The Problem Of Autonomy With Regard To Assisted Suicide

I want to talk a little bit more about assisted suicide as we approach the date of Brittany Maynard’s self appointed time of death.

As I stated, whether you are a Christian or not your life is not your own. It’s God’s. What that means is that when we use the terminology of “right to die” or “right to life” what we are doing i starting right out of the gate with the view of independence in our sights without acknowledging our dependence on God–“**I** have a right…”

Some Christians say that you can’t impose your Christianity on unbelievers. But to start off saying that God is the author of our lives we automatically think that this Christian view (of life and death) applies to unbelievers. Christians of all people should recognize that this belief makes claims on not only our community but on unbelievers as well. It’s only a logical conclusion that if God is God he is God to unbelievers as well. They stand in relation to the God of the Universe. He is Creator. They are his creation. So the question becomes such that if this view is not reflected in law and policy, then the independence one will be which, though I may not be forced to commit suicide or assist in someone else’s immoral behaviour, I am still affected by this and so is society as a whole because we are affected by the atmosphere that law and public policy creates in similar ways that families are affected as much by the suicide of a love one. That is, Christian theology has begun to recognize that as image bearers of God we are not only social creatures as God is–who exists as triune but this is reflected in our very being in relation to others. In other words, that our lives are not our own is reflected when one commits suicide they “take a part” of others with them. And so this happens to the wider community in how that burden bears down upon as (think about what you think or feel when someone commits suicide).

If such is the case that my life is not my own and is God’s, (and this is where our messianic tendencies come in) then the lives of others are not mine either. Which is to say that I have no control over THEIR destinies. I am not the Lord of their life OR their death and they cannot make me such (by asking for my help). Which is to say that I should not participate in assisted suicide or euthanasia.

Our messianic tendencies come into play when we attend to one of two extremes:

A. When we continue to fight death even as it is at our door and it is useless to do so.
B. Assisting death such as to hasten it. That is, that it is our AIM to hasten it.
Our only response, should be to “care for the dying” of which neither A nor B is. Actually A and B a form of abandonment.

Why should care be our greatest concern? Because care recognizes our finiteness as humans in the face of excruciating pain and suffering (not only for the one dying but for the community as a whole. Going to one or another of those two extremes is to always give something that is other or less than care.

Interestingly, as I was thinking about the writing of this post today I thought about both the health and wealth gospel crowd and the advocates of assisted as being two sides of the same coin–the avoidance/relief from pain. The assisted suicide crowd wouldn’t ever admit that but I ask myself how one side (the AS folk) are any different in this respect from the health and wealth group.

Rgardless, does this mean that we should refuse treatment? Well, if I want to avoid “A” above I would say, “No.” I will talk about that soon enough. In my next post though, I want to discuss another reason why I think the argument from autonomy is skewed.


Assisted Suicide: The Ultimate Solution From An Ultimate Philosophy

We first heard about Brittany Maynard this past month when she first drew national attention to talk about having help to kill herself because of an incurable brain tumor. I’m SURE that was the precursor to the event in which her life will be taken with the help of a doctor and with her husband and family by her side. It seemed to me to be at the time a “gauging of the winds” to see what public sentiment is going to be like.

Interestingly, many modern issues like this have to do with “freedom from” some restraint or another. Some authority or another. We see it with sexuality and in this case we see it with regard to the ultimate act–the ending of one’s life. Surprisingly, many Christians have bought into the highly autonomous individualistic culture which is what (assisted) suicide is the ULTIMATE result of.

I know I will probably hear sentiments in which people will say I’m being heartless. I mean, speaking on some philosophical level about “highly autonomous individuals” seems pretty cold and callous compared to the pain of dying and losing love ones. But it is my hope to expand on why this is really not the case (that talking about highly autonomous individuals is not the really cold and callous) because assisted suicide is not only about the person who is facing it, but also about the wider community. It is not only about those of us who are faced with the question of dying “taking control” of our destinies, but also about our own messianic tendencies to alleviate others of pain and suffering. And if we are called to love God and our fellow human beings, then love will be expanded to include both the individual and the community.

On the one hand, I can sympathize with those who want to kill themselves–the idea being that we should not accept pain and suffering as good. But this means we should care for those who are suffering (what the Christian tradition has usually been about). On the other hand, we must never pretend that we can eliminate suffering completely from human existence or that it has no point or purpose in our lives. An “any and every means possible” to achieve a certain good end is not always justifiable. We human beings, ESPECIALLY in this area of medicine, need to remind ourselves that we are not saviors. Could it not also be the case that many Christians have bought into a radical individualism such that it has a veneer of Christianity to it but is anything but? In other words, it has the robe of Christ on it, but underneath is the devil? A wolf in sheep’s clothing?

Part of the teaching of the incarnation is not only that Christ dwells along side of us and identifies with us in our pain and suffering but that WE do the same with others. That, in itself, should say something about our persistent need to eliminate pain and suffering as our highest priority or ultimate goal. In the incarnation we can see that there can be a purpose to our pain and suffering. In thinking that we should eliminate pain and suffering in this final act, we essentially are saying that pain and suffering and the negative destructive powers of the universe are ultimately victorious in our lives. And this is a different eschatological vision then that of the Bible.


Do All Roads Lead To God? No. Kinda. Sorta.

Greg Boyd has an interesting piece here. Here are my thoughts.

A. Totally agree with Greg. Jesus is the only way to God.
B. I agree with his argument contra the idea of “The truth is there is no truth.” Or said otherwise as he puts forth. That’s a flat out contradiction not to mention arrogant because it claims to have a birds eye view of reality. It sits up on its tiny perch above everyone else and proclaims “the truth of the matter”–the truth about reality.
C. This has sort of argument has been put out for the general reader in the work of Watkins and Kreeft and others.
D. [Side note rant] What I have ALWAYS found interesting about the exclusive position that Greg is espousing here is that it is usually connected with some moral issue such that when you talk about Jesus in this fashion, you talk about a moral issue. For an example, most folk think that when you speak about Jesus you are already labelled a “fundie” or religious which entails being of a particular moral standing on an issue, ie., following Jesus=no sex before marriage (it always has to do with sex for some reason). Now we could take the moral issue away and simply be left with the theological issue. Thus folks would still be deeply offended (which is what Greg is proposing) which ultimately goes to show that whether you tack some moral issue on to Christianity or NOT, the exclusivity of saying, “Jesus is the only way to God” is going to be offensive to others. For them, that is tantamount to being arrogant and telling everyone else they are wrong which doesn’t fly in 21st century North America or much of the world for that matter. Regardless, for the most part, most Christian evangelicals give at least lip service to the “no sex before marriage ideal” such that even if they intentionally try to rid tacking on some moral issue the “world” will still judge you and your purity. Regardless X2. The Gospel does come with demands because the Gospel STORY comes with demands–some ethical imperative (though Christians have disagreed about those imperatives at times based on their traditions).
E. I take it that this question can’t be understood aside from other theological questions ie., those who died before the coming of Christ and those who have went to their graves having never heard a peep about the Gospel. As well as the eschatological idea of the eternal destiny of the lost and whether there is actually any hope for people post-mortem (of which I believe there is–and it’s not a very novel idea either). The idea here is whether Christ death is SUFFICIENT for even these (of which I believe it is: Think of a can of soup of which there is only so much of. That can can be watered downed to take care of the needs of the others. In other words it is sufficient. I think of the story of the feeding of the five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fish. Ultimately, is this story not also, among the many interpretations, about the the Saviour who has more than enough and is more than able to satisfy all of humanity’s need (the interpretations I’ve read are usually anthropocentric in nature but I think we should keep in mind first and foremost a Christological view)? He is our provider even of Himself for all others.
F. Some have drawn the distinction between “Christian” and “saved.” As I see it, I do think other religions have a salvific purpose to them. By that, I don’t mean that one becomes “Christian” or finds Christ in or through them. But that is not to say that there is not SOMETHING of salvific value in other religions. This understanding is based on the idea that the Holy Spirit is working through other religions to bring humanity to a knowledge of Himself. Just as the Spirit is at work in Creation, bringing humankind to SOME knowledge of the divine, so is the Spirit active through other religions. We can think of this in terms of those whom Clark Pinnock (a dear friend of mine) called, “Old Testament pagan saints” found in the Old Testament.

In conclusion, while Christians believe that Christ is the only way to the Father we should never say other religions are completely worthless. In saying otherwise, not only may Christians be able to learn more about their own faith, but bridges can be built with others of differing beliefs possibly bringing them to a fuller understanding of God in Christ.


Trinity and Process: The Abridged Version

My bud Tom Belt offers the shorter version of Greg Boyd’s enormous dissertation here.

Some years ago I went to the local university library to check out his dissertation. It was in two volumes and there was much to read (and comprehend of which I didn’t do of either. 😀). Hopefully this shorter version will make it much more accessible to interested readers.


God As Author And Sustainer With Regard to Euthanasia And Assisted Suicide

My facebook friend Brent White has an excellent post on one of the biggest news stories of the week, the story of Brittnay Maynard. You can read his post here.

In the the first paragraph White says this:

Given the tone of this article, which was reprinted in USA Today and received much sympathetic approval on social media, I find myself strangely unmoved by this 29-year-old cancer patient’s decision to end her life later this month. Whatever else her decision may be, it is deeply unchristian. It denies the fact that God gives us each moment of life as a gift. It also denies that God could have any purpose for permitting someone to suffer—what Tim Keller rightly calls God’s “causal relationship with suffering.”

I want to add to his point about “God giving us each moment of our lives.” Most of the time words or something to that effect come off sounding cliche. We’ve heard it a million times, “God is the giver of life,” “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” And though that doesn’t sound too satisfying or comforting when watching a love one die–ESPECIALLY when watching someone close to us pass from this life into eternity–for it can be very insensitive when used that way, there is still a truth to this that we may have forgotten. That truth is this: That God is the AUTHOR AND SUSTAINER of life.

I want to explain the implications of this by quoting from Gilbert Meilaender’s book, Bioethics: A Primer For Christians

Christians have held that suicide is morally wrong because they have seen in it a contradiction of our nature as creatures, an unwillingness to receive life moment by moment from the hand of God without ever regarding it as simply “our” possession. We might think of ourselves as characters in a story of which God is the author. Dorothy L. Sayers ingeniously developed this analogy of artistic creation in The Mind of the Maker. Of the “work” produced by the artist Sayers writes:

For the satisfaction of its will to life it depends utterly upon the sustained and perpetually renewed will to creation of its maker. The work can live and grow on the sole condition of the maker’s untiring energy; to satisfy its will to die, he has only to stop working. In him it lives and moves and has its being, and it may say to him with literal truth, “Thou art my life, if thou withdraw, I die.” If the unselfconscious creature could be moved to worship, its thanks and praise would be due, not so much for any incidents of its structure, but primarily for its being and identity.

Characters in a story do, of course, have a real, if limited, freedom, and a good author will not simply compel them to do what is contrary to the nature he himself has given them. But at the same time characters do not determine the plot of their life’s story, and it is a contradiction of their very being if they attempt to bring the story to its conclusion. We are dependent beings, and to think otherwise to make independence our project, however sincerely is to live a lie, to fly in the face of reality.

This SHOULD have some impact or influence on us in guiding or steering us in end of life decisions.


Does God Love Satan?

My buddy Tom Belt has brought up this question once again that we discussed on the old Open Theism Discussion Boards. Really, I wince every time I see pictures or quotes or hear songs of this dual between Lucifer and Jesus where Lucifer is depicted as being “defeated” in some sense that leaves us saying, “Yeah! Go Jesus! Screw you Satan!” (remember Stryper’s “To Hell With The Devil?” Or Carmen’s “The Champion?”). Well, these are the sorts of questions that my Bible school did not ask nor equip me to answer. I am so thankful for guys like Tom Belt and my friend Dwayne Polk and my acquaintance Greg Boyd. They’ve asked these questions taking us to the logical end of such questions I think. And of course, that is what good theology does. There is certainly nothing wrong with coming up with different models and “concluding” which one you think fits the criteria better and makes the most “sense” (of course there are different ways to understand this ie., something may make logical sense but may be morally askew.

So does God love Satan? Well, yes, I believe God does love Satan and the reasons why, as we discussed are:

A. The theological injunction to love our enemies.
B. God is still sustaining Satan and God loves what he/she sustains. Which is also to say that there is something left TO love. It isn’t as if Satan is totally hopeless in an ontological sense where there is not a shed of anything good in him ie., not pure evil through and through.
C. Satan, as a creature of God, comes from God in a metaphysical sense, thus, as with all creation, will return back to God and that metaphysical aspect, I think, in large part, is what is meant by there being good in Satan.


Popular Religion, Victoria Osteen And Why It’s Not All That Bad

There has been a video of Victoria Osteen floating around on the internet this past week or so which has received quite a bit of flack from many evangelical Christians for it’s shoddy theology. You can see that video and a more favorable response here .

Years ago, I read Richard Mouw’s book, Consulting the Faithful: What Intellectuals Can Learn From Popular Religion .

It had a great impact on me, challenging me to be more charitable and less suspicious of popular religion by trying to see below the surface to understand “the hopes and fears” of the average lay person. I’ve been surprised via searching out and reading alternative views such as Brent White’s above at how much I/we as a community of Christians don’t see or deliberately ignore opposing views just so we can sulk and criticize and be bitter about the “state of the Church” in general.

But let’s face it folks. Folk religion, popular religion or whatever you want to call it is here to stay. Let’s face the fact this thing called “popular religion” could possibly be one way that God is using to bring folks into a deeper relationship with himself. Let’s face the fact that popular religion, because not everyone is an intellectual, is the way many folk relate to God (thinking of the mentality challenged here). Let’s face the fact that there may be some GOLD nugget(s) that we can glean from. It could be said that when Franky Schaeffer wrote, “Addicted to Mediocrity,” though this brought to the fore the critical “state of evangelicalism,” it did not help in terms of understanding the laity and many of the sentiments which drive their form of worship and by which they “live and move and have their being.”

Mind you, while I will probably not attend an Osteen service myself, as I’m past much of that sort of theology, (though I would never count out attending for other purposes ie., praise and worship where that, it seems, is most untouched by popular theology, at least one can praise God where the praise, though probably simple, can still be heart felt and not wrapped up in struggles of Billy Cosby sentiments), I really don’t blame others for doing so as this is where they meet God at. I’ll say it like this. Mouw uses the analogy of “puppy love.” That’s a good place to start for relationships but it can’t carry those relationships through the long haul and the topsy-turvy storms that relationships eventually bring. Our relationship with God begins some where on some level.

Now one might say, “Ahh…but those people have been going to that church for years and they are none the farther theologically.” The problem with such criticism is the way one is viewing personal piety and church attendance. How do you KNOW many of these folks are not theological giants? How do you know WHY they are attending such services? As I said, I could attend because I like the music aspect of the service though I’m barely able to sit through the preaching. I may attend because I have good friends whom I’ve developed deep relationships with. I may attend because I am accepted and that is all I needed at the time.

At the end of the day:

A. I don’t think any of us has “correct” theology (though this is not to say that we should neglect studying theology, after all, professors and teachers, are gifts to the body as well).
B. There are many different reasons for why people attend church and God meets us where we’re at. My church attendance isn’t all about having correct theology but an encounter with the Divine.

So. While **I** probably wouldn’t attend certain churches for shallow theology, (I definitely see that not all is negative–there is SOMETHING that can be redeemed), people attend for various reasons and I trust God, through the Holy Spirit, to lead us into all truth.


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