The Times reports today that a couple from Bath have become the latest Britains to commit suicide at the Swiss centre Dignitas. Both Peter and Penelope Duff were suffering from severe cancer and were well past retirement age. I will not pretend to understand what it must have felt like to realise that their closing years would be characterised by suffering. I’ve been close to those who’ve suffered terrible physical pain but I’ve not yet known it myself. Conceptually I can understand why they thought that an early exit was a preferable option. But I still think they made a mistake.
What are we to make of this? The Christian Institute has a page of related information here. The ethical issues will be discussed on many of their links. My intention has a narrower focus. I want to argue that there are three reasons why a Christian should not seek Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS).
1.It’s not our life to take
The life that we terminate when we commit suicide is not ours to take. We belong to God. We’re His. He made us and He preserves us. We’re answerable to Him for the way we use the life that He’s given us. We’re not free to do with it whatever we want. Proponents for PAS and Euthanasia want to argue that we’re self determining individuals. But we’re not. And so, if we’re Christians then suicide isn’t an option. The Bible teaches that it’s God’s prerogative to take life and that we are not to take the life of another except in specific circumstances. Every human being bears the image of God and on that basis we are not to murder anyone (Genesis 9:1-6). The biblical prohibition against murder is repeated in the Old Testament (Exodus 20:13, Deuteronomy 32:39, Psalm 104:29, 1 Samuel 2:6 & 2 Kings 5:7) and by Christ in the New Testament (Matthew 5:21). PAS is effectively self-murder. And so it would be a shameful thing if the final defining event of our life and the lasting testimony of our death is rebellion against our Lord.
2. It’s a denial of God’s goodness
We can know the Lord’s sustaining hand in suffering, even dreadful suffering. But we find that hard to believe. In Psalm 23:4 David speaks of fearing no evil, even in the valley of the shadow of death. In other words, even under the threat of death the Lord’s comfort can keep us going. If a Christian chooses PAS they’re denying in practice that the Lord can help and provide in suffering. Do we really want to witness to that? Instead we can look to the Lord and trust him with everything, even with the circumstances of our death (Psalm 104:27-30). Therefore especially at this time we must not do something that the Lord forbids. Through correctly administered palliative care there’s no reason why we should die in great pain and suffering. Care rather than killing is the appropriate Christian response. I’ve not been there yet but I’m praying that I’ll hold up when that test comes.
3. It’s a failure to love others
When anyone commits PAS there’s every likelihood that it’ll hit the press. If it’s a Christian then you can bet the mortgage that they’ll have a field day. Here’s one of our own not buying the party line. Therefore we need to be clear that our actions have consequences not only for our own life but also for the lives of others. If a Christian commits PAS he fails to love his friends, his fellow Christians, non-Christians and his nation. He won’t love his friends who don’t want him to do it and would prefer him to remain alive. He won’t love fellow Christians who are politically contending to oppose Euthanasia. They need the encouragement of fellow Christians standing up for the truth even when there are painful personal consequences. He won’t love non-Christians who won’t see the power of faith to transform our attitude to death. All they’ll see is a Christian who’s just like them and faces suffering and death in the same way that they do. He won’t love our nation because our actions will strengthen the case to introduce legislation for PAS and Euthanasia. There’s every indication that this will prey on the vulnerable and further undermine Christian truth in society. But this can be expressed positively as well. We can live for Christ and contend for the truth even in our death. We should be encouraged that our actions as we approach death will have huge ramifications for others. We must remember and take great delight from the fact that even in an increasing state of debilitation we can obey God, encourage Christians and evangelise non-Christians.
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Posted in New Testament on March 6, 2009 |
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Confidence is a funny thing. Not funny as in witty but funny as in peculiar. Semantically it’s got a range of meaning. Sometimes it’s a good thing and at other times it’s not. It all depends on the context. Spiritually speaking; self confidence is misplaced. It’s known as arrogance. And that’s bad. And Jesus told a story to warn of the dangers of spiritual self confidence. It’s called the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. It’s one of my favourites!
It was my privilege to speak to some of the pupils at Cranleigh School this last week, as part of their Lenten Addresses. It was essentially a school mission. This parable got more leverage than any other talk that I gave. I think that’s because it’s so unexpected. No one really thinks that God works like this. We assume that God makes friends with the religious types. But we may have taken for granted the wonderful surprise of the gospel.
Jesus told this parable because there will always be people confident of their own righteousness and therefore their own standing with God. He told a story about two men; one was an upstanding member of the community and the other was a disgrace. Both went to the Temple to pray. One returned home God’s friend and the other left as God’s enemy. But it wasn’t the way round that we’d expect. It was the man who’d made a mess of his life that walked away confident that God would accept him. Why is that? It’s because there were three things that were true of the tax collector that were not true of the Pharisee.
1. He recognised his sin
The Pharisee thought much of his exemplary religious performance. Not so the tax collector. In his heart of hearts he knew that he’d lived life in God’s world without any reference to Him. He knew that he’d treated God with contemptuous disdain and so he couldn’t even approach him or even look up to the heavens. And he was right. In the same way, we need to recognise that we too are sinners. We’ll get nowhere in the Christian life until we own up to the fact that we have not lived the way that God would have us do. He’s not been number one in our lives. He’s not directed the way we live, the things we say and what we allow ourselves to think. Unless we admit this truth, Jesus Christ will never amount to much in our lives.
2. He relied on God’s mercy
The Pharisee prayed but didn’t think he needed anything. He was supremely self confident. Not so the tax collector. His plea was that God would not give him what he knew he deserved. What he deserved was God’s punishment for the way that he’d treated Him. But he threw himself at God’s mercy. In the same way, we need to rely on God’s mercy. But will we throw ourselves at His feet and rest on nothing else but His compassion. What other option do we have? How else do you propose we persuade God to overlook our sinful rejection of His rightful rule? Do you really want to rely on your good works? Do you really want to tell Jesus that he was wasting his time dying on the cross because you don’t need his help?
3. He returned home justified
The Pharisee left the temple God’s enemy. Not so the tax collector. He returned home justified. God decided to think of him ‘just as though he was Jesus’. That’s incredible. This sinful man who threw himself on the mercy of God was declared righteous. Every time God thought of him He thought he was morally perfect. Every time God looked at him He looked at someone pure and holy. He knew his life was a mess but God thought he was blameless. How? Is God stupid? No, but He is gracious. He gives us what we don’t deserve. And what we don’t deserve is Christ’s righteousness. But on the cross an exchange took place. Jesus took our unrighteousness and gave us his righteousness. God regarded Him as a sinner and punished him accordingly. God regards us as holy and treats us accordingly. When God thinks of us, even at the moment of our worst sin, He thinks of us as though we’re His perfect Son.
Jesus concludes his parable with these words, ‘For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted’ Luke 18:14. God will humiliate the arrogant but praise the humble. That’s the way it is. So what will you do? You’re of age; make up your own mind. How do you fancy your chances going down the merit route? Jesus says that there’s a better way; mercy. If we’re prepared to recognise we’re sinners and if we’re prepared to rely on God’s mercy then we can be confident that we’re God’s friend. Is that not the single best thing that you have ever heard in your whole life?
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