Recently, I had occasion to sit with a couple of other pastors and chat about a very sobering subject – doctor-assisted suicide.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that I’m not in favour of suicide, and I have both personal and family experience on the subject. Many years ago, I was at a very low place, and I was standing on a footbridge over a train yard. I was waiting for a train to come along so I could end the pain. My first love had unceremoniously dumped me, and I had nothing left to live for, or so I thought. For about 30 seconds, I stood still, waiting for a train. Then I came to my senses, and I grew up a little. (I still had and have a long way to go.) I became a Christian not long after that.
Fast forward about 3 decades, to a successful (?) financial planner at his office at about 9:30 a.m. When my youngest daughter called me at work to tell me my oldest daughter has drunk a bunch of house cleaner, I’m told I ran screaming incoherently out of my office. It was a 12-minute drive, and the longest 12 minutes of my life. She’s now officially made 9 attempts, all our sharp objects and medications in the house are locked up. That’s what bullying does, incidentally, but that isn’t my point. All I am saying is I’ve been there, and I know what I’m talking about.
So when I shared a situation that potentially could involve doctor-assisted suicide, I was absolutely shocked by the next words I heard: that to tell the truth was not compassionate, that I had been too harsh, I had no pity for the terminally ill, and that I had no business trying to counsel the individual against what they wanted for their family member.
I was angry, though I managed I think to keep my emotions off of my face. I held my peace, and I finished the meeting. I stewed for a couple of days, not really clear as to why I was out of sorts. Then, as part of my regular devotional reading, the Lord brought me in my regularly scheduled reading to Isaiah 30:9, 10 – and showed me in the text that the individual that actually made the statement to me was clearly wrong, and not listening to the Lord’s instruction. What do you mean I can’t tell them the truth? Well, I’m very glad that I gave the counsel I gave. For the record, here is what I said to my clearly upset friend when they told me of their fears for their loved one.
They had dropped the bomb that their loved one possibly had bone cancer. After a few seconds of silence, they told me they wanted to counsel their loved one to receive doctor-assisted suicide so they could “die with dignity.”
I did something I personally have difficulty doing. I listened to what my friend was saying. Then, in love, and with my wife present, I shared the story of my mother-in-law and how she died of small-cell lung cancer. As a Christian, she would not even think of doctor-assisted suicide as a way out. I explained that “dying with dignity” by ending one’s own life was a myth. Jesus died of the most painful form of execution ever devised. He died with dignity and grace. Then I asked the operative question: was their loved one a Christian?
The answer was a big no.
How then, I asked, was suicide ending the pain of the individual? I explained quietly and patiently that all you are doing is extending their pain to eternity, to which they agreed, and began to see with a new perspective.
It took a few minutes of gentle questioning, but I did finally get to what I saw as the root of the real issue – unresolved emotional issues with the loved one. I suggested that my friend begin to model Christian behaviours and responses to their loved one, and to try to share the Gospel with them instead. My friend, a relatively new believer, began to see my point through the help of the Holy Spirit.
And somehow, sharing the truth as it is in Jesus is an uncompassionate act? It sounds like a false son to me, trying to rattle the cage and see if they could get me to conform to their more liberal theology I suppose. I have four little words to say in response: Never. Going. To. Happen.
If you can’t share the truth with God’s people, how can you call yourself a pastor?