By now most of you are familiar with the name Brittany Maynard. If you are not familiar with her, Brittany is the 29-year-old young lady diagnosed with terminal brain cancer who has decided to ingest lethal medication to end her life before she begins to suffer the pain and consequences of her brain tumor. I rarely, if ever, add my voice to the cacophony of noise that accompanies national news stories that involve a specific person’s life (a person whom I do not know) and that are also so politically and ethically charged.
So why in the world would I jump into the middle of this debate and offer any perspective at all? That’s a great question.
I suppose it is because there are two very strong, very loud opinions on the matter that seem to get the most airplay- the voices that champion and celebrate her decision to take her life- and- the voices that condemn and judge her decision to take her life. But that’s the way it is with every issue these days. One might easily think that there are no other voices other than the extremes on any issue. We have seemingly become a hyper-polarized society with very few alternative voices, offering a third-way, that are heard. It is for this reason that I offer my voice, because many could easily assume that the loud voice of judgment and condemnation comes unanimously from Christianity. That, in fact, is not true.
I have found that the way of Jesus is never expressed in judgment and condemnation, but rather in love manifesting as mercy and compassion, and it is that way which stands in stark contrast to judgment and condemnation. As a follower of Jesus, I neither judge or condemn nor celebrate a person’s choice to commit suicide. I grieve with it. I mourn over it. And then I choose to revolt against it by demonstrating, through my words and life, just how beautiful and exquisite and sacred life is and how every single second of it is worth living, good or bad.
We Christians have taken the wrong approach by policing and judging behavior in order to keep it from happening. Somehow we have come to the conclusion that we are the bearers and arbiters of all that is righteous and holy in the world and, as a result, should regulate and legislate people’s decisions and behavior, as if curbing behavior through our over-handed authority will change their hearts. The error made is when we, as Christians, believe that if we tell people how wrong and bad they are then they will come to their senses and change.
The truth is that when a person or people are continually told how bad and wrong they are, they grow angry and resentful toward those they view as self-righteous and holier-than-thou. And this unfortunately leads to hatred and animosity toward anything to do with Christianity. The unfortunate and tragic consequence is that the graceful, merciful, loving way of Jesus is obscured by the ugliness of religion.
I would humbly suggest that our own minds ought to change. Rather than thinking we are the keepers and bearers of all that is righteous and holy, we ought to view ourselves as guests who have had the awesome privilege of being gracefully invited to the table to taste and see how good the Lord is. And because of our life-changing, life-giving experience, we should be those who are always inviting others to the table to taste and see for themselves.
I am going to be brutally honest here and hopefully it will cause us to do some serious self-examination. If I was in the position of Brittany Maynard and I read all of the judgment and condemnation that was coming my way from Christians, I would say, “Ok, what do you even have that is worth me living one more day with a brain tumor? What is so compelling about your faith and this life given to me by God (this life you say I should not take) that it is worth all the suffering? Because if what you are offering looks anything like the judgment and condemnation you are throwing my way, then no thanks. And if the only reason you have for me to live is because ‘God is sovereign and it isn’t my life to take,’ then you can take your unsympathetic, uncaring bull crap and shove it.”
Listen, if we don’t want a culture that hails and celebrates death then we must offer a better, life-giving alternative. Not more legislation. Not belittling commentaries. Not self- righteous platitudes. Not unembodied theologies. We must embody and offer life to the fullest promised by Jesus… but I am not even sure many Christians have discovered that themselves yet. Something has to change… and it begins with us. We can’t be the kind of insensitive, unloving, uncaring people who walk around waiting until a person has done something wrong and then judges and crucifies them or turns them into the face of a culture war. We are supposed to be the embodiment of a new humanity that looks like Jesus in everything we do- and it doesn’t look like judging or condemning… but inviting. We are to be the kind of people who capture the imagination of generations by showing them the beauty and possibilities of our faith and how it is the way to experience “life to the fullest.” Because wasn’t it “life to the fullest” that Jesus said he came to give people anyway?
So if we want people to live and experience life to the fullest and to die naturally and peacefully with hope, to experience the peaks and valleys of life because they all matter in the end, let us be the example of people who will speak words of blessing and love until we can speak no more. Let us continually embrace others until our arms are too weak. Let us share our hearts and encouragement as long as our spirit endures. Let us stand beside others as long as our legs have the strength to stand. Let us look upon the enduring beauty of others until our eyes grow too weak to see. Let us give everything we have in our hearts with sacrificial, cross-like love until they beat no more. For this is the only life we have… and we will be the people who live it to the fullest until the day we die, always inviting everyone to join us. I would invite everyone who reads this post to pray over Brittany. Yes, for the miraculous… but even more… for the loving peace of God to wash over her, her husband, and her family. Even though we don’t know them personally, we shower them with our love.
Grace and Peace,