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.


For those that are unclear:


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


Manic Mondays: American Individualism Strikes Again!

I am not sure why this did not post yesterday, but here it is today. Manic Mondays on Tuesday.
Here we are at yet another Monday. Here we are to analyze some more random headlines that grabbed me as discussion worthy from this weekend. It is amazing how when there is no middle ground when it comes to the amount of headlines on a given weekend. There is either none at all, or you cannot keep up with all of the headline updates. This weekend was the latter. When it rains, it pours (pun intended).

This weekend has given us a plethora of things on which to ruminate and expound. Such as the following:

* Al Gore (the inventor of the internet) compared the civil rights struggle to that of the struggle against skeptics concerning climate change. If you want to see the full hour long interview, click here.

* Mayor Bloomberg declared that religious leaders are banned from participating in an official role in the tenth anniversary commemoration of 9/11 at Ground Zero. This provides many interesting discussions. Here is an interesting treatment that could spark some interesting conversation.

* A Missouri judge blocked a law restricting internet communications between teachers and students from taking effect. This article explains a little more about the law that was blocked. This also has a little import into a conversation had in last week’s “Manic Mondays” article.

However, none of these struck me quite like this little video report from CNN. We can talk about the others at another time if you would like. But for now, check this out:

There are so many things to discuss about this report that offends Lutheran theology that I really did not know where to begin when I first saw this. However, now that I have watched this video more times than I care to mention, one topic includes all the others. That topic is…

Drum roll please?…

INDIVIDUALISM!!! Yes, that is right. We have the good ole’ American zeitgeist of individualism to blame for this. Let’s begin with where this might be a practice that could lead to errant theology. First, everything about Christianity, salvation, and the gifts of God (Word and Sacraments) is about the community of faith. It is about bearing with one another. Rejoicing with those who rejoice… weeping with those who weep… Romans 12:9ff stuff. Our identity and Christian life is bound up in being part of the body of Christ… the church… a community.

Now, to be fair, could you foster community with a “drive-in” church service like the one seen above? I suppose… maybe. However, the dangers of fostering an individualistic mentality among Christians might out-weigh the possible positives. If you do not believe me, watch the video again. Listen to the comments of those being interviewed. “This is the first time I have ever worn shorts to church.” Mrs. Dotty Claybrook says that the direct contact with nature appeals to her. She would rather be in her car alone than with people. The reporter also reveals that everything is ok because she has faith in her pastor. Nothing said about Jesus. But she has faith in her pastor… a fellow sinner.

I really hate being snarky, but this really brings the snark out of me. If I have heard it once, I have heard it a thousand times:

– “Pastor, I am a Christian but I just don’t go to church.”

– “I can be just as close to God in the woods/on the lake/ on my own as I can be sitting in a building.”

My response is usually “Really? Are you sure? You may feel close to God, but are you close to His blessings? When I look at His Word, I see that every act of salvation… every means of grace… every act of God for His people is done for, around, and within a community of believers. We seek God where He has promised to be… with His people. We seek the blessings of God where He has promised to give them… in His Word and Sacraments.

Hebrews expounds upon this idea. Hebrews 12 talks about how we are surrounded by the community of believers both those who are with us and those who have gone before us to whom we look to as models of faith and trust in God. Hebrews 12: 1-2 states, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

As we look to the blessings of God, we, as a community, look and focus on Christ… NOT THE PASTOR! It is always about Jesus and His work for you… for us. WE receive His blessings. WE run the race. WE are the people of God.
Let me know what you think!