The news recently of a 29yo woman seeking the right to have her suicide assisted by others has brought out a few odd opinions, to say the least, especially from those who purport to be Christians.
The simplistic argument (and it is simplistic), is that it is compassionate to allow the voluntary death of someone if there is no longer pleasure in their life, but only pain and suffering. Is it not our purpose as Christians to alleviate suffering?
Well… sort of. Christianity is about life. We, as ministers of Christ, are here to offer life, and life in abundance. If it is a battle between suffering and life, then we are on the side of life. However, this is not what Brittany Maynard, and others like her, face. The battle is between suffering and death. The argument is being made that death is better than suffering. But Christians who advocate this betray a deeply flawed theological view of their faith.
At the very least, the Christian must reject gnosticism – that ancient heresy that despises the body and sees the body as a prison of the soul. Unfortunately, this is a prominent view among Protestants and Evangelicals. They see the body as responsible for sin and pain and death, and to die is to finally escape the body and be a “free spirit”, so to speak. To escape is to be be at peace. But this is not Christianity. It is a damnable lie. Souls and bodies are supposed to be together – that is how God created us. To separate them, through death, is not God’s will, and a soul separated from the body that does not commune with Christ is by definition unfulfilled and in torment, a captive to its own passions, pride and selfishness, all of which can only be satiated by the body. So on this basis alone, to take one’s own life and destroy the image of God in oneself is, without the intercession of the Church, an act that eternally condemns the soul to despair. It’s better to stay alive and suffer in the body than go through that!
But this is not just about fear of what lies beyond. Nor is it even about the “redemptive power of suffering”, an offensive concept to many people, although I believe it to be true. (If you want to read a good explanation of redemptive suffering, Andrew Damick does it very well here). It is about life and hope and faith and the conquest of death and Hades that God achieved in Christ through His own suffering. It is about the image of God in us that He created in us. It is because we have this hope that we seek to persevere, as so many people in the Bible persevered through trials and suffering, and we seek to affirm and cultivate that image of the loving, suffering God in us, instead of destroying it to remove some temporal physical pain we experience.
This hope is not some scholastic, intellectual, theoretical hope. It is an ontological hope that naturally exists within us, that struggles for life even as we seek to suppress and destroy that hope. In suffering, rather than giving in, we affirm that our life has meaning, that it has purpose, that it is valuable. We struggle for it because it is worth something. And that is where the contradiction in euthanasia lies. Suicide is the obliteration of the meaning of one’s life – the floccinaucinihilipilification of it. And yet euthanasia is sold as “death with dignity”! Well what a nonsense. Dignity implies some meaning to one’s life and death. Either your life has meaning, and you seek life, through whatever miserable crawling struggle that entails, or it has none, and you kill yourself. There is no Mr Inbetween. To seek dignity of any sort is to be on the side of life, not death. It implicitly recognises the Source of dignity – God’s image in us.
To struggle for no end is truly pitiable. But we do have an end – a great hope! our union with Christ, which we strive towards when we undergo suffering, and we run from when we subject ourselves to indignities of any kind, whether licentiousness in food, drugs, sex, money, power, or in its purest form, actively killing ourselves. This is Christianity: To struggle with Christ, to suffer with Him, to restore His image in us, to seek His dignity, and to die with dignity, despite the indignities forced on us, and especially the indignities forced on Christ. That’s where we find meaning and dignity in life. Not in destroying our body to eliminate physical pain.
I hope and pray that Ms Maynard, and all like her who suffer in pain, find their value and dignity not in death but in life, and in the Giver of Life.