THE TAKING OF LIFE
I’ve been thinking about who chooses to take a life. Over recent months we have been watching the excruciatingly awkward conflict developing between the erstwhile dearly loved angels of Great Ormond Street Hospital and the gaunt and strained parents of a baby at death’s door.
That imbroglio stands in juxtaposition to the similarly harrowing periodic stand-offs between the establishment and severely ill people wishing to take their own lives or gain the assistance of another to do so.
The force of professional opinion, and indeed the law, leads to death in one case and refuses it in the other. Who then has the right to decide about the taking of life? The parents, the medics, the judges, the sick person themselves?
I was forced to face up to this existential quandary last week as I sat with a grieving family trying to prepare for the funeral of their 29 year-old son who had taken his own life the previous week. During the service the brutal and abrupt nature of their loss (our loss) meant that the echoes of his voice still reverberated around the crematorium chapel. A large and beautiful portrait framed with flowers rested on the bright blue coffin and presented us with visual reminders too. Absent but present.
For the Christian, belief in the sanctity of life means that when we face up to the “taking-of-life” issues (abortion, euthanasia, suicide, the withdrawal of medical support) we find ourselves walking on eggshells. And that is no bad thing. These are precious and weighty matters which call for a deferential posture not a dogmatic declaration.
Let us leave the bad news to the journalists who have to do this for a living. Christians are tasked with bringing good news! How do we do this in the face of the taking of life?
“The idea that a person chooses to die creates in us a profound sense of unease. Suicide challenges some of our most deeply held beliefs. It defies the cherished notion that all human life is sacred; it challenges the value of life itself, and places a question mark over the taboos against the taking of life. The suicide of another person forces us to question the value and meaning not only life in general but our own individual lives.” (Alison Wertheimer, A Special Scar. Routledge p3)
Wise words, except that there is not just a taboo against the taking of life but a proscription. “You shall not murder” it says on the tablets of stone. Every human life is precious and valued and it is not given to us to take it away. St Paul uses their own poetry to tell the Greek philosophers that “In God we live and move and have our being”. (Acts 17:28) Christian’s believe that every one of us is made in God’s image (in other words with the potential for love, beauty, oneness with him and likeness too – a profound concept) and that our being, start to finish, is in his hands. Good news indeed.
As I looked out at the mourners, emotions surfaced of guilt (could I have done more?) and anxiety (where is he now?) and questioning (why?). The world is a broken place and we are all broken people, hobbling along with crippled souls. Our brokenness bursts out sometimes this way and sometimes that. And we have so many questions, but, as Rick Warren (who lost his adult son to suicide) reminds us, there aren’t any answers that will help.
Yet mercifully there is good news. And it is that God so loved the world that he made a way for what is broken to be mended, for our souls to be redeemed. His passion and love for the dying baby, the lost son, the severely ill and the grieving left behind is of a breadth and depth that swallows up any failure or fault in us. What is broken here will be fully restored there.
And so we dwell on ourselves only long enough to seek forgiveness for guilt and hope for our anxiety and then, gratefully, with a deep sigh of relief, we turn to the lover of our souls and contemplate his great mercy, his welcome, his promise of grace and his future full of hope.
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:29-30)
25 July 2017