Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Silenced by Stories

Brittany Maynard plans to die November 1. Her story is sad and devastating. She is 29 years old, newly married, with absolutely no hope for the future. An inoperable tumor is growing out of control in her brain. So she has moved to Oregon where she can take medicines to die with dignity rather than dragging her family and herself through the devastation of the slow, painful death doctors predict.

I think Brittany is making a huge mistake. I think she should lean on God's greater wisdom and His loving will rather than her own understanding. But that probably sounds presumptuous of me since I don't share her diagnosis. I can even hear someone saying, "You have no right to speak about something you've never faced."

How can I speak to someone else's story that I don't share? One way is to look at the stories of Christians who face the same problems. For instance, Maggie Karner shares Brittany Maynard's bitter diagnosis of stage-four gliobastoma multiforme brain tumor. But Maggie has a radically different outlook:

"Death sucks. And while this leads many to attempt to calm their fears by grasping for personal control over the situation, as a Christian with a Savior who loves me dearly and who has redeemed me from a dying world, I have a higher calling. God wants me to be comfortable in my dependence on Him and others, to live with Him in peace and comfort no matter what comes my way. As for my cancer journey, circumstances out of my control are not the worst thing that can happen to me. The worst thing would be losing faith, refusing to trust in God's purpose in my life and trying to grab that control myself."

You can read a piece Maggie wrote about her circumstances by clicking here.

But there is an even bigger issue that Brittany Maynard is working towards. She firmly refuses to call what she is planning to do "suicide." She wants us to think of it as "death with dignity" instead. She wants to use her story to reposition the way we think about death at one's own hand.

That's my problem with such powerful, personal stories. They are so compelling, so tragic, and heart-rending that they become larger than life. They make the victim seem the absolute authority instead of God. The stories make us lose perspective and objectivity. They keep us from stepping back and seeing the big picture in life -- from seeing our Creator's view of this life.

Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems to me the idea of living and dying on our own terms is an illusion. I had no say on who my mother and father would be, or how they would raise me. I had no control of where we lived, or whether I would grow up rich, poor or middle class. I couldn't control my height or my talents -- only what I did with them. I can't control the weather, or the economy, or the success of my favorite sports team. Why should I expect to be able to control my death?

Even if I had such control, would I really know what to do? If I was trying to wrap my head around the devastating diagnosis Brittany and Maggie and their families are trying to grasp, could I think straight and make the right decision? I'd be experiencing incredible emotional turmoil on the inside, and dealing with the high drama swirling outside of me. Do I really think I would have the insight, the wisdom, and the perspective to see things clearly and make the right decision?

On October 15, 1946, Hermann Goering's world was crashing down around him. The Nazi war criminal was sentenced to death in the post-war Nuremburg trials. Instead of facing the hangman's noose, Goering chose to die on his own terms. He killed himself by biting down on a cyanide capsule he had hidden somewhere in his clothing or on his person.

Contrast Goering to a criminal two thousand years before. Instead of a quick death by hanging from a rope, this criminal faced a slow, agonizing death by hanging on a cross. Perhaps, given the opportunity, he too would have killed himself before the soldiers dragged him out of his cell, but he had no such choice. Instead, he was hung next to Jesus.

Despite the indignity and the horrendous suffering he endured -- I'm tempted to say because of it -- that criminal heard Jesus' words of forgiveness. He took a long, hard look inside, confessed his sin, and pleaded with Jesus, "Remember me when You come into Your Kingdom." And he received the assurance from Jesus Himself, "Today, you will be with Me in paradise" (see Luke 23:42-43).

When I hear Brittany talk about her diagnosis, her story is powerful and convincing. She makes a compelling argument that perhaps we should stop calling it "suicide" and call it "death with dignity" instead. But why should I give Brittany more authority than God Himself? In the Bible the Lord forbids killing -- whether it is ending someone else's life or our own. That might sound cold, outdated, narrow-minded, even hate-filled. But we need to stop and remember who is speaking here. It is our Creator who knows us better than we know ourselves. It is the God who holds all time in His hands, who knows our greatest needs and how to satisfy them. It is the God who loves us enough to send His Son as our Savior.

People tell us powerful stories, but the Bible tells us the greatest, most compelling story of all: the selfless love of God's Son, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself to the indignity of flogging, crucifixion, death and a borrowed grave to guarantee that all of us who believe in Him will inherit a glorious, eternal life in heaven.

How do these strong, personal, compelling stories affect you? Go here to tell us what you think: click here!

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

You are right on. You don't say if you know Brittany but you must talk to her or even write her if you don't know her.
The death culture will use terms like "death with dignity" which somehow makes it easier? Makes others around her feel better so they are not so uncomfortable? Does this make her feel she will not be a burden? The answer is no!
We fear what we don't know and that is natural. We do know the one who created this very life. We know the greatest physician who is the same author of life.
God bless your situation to reach her.