My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: "O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!"

11 September 2005

Sunday Hello's

This morning Graeme preached on 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, "Dealing with Weaknesses." It was well-done and very encouraging. There are several people at church struggling with great weaknesses (which can be spiritual, physical, emotional, circumstantial, etc.) - I pray that we all have ears to hear God when He says, "My grace is sufficient."

Graeme made the point that we ought to pray, as Paul did, for the relief of weakness. But more important is our response to God's response. God didn't really say "no" to Paul's request; it was more of a "no...but". He denied the request, but gave a much better answer instead. It strikes me that this is how we ought to hear all answers of prayer that differs from our request. When we pray for something and God says "no," we must remember that it's never just "no"...it's always "no...but My grace is sufficient."

Paul heard God when He said Christ's grace was sufficient. He heard and believed and consequently rejoiced in his weakness that Christ would be lifted high in his life. Some of our weaknesses are more visible than others (physical limitations & disabilities top that list)...but we all will be put through weakness, by the gracious hand of God. Let's pray that we'll respond with rejoicing, that the central passion of our lives will be the glory of God and thus that we'll be able to rejoice in weakness which ends in His glory.

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There is a truly excellent article by James Tonkowich on the Christian ethics of death in the May/June issue of byFaith magazine, which is the PCA's new publication. [Note: I'm pretty impressed with the couple of issues I've seen of this magazine.] I encourage you to read the whole article; it's not too long. But if you can't, here are a couple high points:
  • The author makes the point that suffering must be expected in this life and fallen world. It is part of the Curse, and even part of the answer (Christ's suffering). But yet we fear suffering, and that fear of suffering often leads into unbiblical and thus unethical thinking concerning end-of-life issues.
  • From Gilber Meilaender in First Things: We may refuse treatments that are either useless or excessively burdensome. In doing so, we choose not death, but one among several possible lives open to us. We do not choose to die, but, rather, how to live, even if while dying, even if a shorter life than some other lives that are still available for our choosing. The author then goes on to give several excellent examples of applying this Biblical, while admittedly murky, ethic.
  • The above quote is why some may rightly reject certain treatments for their illness: either because the treatment is excessively painful and doesn't have a good enough chance for success, or because the treatment is far too expensive to be a valid consideration.
  • But...if I decide not to treat because it seems a burden just to have the life this person has [or that I currently have], then I am taking aim not at the burdensome treatment, but at the life. -Meilaender [This is where the Terry Schiavo controversy comes in: most arguments aimed at ending her life were not based on the burdensome-ness of the treatment - it was only food and water! - but on the ideal that "that's no way to live." We are not the Creator and not allowed to decide that.]
  • Continuing the previous point, there's great and grave danger in proclaiming any life unworthy of living ('lebensunverten Lebens' is the big-word for the day). Because we are made in God's image, every life is worth living - and if we can imagine a category of life not worth living, we have fallen fast and far from Scripture's hope and truth.
  • The author also makes the point that only the state is allowed to "bear the sword." If we have doctors and family members deciding willy-nilly that this person will live, that person won't (only based on my opinion of what a good life is), we are usurping authority given only to the government: that of taking life that could otherwise live.
  • Finally, the author says, we do live in a culture of death. What does this mean for us? The challenge for the Church is to speak into that culture not merely with words, but by caring with compassion for the sick, the disabled, the weak, and the dying. In this way we bear witness to the truth that each life has value, each man and woman has dignity regardless of his or her condition, prognosis, or stage of life.

6 comments:

Tamara said...

I love God. That was a great sermon.
sis n law

Kurt said...

From Gilber Meilaender in First Things:"We may refuse treatments that are either useless or excessively burdensome."

For the Christian, I believe Meilaender is only half right.

Having been intimately involved with both observing and making treatment decisions for a terminal illness, I agree that the Christian would be right to refuse treatments that have not been shown to produce a consistent, verifiable successful outcome. I've observed too many times where, although the terminal prognosis is truthfully (albeit, too often bluntly) given, the slim chance (even if there really isn't one) for success is held out ONLY IF treatment commences; and, in reality, the treatment can not honestly be verified by medical research as THE variable necessary for any successful treatment outcome for that particular diagnosis.

Where I disagree, is with the "excessively burdensome" quotation reason to refuse treatment, further explained by the words "because the treatment is far too expensive to be a valid consideration." I believe Christians are really never IN a position for a treatment to be "far too expensive" when the "body of Christ" stands with them as brothers and sisters ready to be God's instruments to do good. For Christians to "choose" death due lack of financial means, when our God owns everything, is illogical, and borders on a lack of faith. Doesn't God,when we ask Him, provide for our every need? When we share the burden of our needs with those in His Body, will we get stones? We have too many examples in all aspects of life (need I mention the recent response to Katrina?) to vindicate that view. May it be a pox upon our Christian House if ANY Christian in our midst is forced stop a treatment solely for lack of personal wealth or means.

Ellen Olivetti said...

Jared:

I have two comments to this section of your blog. First of all, concerning Graeme's sermon (which I will listen to online later), I just want to testify to God's faithfulness that his grace is indeed sufficient.

I have prayed consistently, many times a day and for several years, for a loved one to be saved. And, although this isn't a physical weakness of mine that I am praying to have abated, it is still a weakness because I cannot save him and I cannot cause him to come to Christ. I am weak and unable to affect any change. It is a constant burden on my heart. Yet, His grace is sufficient for me. If you would have told me years ago that I would have a loved one who refused Christ, that I would be so burdened for the salvation of this person, and yet could go about my daily life and still enjoy the blessings of God every day, I would not have believed you. In the midst of this weakness, God has quieted my soul more times than I can count. I rest in His sovereignty and continue to plead with him to be merciful and save this person, yet He has so far said "No, but my grace is sufficient for you."

Praise the Lord that His grace is always sufficient - and more than sufficient - so that we can be joyful in the midst of trials.

My second comment is concerning the article you mentioned in the PCA magazine, which I just read yesterday. When your grandfather had his stroke, we were put in a place where we had to make a decision for him. It was very difficult and we prayed and sought the counsel of his pastor. The advice we got was very close to the principles mentioned in this article. It was not a matter of not wanting him to have a difficult life, although he would have hated being disabled, it was that all of the doctors except one said there was no hope. One doctor said there was a chance that he might regain consciousness if we waited long enough. What were the chances of survival? Less than one percent we were told! In order to have your pop pop disconnected from the machines keeping him alive, Aunt Bev and I had to go before the Ethics Committee of the hospital. That was so intimidating. The doctor went in first and said why he thought we should keep pop pop alive. My sister and I went in and then had to tell the Ethics Committee why we should be allowed to disconnect him from the machines. After three days with no sleep, my sister and I were very tired. But, through God's strength, we were able to give a sound witness to this committee. We told them that our father was not afraid to die - that his home is not here but in heaven. We said we wanted to disconnect him from the machines and let God be God. If he lived, we would lovingly take care of him. If he died, we would see him again someday.

Anyway, even though the decision seemed so clearcut to us, I was plagued for months with doubts afterwards about whether or not we had done the right thing. These issues are very complex. I believe we just let God be God and he called my father home.

Sorry for the long post, but you hit two subjects close to me!

Jared said...

Mom, thanks for the testimony!

Kurt, thanks for the thoughtful note - I think I disagree to a point, but not entirely. One of the aspects to the "murkiness" of this question is how we factor every part of the decision in. I think the point about excessive burdensomeness when concerning finances, isn't to say that we ought to try to be stingy and save money when it comes to medical treatment. But it is to say: when a treatment option is given and the cost skyhigh while the probability of success isn't sufficient, we are allowed to choose "a different way to live." I also believe this kind of decision gets easier the older one gets. (we ought to be willing to go to more extreme measures for a 10-year old than for an 80-year old)

I do agree, though, with your point about the body of Christ providing for her own.

Tamara Rose said...

hey i just rigured out i know the other "Tamara" that comments on your blog. well i think i do? ok well hello. hey some time you should commeny on my blog! heh :) if you wanna. bye

Tamara Rose said...

figured*