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.
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.