Shuck and Jive

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

In Life and In Death...

I saw this in today's Johnson City Press:

Survey: Many in U.S. feel God can best revive dying: More than half trust divine intervention over doctors’ diagnoses, poll shows.

When it comes to saving lives, God trumps doctors for many Americans. An eye-opening survey reveals widespread belief that divine intervention can revive dying patients. And, researchers said, doctors “need to be prepared to deal with families who are waiting for a miracle.”

More than half of randomly surveyed adults — 57 percent — said God’s intervention could save a family member even if physicians declared treatment would be futile. And nearly three-quarters said patients have a right to demand such treatment. (Read More)
I am not surprised by this, but I am disturbed by it. Theological questions regarding divine intervention aside, this is a pastoral issue. Are we (ministers) doing an adequate job of enabling people to face the realities of life and death? It seems to me heartless and cruel that we should tell people to hold out for miracles from God. What happens when the miracle doesn't arrive? If it is really up to divine intervention, why would we request life-support at all?

In times of fear and threat of loss, we hold on to whatever we can. I understand that. I understand the anguish of the one who is called on to make a decision to end or not to start life-support. Feelings of guilt and uncertainty are overwhelming at these moments. We want more than anything to keep our loved one with us. When facing this difficult decision, we need all the support we can get from loving friends, family, physicians, hospital staff, and our ministers.

It would seem more humane and more divine for ministers not to talk about miracles at these times, but rather how God is present in life and in death and how God can help us face death (our own and our loved ones') with dignity and with grace. That is the miracle.
We need to prepare people from our pulpits and in our teaching not with false promises, but with courage to face these moments as part of the package of living.

Death is not an enemy, nor a punishment, nor the result of our sin. It is how the Universe works.
"In life and in death, we are the Lord's."


  1. Last summer we had an event at our church where we invited a Hospice Director, a CPA, and a Chaplain to talk about end of life issues and how to be prepared spiritually, emotionally and financially. It was pretty well attended. At the end everyone received advance directive forms to fill out if they were ready. This will become an event that we will do probably every other year.


  2. Thanks for that, Jim. Dealing with these things in advance is an important thing.

  3. I don't think we have a good theology of death, despite our confidence in the resurrection. I've just finished Thich Nhat Hahn's Miracle of Mindfulness. He suggests meditating on a corpse, your own if possible, as a way of beginning to acknowledge your own death. My mother was terrified of dying. I was with her and could not believe the fight her frail body, even in a coma, put up against death for five days. I don't know what we do, but we need to be more accepting of death as a part of life. I'll be talking in a few days with a parishioner about her own death.

  4. Well put, Joan! Joan Calvin! Love it, and your blog!

    Meditate on a corpse. Yes. Imagine your own death. Thanks!

  5. Monday I went to a funeral of John W. Robbins a Protestant author, who died of cancer. I also talked to a Catholic friend about it who has terminal cancer. Both have assurance that they will have everlasting life.

    Ro 5:12,20-21 "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin... where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."

  6. Stephanie was home from college. Her parents, Steve and Ginny were happy and content. They had friends and family visiting. But that night, Stephanie had a headache. As her mom held her and prayed, their daughter died of a sudden cerebral hemorrage.

    Comfort came from a man who had murdered Steve's father. He became excited because he knew that Stephanie had eternal life. His name is Mincaye and had killed Steve's father, Nate Saint, when Nate came to their land to preach the Gospel of Christ when Steve was a boy. Mincaye later converted to Christianity, as did many in his tribe.

    The story of how Steve and Mincaye became friends was made into a movie: The End of the Spear.

  7. This is a song that was sung in our Church:

    Natalie Grant - Held

    Two months is too little.
    They let him go.
    They had no sudden healing.
    To think that providence would
    Take a child from his mother while she prays
    Is appalling.

    Who told us we'd be rescued?
    What has changed and why should we be saved from nightmares?
    We're asking why this happens
    To us who have died to live?
    It's unfair.

    This is what it means to be held.
    How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life
    And you survive.
    This is what it is to be loved.
    And to know that the promise was
    When everything fell we'd be held.

  8. Craig Barnes has written about how physical miracles, if they happen (and I think they do) are only temporary. After all, Lazarus died again and did not come back; the 5,000 became hungry again and were not fed again (in the same way at least).

    Putting one's faith and expectation in miracles takes ones faith and devotion away from the God who points us to Himself. Ironically, relying upon miracles is a form of idolatry, because you focus on what God has made rather than on God Himself.