who has not had a CXR within six months. I recently wrote about this matter, which was posted at a popular online site for physicians.
One of the subsequent comments to the post read: “You’ve got it all wrong here. Our responsibility is not to improve the health of individual patients, but to ensure that limited healthcare resources are doled out carefully. Think of all the administrative salaries that could be paid out of the money spent on X rays for pre-op patients. Clearly that’s more important than improving the management of 2% of those patients.…”
What if, at a different time and in a different place, it had been a numbers game?
It does seem that, at least in certain circumstances in earth’s history, the Almighty is amenable to persuasion (or, perhaps better, dissuasion).
Take the conversation that transpired with Abraham before the destruction by fire and brimstone of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, as recorded in Genesis 18 of Holy Writ. If God is omniscient, then He knew before His discussion with Abraham that there would not be 10 righteous souls found in the two cities. Yet He still chose to have that conversation.
He did not speak to Abraham as He did to Job, as recorded in Job 38 onward, from a whirlwind.
From satellite photos, I have seen the whirlwind of a hurricane, or a tornado. The circle of air usually moves rapidly in counterclockwise manner, and the potential for destruction is great. In tornadoes, objects of great size and weight whirl about as if weightless. Trees are uprooted. Straw is driven through an otherwise unscathed windshield. Houses, cars, and cows rotate hundreds of feet in the air. And prudent people run for cover or cower.
No wonder the catastrophe is often, by insurance companies, labeled “act of God.”
Specific mention of the unicorn in Job 39 is of potential interest and makes one wonder if there was a real (as opposed to mythical) such animal at that time. Perhaps the meteor that destroyed the dinosaurs eradicated it, too. And speculation abounds as to what the “leviathan” was, if real. A whale? A giant squid? Some other sea creature?
God could have told Job, “I made everything. All is mine. Numbers don’t matter. Neither does time… So, what does matter? A contrite heart. A gentle spirit. And the fact that, despite everything that’s happened to you, you’re still loyal to Me.”
Nowhere else in Holy Writ is recorded a conversation between divinity and man quite like that in a few later chapters of Job.
More often mentioned are acts of God, who, it seems, believes that for man actions speak louder than words. But the still small voice is also operative.
After the conversation, Abraham may have thought the two cities would be saved from destruction. Life would go on as before.
There is no record that Abraham warned his nephew Lot that Sodom was about to be no more. I can envision him, perhaps informing Sarah, counting on fingers: Lot, his wife, their daughters (at least four, two virginal, at least two married; their spouses). At least eight. Surely, in the entire populace of two cities, there must be two more righteous.
But no. And some of the eight did not count. Only two of their offspring accompanied Lot and his wife out of Sodom before its destruction.
It says something about society at that time that, as recorded in Genesis 19, when evil men came to Lot’s house with the intention of doing harm to his two male guests, Lot offered his two virginal daughters as proxy. There is no evidence he asked their permission first.
It tells me at least two things:
- The honor of guests superseded that of family, at least of certain female family (Lot did not offer his wife nor his married daughters to the mob).
- The perversity of the denizens was deep, and beyond redemption.
Given what happened the next day, perhaps it was just as well for the men blinded by the two angels at Lot’s house. They would not see what happened to their city, but would feel intense heat and smell the sulfur before they were annihilated and returned to dust.
The Almighty was yet merciful. When Lot, his wife, and two daughters fled, the place to which they initially went was a small city named Zoar. It was spared destruction because of Lot.
Something similar happened at the time of the Great Deluge. God could have destroyed all mankind and started over. Tabula rasa. But He didn’t. Because Noah was considered righteous, he, along with his family, was saved. Only eight in toto. But eight was enough.
I find it of interest that the blueprint for the Ark — its precise dimensions — was given Noah a long time before raindrops fell from the windows of heaven and the fountains of the deep were unleashed. The Almighty knew the Ark would not have to be larger than designed, a haven for only eight humans and countless animals.
So what if, before the Fall, in a conversation between Father and Son, a hypothetical numbers game was played?
(The following is speculative and is not intended to be comprehensive or even necessarily correct).
Who might be saved?
Looking into the future (something we humans cannot do), there would be the penitent thief on the cross, Mary Magdalene, and the one leper (of 10) healed by Jesus. The Samaritan woman at the well. Rahab. Ruth. Elisha. Nebuchadnezzar. Abraham. Paul. Abel. Noah. Stephen. David. Asa. Josiah. 11 disciples. Dorcas. Aquila and Priscilla.
Would that be enough for the Ultimate Sacrifice? Wherein the fate of Man in a collective sense hinged on the fate of Man in an individual one?
What a variant of Neil Armstrong’s 1969 purported utterance upon stepping on the moon: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” (Not coincidentally, earlier this year we celebrated the 50th anniversary of man’s landing on the moon).
An untold number were resurrected around the time of a historic moment on Golgotha. John the Revelator records a multitude on the sea of glass in the Earth made new.
But we have been told He would have come for only one. The one lamb isolated from the shepherd and rest of the flock, lost, hurt, and otherwise without hope. At the mercy of the elements and anything else inimical. A bleak outlook. Death without dignity.
That lamb is you.
That person is me.
S.M. Chen writes from California.