The Problem of Suffering and Assisted Suicide

Assisted suicide presents a tremendous challenge to us from a moral, emotional, medical, legal, statistical, political and theological perspective. As I’ve mentioned previously, the Church has not facilitated enough discussion about it, a phenomenally multi-dimensional and grave issue. The act of assisted suicide signifies for us that a person is in deep, deep pain and whose soul needs restoration, or relief, desperately. Yet, it’s easy to take steps back because it’s a difficult thing to talk about. Suicide is difficult to think about let alone discuss openly, as is what is known now as physician assisted suicide (PAS). For a moment, I want to focus in, ruminate and openly discuss with my merciful readers the theological problem of euthanasia and assisted dying.

Keep in mind that when I discuss euthanasia and assisted dying, I mean specifically assisted suicide where the act is voluntary, rational and elective. The person in question wants to die. The active or passive element is immaterial. And I’m tempted to suggest that even the assisted or unassisted element is immaterial, too. Really, the moral question amounts to, basically, is suicide ever justifiable? Is there a rationale for suicide that is morally defensible? The answer, from my point of view, is no. And I hold to this consistently because every time suicide pops up in the news, or pokes its head in my own social circles, my heart sinks. There must be a reason why it’s always tragic and heartbreaking. But, here, I will focus on the version of suicide that’s assisted because it’s the legalized form and because we’re mainly dealing with the argument from suffering. It’s interesting to me that there are numerous Christians that would dispute the idea that God allows unbearable suffering and that he would not permit euthanasia (in some form). It’s interesting.

Consider the following questions. Would God permit the irreversibly sick and irremediably suffering to die prematurely if the person so desires? Does God give us this right? These are the integral questions of assisted suicide for the Christian to ask. This is the problem. And just beneath this greater question is a more nuanced, more daunting and, to be honest, more troubling question about suffering and whether God would or would not purposefully desire, in his goodness, love and sovereignty, that human beings suffer unavoidably agonizing, slow, unbearable deaths. The problem of suffering asks, Can a perfectly loving, good, and sovereign God allow suffering to exist? I’d like to rephrase, for our purposes, the problem — Can a perfectly loving, good and sovereign God allow people to suffer unavoidably agonizing, slow, unbearable deaths?

To the end of greater understanding, right thinking and compassionately expressing a love of truth and God’s revealed Word as well as an interest in the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of his people, I’d like to offer a few points in response to the problem of suffering, based on what I gather from Biblical scripture, as I’ve related it to assisted death. It is important for me to deal with this topic specifically because, culturally, PAS is thought to be reserved for those who suffer without end. I want to deal with the matter as seriously and thoroughly as possible because people matter and it matters to me that people hear what is true in love. I want to love you by sharing what I feel are some of the deepest truths God has revealed about himself.

The Vast Superiority, Bigness and Ontological Perfection of God

Let’s talk about God. What is He up to when bad things happen?

I’d like to begin by firstly, and quickly, giving a general response to the problem in its broad, standard form. Can God allow pain to exist while maintaining his love, goodness, sovereignty and omniscience? Let me offer a few brief points.

The Free Will defense is an appropriate addition to any attempt at reconciling the existence of God with the reality of suffering and evil as an evidential contention. While it has taken a few variant forms in many traditions, Ravi Zacharias, a brilliant apologist and speaker, puts the defense simply as because God gives Man free will, He makes love a possibility, and because love is possibility, so is pain necessarily. Of course, what is implied and Biblically true here is that since Man, free, broke his love for God by sinning against him, therefore, pain is introduced into the world by his actions.

Now, it’s important to bring up this argument because it introduces us to the doctrine of Man’s Free Will, in its traditionally held conception, as well as the doctrine of Man’s Fallen, Sinful Nature. Both of which should be accounted for in any given theodicy from the Christian perspective. They are important. It shows us that suffering (human, not necessarily naturally inflicted i.e.: not things like diseases, earthquakes) is (a) a direct result and consequence of our sinful actions, and (b) in some sense a possibility when God creates and introduces the grounds for the existence of loving relationships which necessarily requires free entities. However, if this argument is left alone, there are a couple of problems we encounter. One is that God appears to be a gambler. He merely risked the possibility of pain’s existence by giving his creatures free will. If God risks anything, though, he can’t be said to be in control, and therefore is not sovereign. At least, not in an absolute sense. This is a problem because the God in question, the God attempted to be defended here, is sovereign in the absolute sense. This is how he is revealed to be in scripture. Nothing surprises or comes into existence outside the Will of the Father. The second problem is that it actually makes the freedom of his creatures a constraint upon God. It means God simply does not have the capacity to guide things, manage his universe, in such a way that makes possible a world where love exists and pain does not. This is a problem because, again, the sovereignty of God is being compromised. One might say that this doesn’t sacrifice God’s sovereignty because this sort of issue is akin to saying God is restricted to only creating squares with four right angles and not three or six or two hundred right angles. Of course God is restricted in some sense! However, I hold that this is not the same thing because clearly, in scripture, a possible world is conceived of where free-will creatures exist in harmonious and loving communion with God without the existence of pain. Think of the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21. Or Heaven as conceived of in… Therefore, God must have the ability and freedom to create such worlds. So, the Free Will defense, while helpful, on its own cannot give us the satisfactory response desired to biblically reconcile God and the existence of suffering. And certainly not the existence of natural, unavoidable suffering like cancer, natural disasters and so on.

How, then, do we proceed? I find the best first step is always with the Biblical definition of who God is and the relationship between God and Man. Eventually, we can discuss the matter of whether it is possible for God to actually will that suffering exist while maintaining his essential traits, assuming that he does actually permit suffering to exist.

God is creator and we are created. God is the owner of this universe and it is his to do with as he pleases. He is the potter. We are the clay. This theme is prevalent throughout the story of Isaiah. It’s the story of Israel, under God’s judgment, facing destruction and exile from outside forces. And Isaiah warns the Israelite people in absolutely chilling fervor. In several places throughout the deeply prophetic book, God seems to anticipate objections from the people of Israel, and maybe even Isaiah himself. ‘Why would you do this to us, God?’ Or there are times where there are questions related to our specific purpose in life, the meaning and intention of God’s destruction, and generally why God makes his specific decisions. Through his messenger, Isaiah, God gives answers.

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance? Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord, or what man shows him his counsel? Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?

All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness. To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him? An idol! A craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and casts for it silver chains.

To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One.

Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God”? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. — Isaiah 40:12-28

I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things. “You heavens above, rain down my righteousness; let the clouds shower it down. Let the earth open wide, let salvation spring up, let righteousness flourish with it; I, the Lord, have created it. “Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say,
‘The potter has no hands’? — Isaiah 45:7-9

Listen to me, Jacob, Israel, whom I have called: I am he; I am the first and I am the last. My own hand laid the foundations of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens; when I summon them, they all stand up together. — Isaiah 48:12-13

And these responses seem, in a way, like iterations of Job 38 and 40.

Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone— while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? — Job 38:4-7

The LORD said to Job: “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!” Then Job answered the LORD: “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer— twice, but I will say no more.” Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm: “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself? Do you have an arm like God’s, and can your voice thunder like his? Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor, and clothe yourself in honor and majesty. — Job 40:1-10

Here’s what I think we can safely extract from God’s answer to Isaiah and to Job. Firstly, God does in fact allow the existence of suffering and even guides it. “I form light and I create darkness. I bring prosperity and I create destruction.”  Secondly, God by definition is good in and of himself and is accountable to no law outside himself. (The Moral Law flows directly from his own being.) Meaning, it is absurd to suggest that God can be wrong in any of his judgments. All that he does is necessarily good because he is, in his essence, the definition of good. Thirdly, God is in a place so much higher than ours. His view of our world transcends time and space. He sees history through a lens that we truly cannot even conceive of because we are so bound, finite and fallen. Fourthly, God has the freedom and the authority to do with his creation as he sees fit. He has the freedom and the authority. All things are under his dominion, his power, his will. His is the right to manage His universe as He pleases. Finally, the amalgamation of the last three points is the conclusion that it is absurd to question, blame or accuse God of his permission, allowance or ordaining of suffering.

So, God allows suffering and it is his right to do so (maintaining his essential traits). Now, as for the specific reasoning why God does allow suffering, there is no immediate answer for the specific situation. Why did God allow my mother to have cancer and to die from it? I don’t know. The answer for that has not been given to me.

But here is what I do know:

  • God is free, supreme and categorically able to do this without himself being evil.
  • God is sovereign over the suffering I experience (in his giving and taking away (Job 1:21)).
  • Suffering, in some sense, is evidence of the fallen status of this world and of my own brokenness.

Therefore, I press on, knowing that beyond my pain there is a greater story unfolding.

Pain That is Deep, Tenacious and Insoluble

God doesn’t just allow suffering like paper cuts or mild headaches. He gives us unbearable suffering. Pain that we can’t cure or remedy, at least not without paying a huge cost. Pain that perseveres. Pain that robs us of any and all happiness and vitality. Pain that leaves us in bed. Pain that leaves us feeling like wasted space. He — God — doesn’t always give us what we can handle, contra the rather over-optimistic slogan. In fact, we know that it is the will of God that we suffer because we do suffer. Otherwise, his sovereign will would be frequently breached. The idea that God wouldn’t in some sense want us to suffer so-called unnecessary pain is biblically untenable since it is he, in scripture, that permits suffering, guides us through it, and shapes us by it. We know this now. But, at the same time, it is a truth that is exponentially difficult to accept. How could He?

We don’t just see suffering in sacred scripture, though. We see unbearable suffering. We see martyrdom, disease, imprisonment, stigmatization, grief, bankruptcy, catastrophe, natural disasters, rape, impoverishment, meaninglessness, despair, depression, anxiety, fear, torture and all kinds of psychological warfare. Some of these you may not consider “unbearable” or without hope for improvement. I’m guessing, though, that you would consider at least a couple of these as intolerable or irreversible or irremediable. Or unbearable. For some, it might be physical suffering that’s the worst. For others, it may be psychological illness. Some of these things you may have experienced in the past or even now struggle with. The Bible is fairly three-dimensional in its discussing human pain, as an idea, but mostly as a real experience that shapes people. Pain changes individuals — their character, their attitude, their behavior, their understanding of who God is and, perhaps most of all, what he’s like. This is not something easily communicable with words on paper. Yet, despite the earth-shattering and perspective-changing nature of pain, it is the scripturally-revealed desire of God that through pain he draw his beloved to himself, into a more intimate connection with him.

How could He?

There are a number of encounters, in the Bible, between God and the suffering that are telling to me. Job, for example, has already been mentioned. He faced disease, bankruptcy and loss. What we learn from his story is that suffering, not always judgment, does not always need to be understood and that God needn’t justify himself to us. He is not in our debt. Job eventually learns to simply trust God because he is sovereign. Elsewhere in scripture, there are those who are brutally tortured and killed, like Stephen in Acts 7, or persecuted and publicly scorned, like Jeremiah, who was consistently ostracized and once tossed into a well to die (for real). Relief was not (immediately) given to them. Yet, they endured faithfully to the very end.

Lazarus’s is probably the more famous account of terminal illness in scripture, in John 11. He was deathly ill with little to no hope of recovery. Eventually he died. Jesus knew about the illness three days earlier from Lazarus’s sisters, Mary and Martha, but didn’t immediately go to see him. When Jesus finally came to their village, people claimed that Jesus could’ve saved him, that if he had only been there, Lazarus may have lived. Christ made the interesting statement to Mary, after she told him about Lazarus’ sickness, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”. It’s as if Christ was trying to shift Mary’s perspective, which was focused on the earthly reality of death, to an understanding that what God permits he permits for God’s glory. There’s an eternal, glory-centered mindset by which we can view illness, even the worst of pain, as not defining or final but merely as a moment and a prelude to something more. A glory-centric perspective. To me, this is an assuring passage because it verifies that sickness is another means by which God intends to draw praise. Our earthly, two-dimensional perspective sees sickness only as a curse. God’s higher knowledge sees sickness, in some sense, as a gift for those that love God. When Jesus saw the tomb, he wept. The Jews saw this as a sign of mourning, that he loved Lazarus. Some remained in their skepticism. Jesus would soon finally raise Lazarus from the dead (surely knowing the controversy that would ensue).

What I gather from this is that the sickness of Lazarus, and his death, were incorporated into Christ’s plan to gradually reveal his salvific role in history. For example, Martha says to Jesus, “If you had been here, my brother Lazarus would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” This reveals a deep division within her heart. On one hand, she is understandably confused and in honest doubt over Jesus’ decision not to have arrived sooner. But she is humble and she knows before whom she stands. Jesus responds, “Your brother will rise again… I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” So, Christ is here to establish both his providential role as well as foreshadow his ultimately atoning sacrifice. Glory through and by suffering. Jesus didn’t end Lazarus’s suffering. He didn’t prematurely euthanize him just as much as he didn’t save his life. Rather, the suffering and the death of Lazarus were both a part of a greater picture Jesus — God — was trying to paint.

This reminds me, also, of the sequence between Jesus and the blind man of John 9. Do you remember? The disciples assumed, like Job’s friends, that the poor guy’s blindness was because of his, or his family’s, sin. But Jesus knew that it was all for the purpose of God’s ultimate glorification. “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3). Again, God’s appointing of inconvenient or painful circumstances seem to me to be ultimately purposed for the ultimate glorification and honor of God Almighty who guides all things. 

Where else has Jesus encountered illness? In Matthew 8, Christ meets both a leper and a Roman centurion whose servant was incredibly sick. The leper says to Jesus, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” The roman centurion, later, approaches by describing his servant’s paralysis and perpetual agony. The centurion, however, bends himself to Christ’s authority, even though Jesus already says that he will go to heal the servant, saying “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant,‘Do this,’ and he does it.” The Healer, Christ Jesus, ruler and sovereign over his universe, says that by the faith of the centurion, the servant is healed. 

No, just because “He Can”, it doesn’t mean “He Will”. That God can freely heal, or not heal, by the power of his will, to me, shows that he is sovereign over suffering and what may transpire. And the very worst of sufferings — torture, scorn, grief, depression, irremediable illness — are not outside God’s scope. However, what remains gloriously true for suffering remains true for even unbearable suffering. 

Let us think longer and with greater care about the immense suffering of Jesus himself and what this means for the person contemplating suicide for the very reason of pain’s immensity. Jesus voluntarily became the “man of sorrows” of Isaiah 53. God was tortured, publicly mocked, and crucified in order to save the lost. Leather lashed against his back. Flesh ripped from the bone. Nails thrust into his wrists and feet. His body hanging for hours, struggling to keep his breath, Jesus died slowly as his blood drained from him. That God willingly stepped into this real, physical, fleshly, inhumane and multifaceted suffering demonstrates the amazing chasm between God and Man on what pain signifies. Christ entered life in order to suffer while so, so many willingly depart life because of it. For us, suffering is always the end of happiness, but also, so often, the end of joy. The end of purpose. The end of our value. However, Christ supremely suffered so that we may have joy and realized purpose, on earth, in heaven, everlasting, in all things. I think the most amazing thing signified by the crucifixion is that the reason suffering might exist in the first place is so that God could make for a tangible sign of forgiveness and love in the very form of suffering and death. The God of the Bible we so often hate for inflicting pain on us just so happens to be the only God in the vast religious ocean of warriors and kings who willingly suffered for us.

Perhaps, this is why the Christian may have joy even in the worst of the worst, when relief is nonexistent. I think that by suffering, and suffering immensely, not only can we enter into the mind of Job who lost everything, I think we can also enter into the shoes of Lazarus and the centurion and the blind man. We can know, more intimately, the immeasurable value of Christ’s own suffering excrucio for us and the soul-saving forgiveness that it accomplished. I think, by suffering, we can actually be brought closer to God than by any other prosperous circumstance, realizing our only true hope for life is in him. Your life is not at an end when you suffer. Your life is not deprived of meaning and joy when you suffer. Whenever we endure long, dark seasons, let us embrace a glory-centric perspective and remember that pain needn’t define our existence. 

Meaning, Self-Determinism, Human Value, and Suffering Well

Now we know the Vertical, top-down view of suffering. Meaning, we know what God ordains and, to some extent, how scripture itself responds to the apparent experiential and evidential problems of suffering. What is, then, a biblically-mandated Horizontal view? Meaning, what is a warranted, biblical response to extreme suffering, from our perspective, given that euthanasia and PAS are somewhat grey moral areas not clearly mentioned in scripture? Considering that euthanasia, from its original language, literally means ‘good death’, maybe the deeper practical question to ask, here, is How do we suffer and die well? I think the Bible gives its take pretty explicitly.

What the world tells us that it is okay and necessary for us to decide for ourselves our purpose, our meaning and our moral values. Secular society has indeed found it right to dissolve any notion of transcendent meaning or moral law, leaving us with a vacuous “you do you” type of moral statute. So when it comes to the issue of assisted suicide, it is so often framed as a personal choice (which it is) and you can decide for yourself what is right and appropriate in the moment based on your own private set of criteria. For example, Canadian assisted dying Bill C-14 outlines only a vague qualification requisite for Medical Assistance In Dying (MAID) services which is that the pain from illness be irremediable and intolerable, according to doctor and patient estimation. And in some places in the world where assisted suicide is a legal right, the kind and degree of pain required can be very broad along the spectrum, which is highly subjective and nearly impossible to metrically quantify. Very few clear, objective lines are drawn which suggests, to me, the level of subjectivity with which the moral decision is treated.

Anything to defeat “meaningless” suffering.

In fact, there are those who now are vying for elective suicide. In other words, some thinkers are suggesting that in some cases, suicide, if rational and elective, is morally good. Therefore, a distinction is to be made between suicide that ought to be prevented (psychologically ill) and suicide that is morally good and ought to be normalized. The primary argument here is that the life is one’s own life, to do with as they please, and that if the mind is in good health, the decision is not forced, therefore it is a free, rightful decision based on the person’s own desire. Therefore, there is nothing tragic or wrong about it. Unfortunate, in some sense, but not a tragedy like all other instances of suicide.

The issue, here, is that the Bible seems to stand firmly opposed to an “I decide for myself” mentality as well as the idea that life is our own. The Bible contradicts any ideology centered around Man’s ability to choose their own meaning or value system, their own rights and goods, and even their own ends. It also destroys the concept of meaningless suffering. All human meaning is firmly anchored in the sovereign will of God, his creative power, and his good purposes for creation. Therefore, we should carefully pre-examine the anthropocentric philosophy of absolute self-determinism against the meaningful framework provided by scripture.

Whenever the people of Israel went and did their own thing, neglecting the Lord’s council, dictating for themselves what was right and wrong, they invariably stumbled into sin. This is seen over and over in Genesis, Exodus, Judges, and throughout the canon of scripture. Men and women prop up their merits, ideas and ambitions like the gold calf in Exodus 32 and God’s wrath burns against them. The idolater is adequately described in Romans 1 as one that exchanges “the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” I’m not, here, suggesting that we do not have the freedom or the right to make decisions or moral judgments. Surely, we must. My contention is that the moral judgments we make, even in the grey areas, must still be rooted in God and his word and not just in our own thoughts. In all areas of ethics, we must yield to the authority of our Maker (Isaiah 29:16). If we proclaim without qualification that we can judge for ourselves what is good, then perhaps we have made for ourselves an idol out of autonomy and choice.

It was Christ that taught us to deny ourselves, carry our cross and follow him (Matthew 16:24). This is no easy demand. In fact, this is the demand of the Christian life. By following Jesus, we are admitting his total kingship and authority over us, and therefore all decisions we make cannot be rooted our wants but in his will. This is what we must do everyday. It means that we must deny the pursuit of the superficial and the pleasant and what may produce happiness in favor of God’s pleasure, honor and glory. There are certain priorities allotted for the Christian and our own gratification falls very, very low. We were made to offer up our lives as service to God, as a living act of worship in all circumstances (Romans 12:1).

But, surely, God does not annihilate our desire or our will? Does this mean that the sufferer must suffer with no end and no recourse?

No, he doesn’t. And we are, as Christians, most definitely not without help. But to take one’s own life as a final counter-measure to incessant pain is never an answer afforded by God in scripture. Rather, we are called to endure, with hope and trust, and thereby suffer well. Let me explain.

The reasons it is morally wrong to commit suicide, or pursue the means of our own death, happen to be the same reasons it is evil to kill other people, biblically. We are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). We were made for a purpose by God. Human life is the property of God. All of these things apply to ourselves even when it is our self we desire to kill. Our desires must be conformed to the will of the Father and our choices belong to him.

I think there is an attitudinal issue that sometimes plagues people. Many sufferers, I think, struggle with the lie of inferiority, being a burden, a waste of space, a useless money-drain for loved ones. The government would have us believe that it would be more efficient and profitable to let the terminally ill or the endlessly suffering to die. Sufferers are just waste. The Bible most ardently fights against this. Though you suffer physically or psychologically, your basic value before the Father never, ever goes down. You, as a Christian, are his child. His adopted son or daughter. You are worth more than dollars and cents. To God, you, sufferer, were worth his suffering. And you have a purpose that no one can take from you. From a horizontal perspective, it is always better that you live than not live. Endure.

Nietzsche said, “To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.” He was only partly correct. Yes, to continue living, pain is inevitably going to come. Paul instructed us that through many trials and pains we must enter into the kingdom of God. So, there is most definitely a part of Christian suffering that must accept its inevitability in this life. It is just a fact of living in a fallen, fractured, broken world. But we know, as believers, that suffering is not the end of it. Psalm 126:5-6 says, “Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” There is an expectation, in scripture, that all the suffering will eventually come to an end, and our hope for the future is anchored in the promise of Romans 8:28, that “all things will work together for the good of those who live God”.

And so we can rejoice and be glad, content and hopeful in all things (Philippians 4:13) if we but reconfigure our minds to meditate on the things of eternity. Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians:

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. — 2 Corinthians 4:8-18

Paul affirms the indestructibility of Christian hope as it rests solely on the historical accomplishments of Christ on Calvary which hints at the reality of the glorious, sorrow-less life to come. We have hope.

Our view of the future glory and knowledge of our present purpose informs us how we are to live each and every day in all circumstances. We can trust God, in his sovereign grace, that he will carry us to the end, that the Holy Spirit will indwell us, empower us and give us the strength for endurance.

Even great men, like Paul and Elijah, struggled with the prospect of death, for one reason or another. Elijah contemplated suicide. He did. On the run after having his life threatened, he fell into a depressed state and literally asked God to put him out of his misery (1 Kings 19:4). How did God respond? God sent him food and water. It was a kind gesture, not a rebuke or sign of judgment, and a gentle encouragement to continue the journey. (He didn’t honor his “right to die with dignity” or his “right to choose”.) Paul, many centuries later, in his letter to the Philippians writes that “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). So, he thought, which is better? To live or to die? Obviously to die is “far better”. However, he qualifies that “to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your [the Philippian church] account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.” (Philippians 1:24-26). He chose to live because he recognized the purpose for which he lived which was to spread the gospel of grace, edify the Church, and honor God with the life that was given him. 

Finally, I have a few more words to share on how one might better glorify God in their life and death. With whatever time you have left, and whatever strength remains in you, take joy in the gospel and the expansion of God’s kingdom. Take seriously the command to be filled with hope. Keep your eyes open for how God is shaping you and those around you, and glorify God for his unchanging nature which is infinitely good, loving and ever worthy of our praise. Meditate, moreover, on the words of scripture concerning the grace of God. Find rest in them, in the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and take ease in the support-system of the Church.

Therefore, yes, God ordains and ministers through all forms of suffering, including the kind that we cannot bear or tolerate. No, the bible does not concede the we have the right to die how we wish or when. Our life is to be given back to God in its totality–faithfully and joyfully.

God has not abandoned you. Don’t give up.

Photo: Ecce Homo, Or Suffering Christ, by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, 1660-1670


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