Recent events in the news set me thinking about this topic of dying and living well. Firstly, there was this article about an Australian scientist, David Goodall who after having lived for 104 years wanted to have the option of ending his life. Even though Dr Goodall was not suffering from poor health, he shared that his “life has been rather poor for the last year or so, and I’m very happy to end it.”
Since assisted suicide is illegal in most part of Australia, Dr Goodall chose to travel to Basel, Switzerland in order to obtain such “medical services”. In his case, he had to pay the physicians so that he gets to turn the lever that will let lethal drugs flow into his bloodstream and thereby ending his life.
Although I will not be delving too much into the ethics of the above form of euthanasia in this Perspective, it is suffice to say that there is a vast change in morality that is taking place. We see there is a growing number of people who strongly believe in giving the individual the autonomy to create their own criteria about what kind of death would be acceptable or unacceptable as well as the right to even time their own death.
As Christians, what would be of even greater concern is when the argument shifts from the right of the elderly to die to the duty of the elderly to die. Indeed, when people fail to understand that our lives are not our own and reject the idea that human life and dignity is to be grounded on the objective truth and Christian worldview about God, one will inevitably find the culture of death lurking closely behind.
From Scripture, we are reminded that Jesus “died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:15). Whether we are in our teens, going through middle-age or entering the twilight years, we need to know that God has revealed to us what is the purpose and focus of our lives.
Indeed, if Scripture teaches that humans are lovingly created by God rather than just a product of random evolution, it makes sense that it is our Creator who gets to determine what our purpose is rather than left to the individual to define it on his own terms.
To be sure, this is not to say that those who do not believe in God cannot have a meaningful or purposeful life. However, when our life’s purpose is something that we have to create for ourselves instead of receiving it from God, it does mean that our purpose is subjective and dependent upon individual feelings and ideals. This would imply that if for example, someone decides that his purpose in life is to collect seashells from around the world, he should not be faulted for channelling his energies into such pursuit.
More importantly, we need to understand that if our life’s purpose is derived from ourselves, it is inevitably fragile and ultimately irrational. In his book “Making Sense of God”, Timothy Keller explains that “if life is all there is and there is no God or life beyond this material world, then it will not ultimately matter whether you are a genocidal maniac or an altruist… It might make some people happier or sadder for a brief time… but beyond that, your influence -good or bad- will ultimately be negligible when viewed on any grand scale.”
Moreover, since death is unavoidable, it means that everything that one does and everyone that we have done things with or for, will be gone forever. Indeed, if one follows this train of thought on finding life’s purpose apart from God, you can see why the logical conclusion is rather depressing. For Dr Goodall who had no belief in God or in the afterlife, it should not surprise us that he did not think that there was anything worth living for, or for that matter, dying for.
Admittedly, even Christians sometimes struggle with the meaningfulness of continuing with life. For some, just the repetitiveness of our mundane routine can weigh us down. For others, it is particularly more challenging when they or their loved ones are afflicted with some debilitating illness or when one is feeling overwhelmed by the pain and grief that life brings.
However, when Christians are firmly grounded on the truth that our purpose in life is to know, glorify, imitate and be with God, then adversities need not necessarily rob us of our purpose. When we learn to take trials and afflictions in our stride, they can actually enhance our purpose in life since they get us to draw closer to God. In addition, how we respond to suffering can honour God and be used by God to be an encouragement to others (2 Corinthians 1:3-5). Although no one welcomes suffering, Christians trust that God can graciously and sovereignly use it to mould us and help us toward our ultimate purpose in life.
If we are to avoid the tragedy of becoming so tired of living that we simply want to end it prematurely, a good place to start is to deny oneself and to die daily as we follow Christ (Luke 9:23). Undoubtedly, our lives would be far more fruitful when we are intentional about knowing God and putting the mission of God above our ambitions and personal desires (Romans 14:8). Regardless of one’s age or life stage, abilities or weaknesses, socio-economic status (SES) or accomplishments, everyone who has faith in Jesus can live out our true purpose in life. May we faithfully live out this wonderful privilege God has given to us until it is time to see him face to face!
Rev Edwin Wong
May 27, 2018