By Design

Abou Ben Adhem

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold:—
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the presence in the room he said,
“What writest thou?”—The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered, “The names of those who love the Lord.”
“And is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,”
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerily still; and said, “I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow men.”

The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blest,
And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.

In times like these, in clashes of race, gender and class, it becomes so clear that we’ve forgotten that we all have been made by a designer God.  Each of us is made in His image, so that when we disparage or mistreat any of God’s bespoke creations, we deeply insult the Artist.

The Bible reserves its harshest judgment for those who piously attend worship, but then neglect the causes of the needy.  Jesus talks about the separation of “sheep” and “goats” on the last day.   It’s a difficult story to accept, until you glimpse that it’s not an arbitrary separation, it’s not based on words or even professed beliefs.  Talk has always been cheap.  It’s based on their recognition of their common humanity and affinity with those who are suffering:  hungry, thirsty,  ragged of clothing, lonely strangers, those who are sick and in prison.  Even more fundamentally, how we treat every person is how we treat Christ.

Jesus considered that human beings are so valuable that he was willing to die for the whole world.  He stood with all of us in complete humanity, which meant identifying with the sin he absolutely abhorred.   Where we refuse to get our hands dirty, Jesus is there, considering each person a treasured child of God.

The poem doesn’t address one thing:  the source of love that Abou Ben Adhem shared with his fellow human beings.  Because of course, all genuine and generous love comes from God in the first place.  When we accept that unqualified love, we don’t ask others to jump through hoops to be worthy of our love either.

We have work to do in addressing the systemic and personal injustices of the world so that each person is encouraged in their potential.   Start from the top with just laws, or start from the bottom by treating everyone you meet with respect and kindness.

We are on record.  We need to start now.