The scenario plays itself out thousands of times a day. A family member or friend is racked with a terminal illness, suffering unbearably and the question comes up: Should they have the right to physician assisted suicide?
That question gained prominence 20-plus years ago with Dr. Jack Kevorkian being brought to trial for helping approximately 130 others end their lives. Right to die activists are back in the news with 84-year-old John Jay Hooker, a lawyer and former Tennessee democratic gubernatorial candidate who is suffering with terminal cancer leading the charge. He is demanding that a state court declare he has a right to end his life on his terms. In truth what he’s looking for is an accomplice to share in the responsibility of his death.
Unbelievably, the demand for assisted suicide is aggressively on the march. Euthanasia is currently illegal in 45 states, but 25 of those states have seen bills filed during their respective 2015 legislative sessions to legalized assisted suicide. Tennessee is one of those states. But what Mr. Hooker, the courts and other advocates of assisted suicide fail to recognize is God alone has the authority to give life and take it, not a human.
I do not make that statement lightly. I stood by my stepfather’s hospital bed last week as he faced brain surgery to remove a brain tumor and blood clot. I was there with my mom who is battling Parkinson’s Disease. My grandfather – my hero – suffered greatly with lung cancer. I’ve stood by hundreds of bedsides of family and friends in 30-plus years of pastoral ministry and agonized in prayer over people I have loved dearly. I am more acquainted with death and suffering than I would have ever voluntarily chosen to be.
The conversation about assisted suicide is wrapped in emotion. Sometimes it is economic when looking at the cost of long-term care. I’ll be honest, some of the situations I’ve stood over have rocked me to the core of my theology. However, right theology must dictate responses to circumstances. We must not allow circumstances to compromise biblical teaching. I am categorically opposed to assisted suicide and here are the three theological pillars that brace me during soul-shattering moments at death’s door.
Suffering is unavoidable. Look around. If you ever wanted a reason to hate sin, look at its effect on God’s creation. Jesus, Paul, Peter, James and John all address suffering in the New Testament and it isn’t exclusively related to persecution. Job in the Old Testament is where our minds immediately turn when we think of suffering. But look again at Jesus. He could have avoided suffering – He even asked the Father to “take this cup” from Him. But in the end he embraced the suffering for a higher purpose.
I had – and constantly have – to resolve that suffering is part of our Christian walk and we are called to persevere in faith, for the glory of God. We are told in 1 Peter 4 to embrace suffering, “so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing His glory when it is revealed to all the world.”
God is good…all the time. Job says it best when he asked, “Do we only accept the good from God and not the bad?” (Job 2:10). Think about this, Scripture tells us “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). We also read in Romans 8:28 that God works all things for our good, but how can suffering be for our good? The answer is in how we direct our suffering for God’s glory. This anecdote explains.
Jeannie Elliff, wife of former International Mission Board President Tom Elliff, fought cancer until she succumbed last week. It wasn’t an easy road. In reflecting on her battle, Erich Bridges, senior writer for the IMB wrote this of Jeannie. “While in the midst of her final struggle with cancer in recent months, she took the time to encourage my wife (who also has been dealing with cancer) and me. Jeannie encouraged and prayed for countless people over the years; cancer only expanded her ministry.”
God worked His goodness through Jeannie Elliff to deliver His grace, mercy and encouragement. No doubt she experienced, “the wonderful joy of seeing His glory” when she arrived in heaven.
God is sovereign, and we have no right to usurp that. Isaiah 46 states, “I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.” A few verses later we read, “For I alone am God! I am God, and there is none like me. Only I can tell you the future before it even happens. Everything I plan will come to pass, for I do whatever I wish.” Jesus is the Author of all life (Acts 2:10; Colossians 1). Psalm 139 tells us that God ordained the number of our days. Jeremiah 29 tells us He knows the plans He has for us. And on it goes.
The Bible comprehensively establishes God as the sole authority over creation, life and death. He does everything with the purpose of completing the good work He began in us at our salvation. He intends to receive glory through our journey. That is why every breath of life is precious, and exactly why it is not our place to determine our last breath.
Yes, it is sometimes a rough journey through this life, which is why we need to encourage each other’s faith all the way to the finish line.
It is a joy to be on this journey with you.
My brother and I will never forget your kindness and compassion when our dad was dying. Coming to sit with my brother in the wee hours of the morning by Dad’s bedside in ICU was the catalyst to bring my brother back to a right relationship with The Lord. Seeing all the pain and suffering of death, as you must as a pastor, you don’t always get to see the end results. Just wanted you to know how much I love and appreciate you for those talks with my brother and for being such an empathetic man of God.