Word began to spread through social media over the weekend that Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old terminally ill woman who had come to national prominence by announcing her intention to self terminate her life in light of her prognosis, had indeed ended her life. The reactions to Maynard’s decision were quick and numerous.
By some, she was hailed for her courage and choosing her own fate, and while others vilified her for selfishly taking her own life. Through all the noise of personal opinions, judgments, and laments it is amazing how quickly it is forgotten that a beautiful young woman died. A woman created in the image of God with and for a purpose is no longer alive.
There was a tragedy in this greater even than a diagnosis of terminal brain cancer. As a culture we have become numb to death which in turn has allowed us to grow far too comfortable with death. Today, our hearts should be heavy over Brittany Maynard. Not just her decision and how she made it, but that despite that decision she was unable to escape the inevitability of death.
I don’t know a single thing about Brittany Maynard’s belief in God or her relationship with Christ, and you don’t either. I write this as a Christian who is trying to consistently live out the teachings of the Bible in a fallen world which presents us with extremely difficult situations like Brittany’s. Here are some things for us to consider as try to think biblically about this…
Many will disagree with Maynard’s decision to exercise her ‘right to die with dignity’ and think it is an unbiblical decision. I fall into that category. But no one should do so lightly or without the empathy and compassion that a person created in the image of God deserves. While I disagree with her, I do not think that choice is usually made lightly. It must be an agonizingly difficult place to feel as if you must choose to die now or die later.
Brittany’s cancer is a painful reminder that the world is profoundly not right. Her decision and the entire ‘right to die’ movement confirms this even more. These are not good things. Cancer is not good, and we should hate it. I hate it for Brittany Maynard, and I hate it for the members of my church who are currently fighting it or lost the fight. I hate my wife’s lupus and my mom’s diabetes, and I hate drunk drivers, tornadoes, and tsunami’s. They all serve as vivid examples that things are not right. Our response is not to sit back in judgment and prognosticate why these things are happening but to come alongside and love, cry, and minister.
What we know
As Christians, there are some things that we can know with certainty, even in circumstances that are hard for us to understand:
– We can know that we are not without hope even when facing death because this is not our home.
– We know that we are not omniscient (all-knowing) like God is especially about the future.
– We know there are things worse than dying in this world, namely that we would live here in such way that would separate us from God for all of eternity.
– We know that we don’t know how God can/might use our hardship.
– We know that life (both giving, sustaining, and taking) belongs to God and God alone.
Living life to the fullest
As I was reading this weekend about Brittany Maynard I came across the story of another young woman, Lauren Hill, a freshmen in college also diagnosed with brain cancer. Hill, a basketball player who was unable to continue playing because of the effects of her cancer, continues to live, and this past weekend courageously played basketball through the pain and scored the first and last baskets for her team. Her story has gone viral and has inspired millions, including from LeBron James to the thousands who came to watch her play. Very similar circumstances but very different perspectives and very different results.
I am always encouraged by the life of Joni Eareckson Tada. This is a woman who has suffered much over the years and, by all accounts, has stayed faithful to God and greatly used by God in that hardship. In responding to Brittany Maynard’s announcement of her plan to end her life because of her brain tumor Tada said, “I understand Brittany may be in great pain, and her treatment options are limited and have their own devastating side effects, but I believe Brittany is missing a critical factor in her formula for death: God.”
As believers, we need to be careful we don’t make the same mistake. It is far too possible for us to live our lives under our own lordship rather than the lordship of Christ. For followers of Jesus every part of our lives including our health, treatments, and yes, even dying is to be done for the glory of God. There is always more involved and more to be considered in this life than just myself. It is never just about me but it is always about how I honor Christ with everything He has given me, the good and the bad. This is the heartbeat of the crucified life.
God, in His wisdom and grace, has not left His church without guidance in this area. 2 Cor. 4:16-18 reminds while very real and often difficult and painful, what we endure in this world are momentary afflictions preparing something eternal for us. Paul did not write those words to try and minimize the hurt, tragedy, and pain this world regularly offers but instead encourages us and gives us hope that what is fundamentally wrong with this world will ultimately be made right through Jesus.
Romans 8:18 promises that what is endured here will not compare to what we will experience with God for all of eternity. As believers, we take that in faith and as an encouragement that is calling us to not only live well but to suffer and ultimately die well also. Unfortunately, the case of Brittany Maynard will probably not be the last one. There is, however, with every denial and rejection of God’s place in His world the opportunity for Christians to live out their faith in such a way that points to Jesus…even in how we die.