All Saints’ Day

Life, Death, and the Illusion of Autonomy

We are fast approaching the date of November 1st. While it is celebrated in the Christian Church as All Saints’ Day, the day will have a darker event this year for which the world wants to celebrate. It is the day that 29-year-old Brittany Maynard has chosen to end her life as opposed to suffer the effects of terminal cancer. While the news cycle has died and other stories have taken precedence in our minds, I would like to bring the story back to the forefront of our minds. If you need refreshing, here is the article.

Between when this story broke and now, I have read numerous articles that speak to the subject of suicide, physician-assisted suicide, Christian responses to suicide, etc. While many of the articles have good information, many of them miss the point. They miss the point because they start from the wrong point. Many of the articles debate whether or not her choice is the right choice. However, the distinct teaching of Christianity is that this decision does not belong to Brittany. At the risk of sounding like a raving jerk-face, let me state that again: Biblical Christianity does not give Brittany the choice to end her life in a God-pleasing way. Therefore, Christians should consider this topic with extreme care. As Christians, there are basically two responses to this story, and they both have to do with the subject of autonomy.

autonomy3

For those that are unclear:

Autonomy*

1.  the quality or state of being self-governing; especially the right of self-government

2. self-directing freedom and especially moral independence

3. a self-governing state

So, in response to this story, the Christian has two proper responses to this subject. The first response is to ask if Brittany Maynard is a Christian. If she is not a Christian and can appeal to no higher code of morality, her morality becomes subjective or, at the very most, collective. Subjective morality dictates that the idea of specific morals falls within the autonomous decision of each individual. In this case, one must tip their hat to Brittany and wish her “Bon voyage!” A collective morality would dictate that specific morals fall within the concept of “greater good” for humanity as a collective. In this case, once again, we must tip our hat to Brittany. What good is there to watching a loved-one suffer from a devastating disease? How does this benefit morality as a whole? One could very easily defend Mrs. Maynard’s position from collective morality.

However, what if Brittany Maynard is a Christian? It would follow that she believes in a deity that created her, loves her, and cares for her. She would also believe in a God who is always good. Always right. Always in control. The Bible (i.e. God’s revelation to us and the source and norm for the faith and doctrine of the historic Christian Church) is very clear that only One has the right to be in control of life and death. The One who made us. Even in the midst of this sinful world and the evils therein (i.e. cancer), God is still in control and working for His people. It may not seem fair. It may not seem right. But (here comes raving jerk-face again) that is inconsequential. What we think is fair or right does not matter. WE ARE NOT AUTONOMOUS!!!! God is. We are His creation. We do not get to pick and choose the parts of God that we like or understand. That is not how Christianity works!

And before you ask it, the question is NOT how could a good God allow this? The proper Biblical question, answer, and hope is: What is God doing through this? The answer is that God has not changed. God is working through the exact same means that He has always worked. He works through His Word to bring comfort, hope and direction to our lives. He comes to kill us with His Law and resurrect us with the Gospel. He comes in Holy Communion to cleanse of us of our sins, and strengthen us in our lives of faith. He uses His people of every time and place to provide the healing salve of comfort, the bright ray of perseverance, and the everlasting hope of a new heaven and a new earth where there is no more cancer or illness or death. The comfort of faith does not come through the hope that God will heal someone who is terminally ill. The comfort of faith comes through the promise that God will endure with us through every challenge with the same Means of His Grace that have functioned our entire lives. Life and death are not ours to control. That is not the fruit we should eat, if you will. Autonomy is only an illusion on which we, as American Christians, have gorged ourselves. God is in control. He is good. He loves us so much that there is life that awaits us beyond cancer, hospital, and grave.

All Saints' DayAs you gather with the saints of God in worship this Sunday and as you celebrate All Saints’ Day, remember the life and reunion that awaits. Partake of the means by which God gives you the strength to endure. Put your trust in Him who has the whole world in His hands.

*Definition taken from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary

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Wednesdays with Luther: For All the Saints

The reason that Martin Luther posted His 95 Theses on the Wittenburg church door on October 31st is because most people of the time would be attending mass on November 1st. That is right! November 1st is a church festival called All Saints’ Day. It is the day in which the church has, historically, celebrated the victory which those that have died before us now enjoy. To be clear, we do not wish to invoke the saints who have gone before us nor do we pray to them as according to Roman Catholic doctrine and practice. However, it is a day that we give thanks to God for the example given to us and lived out in the lives of those whom God has called to rest with Himself. Therefore, to caution us from one extreme and to give us some insight, we have Luther from the Smalcald Articles for our meditation today.

Concerning the Invocation of Saints

The invocation of saints is also one of the abuses of the Antichrist that is in conflict with the first, chief article and that destroys the knowledge of Christ. It is neither commanded nor recommended, has no precedent in Scripture, and – even if it were a precious possession, which it is not – we have everything a thousand times better in Christ.

Although the angels in heaven pray for us (as Christ himself also does), and in the same way also the saints on earth and perhaps those in heaven pray for us, it does not follow from this that we ought to invoke angels and saints; pray to them; keep fasts and hold festivals for them; celebrate Masses, make sacrifices, establish churches, altars, or worship services for them; serve them in still other ways; and consider them as helpers in time of need, assign all kinds of assistance to them, and attribute a specific function to particular saints, as the papists teach and do. This is idolatry. Such honor belongs to God alone. As a Christian and saint on earth, you can pray for me, not only in one kind of need but in all necessities. However, on account of that, I ought not pray to you, invoke you, hold a festival, keep a fast, make a sacrifice, perform a Mass in your honor, and put my faith in you for salvation. There are other good ways I can honor, love, and thank you in Christ. Now if such idolatrous honor is taken away from the angels and dead saints, then the honor that remains will do no harm and will indeed soon be forgotten. When physical and spiritual benefit and help are no longer expected, then the saints will be left in peace, both in the grave and in heaven. For no one will log remember, esteem, or honor them simply out of love with no hope of return.

In summary, we cannot tolerate and must condemn what the Mass is, what has resulted from it, and what is connected to it, so that we may retain the holy sacrament in purity and with certainty and may use and receive it with faith according to the institution of Christ.

Now to be clear… we still celebrate commemorations and minor festivals that “honor saints”. However, they are really commemorations and minor festivals that honor Christ and what the Holy Spirit has done through mere mortals in order to advance the Gospel proclamation on earth. This was the historic practice of the church and of Luther. We do not worship saints. We take time to remember the great things done by God through His people. And so we sing with the church militant and we take time to thank God for all of those saints that He has put in our lives. And we rejoice that we will see them again, with our Lord, face to face.

For all the saints who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Thou wast their rock, their fortress, and their might;
Thou, Lord, their captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true light.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Oh, may Thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold!
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Oh, blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon, to faithful warriors cometh rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blest.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

But, lo, there breaks a yet more glorious day:
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of Glory passes on His way.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia! Alleluia!

 Excerpt taken from 
The Book of Concord. Kolb/Wengert edition. (Fortress Press: Minneapolis 2000), 305-306. 

Hymn taken from 
The Lutheran Service Book (Concordia Publishing House: 2006).
Hymn # 677 – “For All the Saints”