Whether we Live or Die

Like many people in New Zealand I have been following closely the tragic story of Lecretia Seales, the gifted 41 year old lawyer who went to the High Court to seek permission for a doctor to assist her to die if she faced unbearable pain or suffering as a result of her advanced brain cancer.

In her Court case Lecretia argued that assistance to die (if you are suffering an incurable illness) ought to be available as "a fundamental human right" – because it allows you to say goodbye to your family when you are still competent to do so, it allows you to die with dignity on your own terms and not that of the illness". Lecretia also said it was time for New Zealand to catch up with countries like Canada and Holland and some U.S states who allow mentally competent adults to receive medical assistance to die if they have a terminal illness or an irreversible physical or mental condition that renders their life unbearable.

As a pastor and a lawyer, my heart goes out to Lecretia's family in their time of loss and I believe as Christians we should do all in our power to support them in this difficult time.However, I don't support Lecretia's desire for the law to be amended (or read in such away) to allow mentally competent adults to receive medical assistance to die if they have a terminal illness for three reasons.

Death is Not the End

The first reason is that her position is erroneously built on the presumption that death brings an end to suffering.Sadly, for Lecretia, and those who have not accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, the Bible makes no such promise.Indeed it makes it clear that everlasting torment and punishment awaits for those who reject Christ.Jesus said in Matthew 25:31-46, "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." . . . Then he will say to those on his left, "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. . . . And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16 the Rich Man begs Father Abraham to send Lazarus beck from the dead to warn his brothers not to come to the place of torment he found himself in after his death.

While many Christians shy away from the awful reality of hell and eternal suffering, least they cause offence to more liberally minded Christians and unbelievers, the Bible says more about the awful reality of hell than the joys of heaven, yet few doubt the reality of heaven.As Christians we need to be wary that we are not supporting something when filtered through the Scriptures is shown to be more cruel than loving, that we are not encouraging people to jump out of the frying pan into the fire.I believe this happens when we support terminally ill patients to prematurely end their lives.

We Are Not Our Own

The second reason I can't support Lecretia's position is that as Christians we believe that our lives are not our own. The apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6:19, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body" While these words were spoken in the context of sexual purity. The principle holds true for death as well. In Romans 14:17-9 Paul says, "None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living."

Christ paid the price of his life to be the rightful Lord over the living and the dead. Therefore, we are not our own; we are the Lord's. Therefore, we live and we die "to the Lord." That is, life and death are not our private concern. They are not our choice. He bought us. He owns us. We live and we die to him — in reliance on him, in accordance with his will, for his glory.Unfortunately even in our death we can be selfish and self serving, but as Christians we must, even in our suffering, seek to glorify him.Which brings be to my third reason.

The Cross shows us there is Dignity and Purpose in Suffering

The suffering of our final days is not meaningless, it does not lack purpose or dignity as many atheist or those who support the right to die would argue.As Paul says, "Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:16–18)

The point of this text is that our final sufferings are not meaningless. They are "preparing for us an eternal weight of glory", they are not aimless tortures.Paul is not trying to make light of affliction but he is reminding us that in scheme of eternity our suffering, as severe as it may be, is but a moment, and it serves to focuses our gaze on what is to come.The more we eradicate pain and suffering the more we silence the megaphone that tries to tell us that this place is not our home.

We also need to remember that grieving spouses and mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and sons and daughters are not merely watching. They are serving, caring, loving. Yes, suicide spares them the pain of watching. But it also denies them the privilege of serving. There are moments in the tireless care of the dying that are so intense with self-giving love that they would not be traded for any death.

We also need to remember that Christ never asks us to go where he has not been, or where he is no present.Hebrews 12:2 says, that Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, for for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

My prayer is that that those all those in Lecretia's position would come to know Christ, so rather than trying to end their life to escape suffering, they would endure it for his sake, and despise its shame, knowing that the joy of heaven and all that means awaits those who call Jesus Lord.

Some of this material was drawn from John Piper's article, "We Are Not Our Own: On God, Brittany Maynard, and Physician-Assisted Suicide".


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