Godly Wisdom for Modern Dilemmas


Imagine that you’ve just learned that your 89-year-old mother has cancer. The doctor lays out the options of chemo or hospice with palliative care.  What do you do? While you may not find a specific Bible reference, you can seek God’s wisdom.         

The path of wisdom begins in Genesis, which sets the stage for the realities about God’s good creation. You have God, and everything else is creation. God made us in his image, which marks human beings as different from every other species. God also made us for relationship with him, with each other, and with the rest of creation.          

God gave us moral freedom. We can choose both good and evil. But, just as we are physically limited, we are also morally limited. We do not always choose the good, and sometimes we deliberately choose evil—just look at Adam and Eve. There are other times we don’t know what is the right thing to do. The situation may be confusing and messy, part of the reality of the world in which we live. That’s a good reason to cultivate wisdom, before an ethical crisis comes along. Wisdom helps us see truth when we are in complex situations that don’t have an obvious right answer.          

In the hypothetical case of your mother with cancer, some things are clear. She is made in God’s image, and taking the life of an image bearer is wrong. Any treatment that is administered or withdrawn with the intention (or hope) that her life would end sooner, would be wrong.                       

But chemo may extend her life, and hospice care is intended to give her the fullest life possible in the time she has left. What then? Dr. Bob Orr writes, “Good ethics begins with good facts.”[1] Make sure you clearly understand the options, including the possible benefits and risks. Sometimes, the risks of treatment, which might include awful side effect, outweigh any potential benefit, which might be quite small. In that case, chemo might not be wise.

You could seek counsel from your pastor, a hospital chaplain, or Christian friends. Above all, seek guidance from God. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you to see beyond any biases or fears that might distort your understanding. One common fear is that if we refuse treatment, we are practicing euthanasia. Some people feel they are obligated to use every available medical technology, to preserve life for as long as possible, no matter the cost. That might not be not wise. As Christians, we would do better to be more concerned about dying well, as our final witness to the hope of the resurrection.           

Finally, pray for God’s peace—peace among family members, and peace with him. Lack of peace might mean you’re heading in the wrong direction. God’s peace signals that you are seeing truth in the middle of the messy complexity of life.

[1] Robert D. Orr, Medical Ethics and the Faith Factor: A Handbook for Clergy and Health-Care Professionals  (Wm. B. Eerdmans: 2009).


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