A Response About Brittany Maynard’s Suicide

Brittany-Maynard-Assisted-Suicide

As a pastor for 30 years, while most Americans have separated themselves from the suffering and reality of death, I’ve sat at the bedsides of many as they’ve died. I’ve held their hands, stroked their hair, sang, prayed, and waited. Some feared death, while others feared the pain and uncertainty of death. None of them should have suffered; but herein lies one of the great truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “We do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Christianity has a different view of life, suffering, and death, than the world-at-large. We see a divine purpose in these “temporary” and “light afflictions” of a temporary life compared to what eternity brings.

Those who read this blog on a regular basis know something of my past. I was raped until the age of 11 and then lived with night terrors for more than 20 years after. After a car accident 8 years ago, I’ve lived with the agony of brain trauma that leaves me without control of bodily functions, any memory, and could end my life at any time. Three years ago I lost my job, my career, and nearly everything I possessed because of a spiteful individual. Are any of these sufficient reasons to end my life?

How much suffering is sufficient to warrant self-death?

For you who are Christians – should the apostles have killed themselves rather than suffer the pains of martyrdom? The Reformers commit suicide rather than be burned at the stake for the truth of Scripture? Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Corrie ten Boom taken their lives rather than suffer in the German concentration camps for their faith in Christ and their opposition to the Nazi atrocities? Pope John Paul II not insisted the debilitating effects of his Parkinson’s disease be lived out in public so others could see that suffering was not a pariah to be shunned.

What of inspirational speakers Joni Eareckson Tada who became a quadriplegic, Dave Roever whose body was terribly deformed after a grenade he was holding in Vietnam exploded in his hand, or Nick Vujicic who was born without arms or legs but has learned to live on his own and minister to others facing extreme physical disadvantages?

And what about our Lord Jesus? Surely the Father could have ordained a plan of redemption through death without His extreme suffering that left Him tortured beyond recognition as a human being at the cruel hand of the Roman Empire. Christ knew the suffering He would face – yet He faced it rather than take His own life by suicide.

Suffering is not something anyone desires. No child grows up saying, “I can’t wait to suffer the pains of life!” But this is the reality in a sin-fallen world; yet there is hope beyond this world for those in the life of Jesus. The promised hope of Resurrection is the Christian answer to suffering. This is a hope those without Christ do not understand. This is a hope dearly held in the Judaic-Christian faiths for the past 4,000 years which has stood in  opposition to suicide.

More than 750 Oregonians have asked the State to facilitate their deaths since 1997. None of these people garnered world-wide or even local) attention. None of these people are remembered for their suffering or their suicides. They each kept the private decision to end their lives private. Brittany Maynard made her choice public. While we all sympathize with her, we don’t all agree with her. Her suicide is not a question of “choice.” The legal ability to make this choice was granted to her by the voters of my home state. What we challenge is the morality of that decision.

The Suicide of Brittany Maynard

Brittany-Maynard-Assisted-Suicide

Brittany Maynard plans to kill herself in the next seven days, hoping to “pass in peace.”

A life apart from God imagines that the here-and-now is the extent of human existence. This non-Christian philosophy both cheapens and ignores the hope the Bible proffers of eternity. Without an eternal perspective, difficult circumstances often lead to hopelessness, an emotion common to the human experience.

My home state of Oregon was the first in the world to officially provide government-sponsored suicide. A short time ago, Brittany Maynard moved herself and her family to Oregon to die on her own terms before her life becomes what she believes is a shameful and embarrassing dependence upon others for her most basic human needs. She was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor earlier this year. Who doesn’t feel deep sadness and compassion for her? This is a tragic story from every angle.

Suicide is about grasping for control over uncontrollable circumstances. Brittany will die with the help of the State of Oregon or of natural causes, but she will die one day – as will we all. Death is one of the few certainties of life.

This 29-year old doesn’t want to be remembered for what she may become in the final days of her suffering, but that suffering can be an example of humility, love, and grace. It’s also an opportunity for her family to demonstrate their unfailing love for her.

We live an a society that selfishly despises the thought of suffering, but in her death, this young woman will be remembered for who she is and how she lived – not the pain of her suffering. Neither suffering nor pain define who we are, but it certainly shapes who we are.

Mrs Maynard wants to die on her own terms. She wants to be in control until the very end. Suffering isn’t part of the plan she has for her life or her family – but suffering is a vital and very real part of the human experience … and of death. We pridefully think we “deserve” a certain kind of life or length of life, but every day of life is a gift to be appreciated and lived for what it is: good or bad, pleasure or pain, joy or sorrow. Living includes suffering and our suffering should never be thought of as a waste. Jesus, the Man of sorrows and familiar with suffering, didn’t count His suffering as wasted (Isaiah 53:3; Hebrews 12:2).

According to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether in life or by death (Philippians 1:20-21).

Deception

deception

I was leaving to spend the weekend with my dad and I wasn’t happy. I was unhappy about having to go, but I was also unhappy with my mom.

Before leaving for the weekend, I made a series of short poems, each containing a clue to another poem I’d hid somewhere in the house.

No sooner had my siblings and I left, I felt terrible about what I’d done. I knew that my trick would hurt her feelings, but it was too late to do anything.

When my mom discovered the first poem, she thought it was going to be a fun adventure. She thought she’d track clue by clue to discover some wonderful treasure. Instead, the last poem was simple but not very creative: “I HATE YOU.”

It was a cruel game I’d played with her feelings and her mind. I’d deceived her with words.

The Apostle Peter warned us false teachers who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord…. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words (2 Peter 2:1, 3).

Righteousness Exalts a Nation

ballot

In the past weeks I’ve been reminding my congregation of two important facts:

(1) Pastors who are not urging their congregations to vote, and vote responsibly as Biblically-minded citizens, are negligent of their pastoral duties; and believers who do not vote are disobedient to God, for we are commanded by Jesus to Give unto Caesar the things that belong to Caesar, and the things that belong to God, unto God (Matthew 22:21).

(2) Christians must be informed on issues and the character and beliefs of candidates on the ballot, and then vote as Christians – not as political partisans. If we as salt and light, do not speak as the voice of morality and godliness in our land, who will?

Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people (Proverbs 14:34, NIV).

I Beat His Mommy

big stick

The door to my church office slammed open against the wall. There stood a woman, hands formed as fists, yelling, “I knew you were a fraud. I knew there was something that just wasn’t real about you.”

Behind her stood my son, only about 4-years old, and frightened at what he was caught up in.

This woman routinely came by the church to clean or do odd chores, but her real motive was to spend time with Daniel. She delighted in my son.

I asked what she was yelling about and she explained. “Daniel and I were talking and he just said, ‘My Daddy beat my Mommy.’  I knew you were a phony.

Daniel ran and hopped up into my lap and blurted innocently, “And you beat me too!

Daniel went on to explain that a few nights before, the three of us had been outside, and as parents often do with their young children, we were racing. I ran faster than either him or his mother could run. I’d indeed “beat” them both.

How dangerous it is to make assumptions, even when based on what we believe is the “whole truth and nothing but the truth.” What Daniel had said was true, but it wasn’t the whole of the truth. A judge must know the whole of the truth before making a decision.

Jumping to conclusions is not an Olympic sport, nor should gossip be the sport of God’s people.

The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity … out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not be so (James 3:6, 10).

 

In Case of Beer

case of beer

Friday I made a quick stop at the grocery store. In the checkout line in front of me were two young men in their early 20s. Each man had a case of beer. One of them also had a pre-packaged salad.

The man with the salad said to his friend, “I want to eat healthy for the weekend.”

Bodily exercise profits little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having a promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come (1 Timothy 4:8).

Numbers

Wayne Bouck and me

“Numbers have never been very important to me. It’s something I learned from my years in the US Navy.”

Wayne Bouck was a United States Navy Chaplain for many years. It was his duty to conduct religious services for the sailors and marines on each ship.

Each service day, he’d arrive early, set up a display of signal flags, and have it announced that the chaplain was aboard to hold “divine services.”

The ships operated in a three-shift rotation; while one-third of the crew was on duty, one-third had shore leave and the final third was asleep. Many times, the only person who showed up for the service was Wayne!

He viewed his work as a service to God.

Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (First Corinthians 10:31)

Phones and Parental Aggravation

texting

The world felt as if it was falling-in around me and there was no answer from my 15-year old son. Each text and phone call went unanswered and I was thousands of miles away from home. His phone was either dead, turned off, or as usual, he was ignoring my attempts to reach him.

What is it with teenagers? They insist on having cellular phones, which you pay for, then they refuse to answer you unless it’s something they want. It is aggravating to the parental mind.

God has been trying to reach you. Do you reply to His text messages? Do you even check your spiritual “phone”? Though written long ago, the Bible is God’s voice speaking to you today.

At the same time, He is always eager to hear from you. If you are one of His children through new birth by faith, He hears every word you utter and think. No prayer of your heart ever goes unheard or unanswered.

The fact that God hears your every prayer doesn’t mean that He is going to do things the way you ask, but it does mean that He is working all things together for good in your life (Romans 8:28).

Call to Me, and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things which you know not (Jeremiah 33:3).

The Right Thing

Papusa

I’ve fallen into a life a crime: two traffic tickets and now this!

We went to our favorite restaurant for El Salvadoran food and placed an order of tamales, tacos, and papusas to go. While waiting for our order we got to talking to the restaurant owner’s wife as she folded napkins for the dinner service.

Maria shared for 20 minutes about how God gave them their restaurant and has made it prosperous. Again and again in her broken English she said, It is all by the grace of God … He is so awesome.

The restaurant began to get busy and Maria excused herself to greet her customers. We picked up our food and drove home.

At home, we set out the food on the table, gave thanks for God’s provision for us and for His grace upon Juan and Maria, and began to eat.  In a moment of strange revelation I asked, Did you pay for the food? My wife answered, No. Did you pay for the food? We put down our forks and drove back to the restaurant.

When we walked into the bustling business, Juan and Maria were both standing at the counter. Maria poked her husband in the arm and smiled. He laughed and said, My wife said you’d be back tomorrow.

They trusted us to do the right thing.

Be blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world (Philippians 2:15).

Doing Good or Doing Grace

Motives

She’s known as the “Mother Teresa” of her town. She collects clothes for the naked. She’s spearheaded a city-wide Christmas food drive for the hungry. She collects materials the poor can use to earn a living. She also provides a mighty stern look to those who might think of crossing her.

Much of her later years in life have been devoted to doing “good.”

At this point, I was impressed … and a bit fearful of receiving that stern look I’d seen her give others.

In my brief time with her, she bragged long about all of her good-deed doing. Her face then twisted in disgust as she described someone she’d helped and then that person didn’t help her when she needed it.

She does “good” for others, but she then tallies her deeds like an accountant, keeping track of what she thinks others now owe her. Her good deeds are an appearance of goodness, but really a prideful means of personal gain. They are good deeds without any hint of grace. The sad things about it is that she doesn’t see her own motive in being a do-gooder.

Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven (Matthew 6:1).

PS: By the time we were done, I got her stern look and a tongue-lashing too.