The first time Dan Pollock and I bumped wheelchairs, I was taken aback by the severity of his paralysis and his thin, frail body. Dan was born with a significant neuromuscular disease, and some people have said that he’d be better off dead than disabled. But Dan is full of life. It troubles me when people say he’s suffering needlessly or that he is imprisoned in his body. Such phrases allege to be compassionate but reveal a fundamental fear that actually means, “I would hate to live like that.”
In a previous essay, “Death and the Church,” I wrote that the local congregation needs to address the end of life and its attendant issues. Given our secular culture’s confusing responses to suffering and death—death is either the ultimate human foe to be conquered at any cost, or is preferable to a “diminished quality of life”—many believers are co-opting a worldview that runs contrary to historic Christianity. While we are most appreciative of the fine and informative work of ministries such as The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity, the “think tank” cannot replace the local parish as the center of Christian education.
Having been a pastor and professor for a couple of decades, I’ve heard (and spoken) my share of funeral sermons. At times, quite ironically it seems, death is almost personified and praised as the great deliverer, the one who relieves our loved ones of unbearable pain and suffering. And while I understand the “blessing” of death to cease suffering, I can’t help but think of the New Testament portrayal of death as “the last enemy” (1 Cor. 15:26; cf. 2 Tim. 1:10; Rev. 20:14; 21:4). The story of Jesus’s response to the death of his friend Lazarus in John 11 brings not only comfort and hope but much-needed wisdom and perspective.
Eusebius describes the response of Christians to plague and persecution thus:
The most of our brethren were unsparing in their exceeding love and brotherly kindness. They held fast to each other and visited the sick fearlessly, and ministered to them continually, serving them in Christ. And they died with them most joyfully, taking the affliction of others, and drawing the sickness from their neighbors to themselves and willingly receiving their pains. And many who cared for the sick and gave strength to others died themselves having transferred to themselves their death.
Posts of this forum are reviewed by CBHD staff and an editorial committee, however, the views expressed herein are the author’s and not necessarily endorsed by The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity or Trinity International University.