Monday, November 03, 2014

Death with Dignity

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
- 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 (ESV)

Death is an enemy.

Before we can grasp the joys of heaven and the promise of eternal life, we have to see death for the enemy that it is. We were not created to die. As I wrote in my last post, death, destruction, pain, and toil are aberrations from the good, perfect, life-filled world that God created - aberrations caused by sin.

In our heart of hearts we know this to be true. We feel the tearing away when we lose a loved one. We mourn when we someone "too young to die" loses a life. Even our biological "fight or flight" mechanism hard-wires us to run from death and toward life.

Yes, Jesus has defeated death - but let's not forget that death is not "normal". Phrases like "circle of life" and "death as a part of life" may comfort, but apart from the hope of the resurrection in Christ, they are deceptive and meaningless. We pass from life to life only by holding Jesus' hand.

What breaks my heart the most about the decision of a young woman with cancer to publically advocate for the right of people to "die with dignity" - and then yesterday, to move forward with that decision and choose death - is that the story of this young, beautiful face for the "right-to-die" proponents just edged the culture of death in this country further off the cliff. I don't pretend to know how bad her symptoms were or how much suffering she was enduring. I leave to others who are choosing to walk through pain until a natural end of life to discuss the issue of suffering.

What I know is that "death with dignity" is not defined as "choosing when and where I die". That's not a choice we get to make. We were created for life, and until the day God, who breathes life into our bodies, determines that we've breathed our last, we should walk in the direction of life. That doesn't mean we choose every treatment, but at the very least it means we don't hasten the process. "Death with dignity" means we don't fear death because we  are holding Jesus' hand walking through those final days.

I've witnessed death with dignity up close. My mother-in-law went to be with the Lord 7 1/2 years ago. My husband and I were blessed to be in the room with her. After all the measures to bring healing to her body failed, it became clear that her time to go was near. My husband and I stayed in her room for the final hour and a half, talking, telling stories, and singing praise songs. Lucid until the end, she fixed her eyes on us and transitioned from worshipping in this life, to worshipping in the next. Peace filled the room - peace that was a witness to the nurse outside the door. She lived a ministry to her very last moment on earth.

Don't be fooled by the deceptively beautiful language surrounding assisted suicide. Death is still an enemy, no matter how we dress it up. Assisted suicide is a dangerous proposition as some European countries are learning. Death with dignity isn't about choices. It's about relationship.

Now since the children have flesh and blood in common, Jesus also shared in these, so that through His death He might destroy the one holding the power of death — that is, the Devil —
- Hebrews 2:14 (HCSB)

No comments: