For the last several years, however, he has been confined to a hospital bed or to a wheelchair unable to walk or to recognize the sight, sound, or touch of those who were once closest to him. While his body slowly declines, his mind has been stolen already by Alzheimer’s.
This once proud man now needs assistance with the most basic – and base – of human functions. It is a fate that I watched my grandmother suffer through; it is a fate that I now watch my father suffer through; and a fate, if I am honest with myself, that I too will likely face in the future.
I’m 38 now, but I told my wife that at 65 I am having my living will tattooed to my chest with a “Do NOT resuscitate” clause in all caps and bold letters. Of course, I am kidding about the tattoo (well, most of the time I am); I believe that human life is precious and should be preserved. There are times, however, that allowing one the right to die or assisted suicide feels like a viable option. Voluntary euthanasia feels more compassionate, more loving, more… Well, quite honestly, it feels more Christian at times.
How something feels, however, is not the only test for the morality of a particular issue. Christianity demands that we feel deeply; Christ himself was moved with compassion on more than one occasion, but we must also be willing to think deeply – a balance must be struck between emotion and reason. We recognize that our intellect is fallen, but we must also recognize that are our emotions are fallen as well. Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us that “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.”
As followers of Jesus Christ, we must be prepared to address the questions of the day – questions that push their way to the forefront of not only theological debate but also political debate. We must be prepared to engage with these questions with great compassion and feeling, but we must also be prepared to answer them theologically and biblically. “Right to die” laws or assisted suicide is just one example of issues that must be addressed by the Christian while engaging both feelings of compassion as well as theological thought.
As I ponder the condition of my father, a fate which I may share one day, it colors how I read about the debate over the current proposed “right to die” law in Massachusetts. Proponents are hoping that Massachusetts will join other states like, Oregon, Washington, and Montana in allowing assisted suicide. News stories surrounding this debate are filled with accounts of individuals and their families struggling with terminal illnesses – suffering unspeakable pain.
My heart goes out to them. I feel for them, and my feelings cry out for their relief from pain and suffering as my heart cries out for my own father. And yet I know, even believe, that human life is precious, that every human bears the image of their creator, and that God does not promise escape from suffering but that through the power of the resurrection He will redeem even the worst of human suffering. This is the promise and the power of the cross and the resurrection.
Therefore, it is not my place to assess the value of any one human life – whether that of a stranger, my father, or even my own. Rather, it is my responsibility as a believer in Jesus Christ and his resurrection to invest in that life because it is an image bearer of God. It is not my place to determine whether or not the man in the hospital bed is or is no longer my father, whether his life has quality or not. Rather, as a believer in Jesus Christ, it is my responsibility to treat him as father, and in doing this – in investing in that relationship as son – he is father, he bears the image of God, and his life has meaning and purpose.
I must admit that I do not always feel this way. I feel as though it is unfair. I feel afraid that this fate will strike me and all that I held dear will vanish into darkness. But I believe. I believe in the God whose image we bear. I believe that we are to invest not to assess human life. And I believe in the resurrection that is able to redeem the very worst of human pain and suffering.
[Read Dr. Jennie McLaurin’s Response to Pastor Bender’s Blog here.]
Read more about Pastor Kerry Bender here.