“Pastor I have a question, I’m 86 years old and my husband is also 86 and he is not doing so well. I love him very much and when he goes home to be with Jesus I’m not sure that I want to stay here without him. Is it all right if I go to the hospital and have the doctors and my life?”
“Pastor I have a question, I’m not sure how to say this but I have been diagnosed with end-stage pancreatic cancer and the doctors have told me that there is nothing they can do to save my life. The only thing they can do is give me an extra few months but in doing so it’s going to be very painful. Is it okay if I tell the doctors no and just try to make myself comfortable before I pass into the next life?”
“Pastor I have a question, I have a fast-moving brain cancer that will require the doctors to do a complicated and risky surgery and even then they can’t guarantee they’ll get it all. If they attempted no matter what I will be left without a significant portion of my memories and my mental acuity. Should I go for the surgery knowing that I will forget everyone that I love, or should I simply allow the cancer to kill me with my memories intact?”
“Pastor I have a question, my wife and I have just returned from the doctor and they have told us that the baby that my wife is carrying will most likely have Down syndrome. They want us to do an abortion, is it right for us to do that?”
These questions I have actually been asked in the course of my ministry. This morning the idea of writing this blog started to percolate in my brain. I put off thinking that I just didn’t have time and this is an area that is so controversial that I wasn’t sure I really wanted to take up this fight. Once I arrived in my office and sat down to go through my emails I saw a brochure from an organization here in Alaska dealing with an upcoming vote for physician-assisted suicide. I felt that this email and brochure was a confirmation from the Holy Spirit that I needed to weigh in on this topic.
I spent the last several years living overseas in a very liberal and dark country. The country was Belgium and they were one of the first to legalize same-sex marriage and euthanasia. The very first question that I wrote in this blog was from a dear Christian lady who was a member of my church there in Belgium. She knew Jesus and she had spent her life helping to raise the children that passed through the doors of that church. She’d become one of my children’s surrogate grandparent. I was taken aback when she asked if it was okay for her to die after her husband left this world. I was even more shocked that the government would allow that. The Belgium is a socialist country and for people that are old or infirm they don’t really contribute to society as a whole they are only a drain so I guess it makes some kind of weird sense that they would make a way and encourage people to just die.
After I left Belgium I heard that they had passed a law making it legal for parents of children who are mentally handicapped, specifically with Down syndrome and other types of mental illnesses that keep children from living normal lives, to have their children “put to sleep.” When I heard this I went livid.
For the last several months I have been part of a ministry action group made up of chaplains that serve the sick and dying. Several of the chaplains that would meet via a teleconference worked in hospice. The question came up very similar to the second question that I wrote down in this blog. And I was shocked that my colleagues would be so blasé about the question and even in their response. The overwhelming response from these chaplains was to say it was okay to die.
For me that makes me angry. I challenged my colleagues about this issue and their response was to quote from the apostle Paul where he says to live is Christ but to die is gain; that was their justification to say that it was okay to die because death would be gain. This of course does not now nor did then sit well with me. When I think of all that Christ did for us and the fact that he went to the cross to die in our place for our sins that we might have life and life more abundantly I cannot accept death in any form that is initiated by us and in our timeline as being good.
I made it a point to say to my colleague then that Paul was not teaching that it is better to die but rather that was his personal wish was to pass away into heaven and spend eternity with Jesus. That’s what he wanted to do but that’s not what Christ wanted for him to do. It wasn’t up to Paul when Paul was going to leave this earth, it was up to Jesus. Paul was content not to have his deepest wish to see and hold his Savior for eternity at that moment because he knew it was better for God, the growing infant church and for all of humanity for him to stay there alive.
The book of first Corinthians chapter 15 near the end Paul talks extensively about what Christ did on the cross and how the sting of death is sin. And how sin is what Christ came to destroy if that’s the case that he also came to destroy death as well. Jesus speaks in a few places in the New Testament about the topic of death and what he came to do about it. To Mary and Martha in reference to Lazarus he said he was the way the truth and the life and that even though people may die here if they follow him they will live forever. But with that said Jesus still turned to the two that was sealed and called forth Lazarus that he may live a little bit longer and thereby give glory to God with every breath he took.
I’m not saying that death isn’t a part of our life, it is. If Jesus does not return then at some point all of us will taste of death. But until death comes for us I believe deep down in my soul that we are to fight against death! Death is the enemy that Christ destroyed on the cross. Death came into this world by the sin of one man death was destroyed from this earth by the sinlessness of Jesus Christ the second Adam. When death finally takes me I will step out of this body and into eternity gladly and with no regrets. But until that day I pray every breath I take, every action I do, every word that I write or say will bring glory to God!
The final thing I have to say about the topic of physician-assisted suicide is this: is a rebellious and sinful act to take anything that is solely in the province of God out of his hands and ours. I say this rebellious and sinful because it is up to God to choose how many days we have not us. When we choose the day of our death we take from God what is his and his alone. We are not the captains of our own fate, we are not the rulers of our own destiny we are servants and slaves of the Most High God! Servants and slaves do not do their own will but the will of their master. Paul talks extensively of this both with his writing and actions.
This may be a hard thing to hear if you are going through painful procedures that may or may not prolong your life. I think the ultimate question that we should be asking ourselves is: how is this suffering bringing glory to God? In our society were so use to always seeking our own pleasure, our own happiness, or the very least a comfortable state in which to exist that we often don’t realize that there is a sweetness in suffering that allows us to identify more fully with Christ. I’m not an advocate for modern medicine or any alternative naturopathy. And I’m also not saying that we should take every advice that every doctor gives us but I am saying the longer that we are breathing the more opportunities we have to glorify God.