Where do we find comfort in life and in death? Is not a search for this comfort at least part of what is involved in activities like organ donation, invito fertilization, writing a living will and in considering euthanasia?
We often treat dying like an enemy to be avoided and battled against. If we are told that one of our vital organs is failing and our death will result unless we get a transplant, then it makes sense that we seek comfort in the possibility of a transplant. If a loved one has been involved in a serious accident and is on life support machines dying, some of us look for comfort in the idea that our loved one’s organs may be able to be used to give life to someone else. When it comes to living, most of us at some point in our lives desire to have children. It can be very distressing when no children come. How many of us look for comfort in invitro fertilization? Many of us have watched loved ones, or heard stories of people, who live in much suffering and pain in the latter days of life. Do we seek to find comfort in protecting ourselves from having to endure such pain, through the use of living wills and euthanasia? To what extent are we to seek comfort in things such as these?
Recently I was reflecting on a summary of Biblical doctrine, found in the Heidelberg Catechism. The opening question and answer says,
What is your only comfort in life and death?
That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such as way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.
This summary deals with comfort in both life and in death. Since issues of life and death are a significant part of the discussion when considering organ donation, IVF and euthanasia, this promises to have something significant to say. If, indeed, this summary speaks of the only comfort, and not just any comfort, then it should have something very significant to say.
It recognizes the truth that mankind are body and soul and speaks of both body and soul belong to the Lord Jesus Christ. Body and soul of mankind are worth something to Jesus. So much so that He was willing to lay down His life for them. How we deal with body and soul is important. The bodies of mankind begin at conception and their souls are there from very early in the process as evidenced by the fact that Jesus and John the Baptist were able to communicate with one another while still in the womb. (See blog posting titled, Personhood – Conception and the Soul.) Does this not call us to deal very carefully with all people, even from the very moment of conception? Does the process of IVF treat all newly conceived of mankind as persons who have worth to the Lord Jesus Christ? This being the case, should we not be concerned about what the Lord has to say about life and death? Our bodies begin to develop at conception. Should we not be concerned about the destruction of life that happens after conception of embryos during the process of IVF? For organ donation to work, we need a source of living organs. We can only get these from living bodies. Should we be concerned that organ retrieval ends the life of these bodies? Especially, when one of the Lord’s commands to us is, “you shall not kill.” A similar concern is present when we promote euthanasia.
The summary of biblical doctrine that we have before us teaches that there is nothing that happens by chance, for not a hair can fall from our head apart from the will of the heavenly Father. So, should we in the process of conceiving children do it in such a way that we expect some to be discarded or subjected to the hostile environment of a petri dish? Also, the distress and pain in the latter years of life, as well as the life of those who end up in intensive care units on life support, are known to the heavenly Father. All of these things work together for the salvation of those to whom this catechism question applies. We learn who this applies to in the next question and answer of the catechism, as we will see shortly. Notice that these things do not work together to keep our bodies alive on this earth as long as possible. One of the objectives of organ donation is to give new life, but at what cost? Does organ donation offer the comfort that is promised in Jesus Christ? All these things that work together do not talk about freedom from pain and suffering but it does suggest that pain and suffering too will work together for our salvation. Somehow, when we approach life and death, as suggested in the answer, we receive comfort. This comfort is a comfort that surpasses this life and includes comfort in death.
The next questions addresses what one needs to know to have this comfort apply to them. It asks, “What do you need to know in order to live and die in the joy of this comfort?” The answer includes three things.
First, how great my sins and misery are; second, how I am delivered from all my sins and misery; and third, how I am to be thankful to God for such deliverance.
Those who know these things, to live by them, are the ones to whom this comfort applies.
This summary of Biblical doctrine provides a few details about life that are important when making decisions about issues that effect live and death.
Life on earth as we know it is temporary and will be replaced by eternity.
After departure from this life, eternal life is possible for those who belong to Jesus Christ. By implication, eternal hell is for those who do not know Jesus.
Nothing happens by chance. The Lord God works all things together for the comfort and salvation of those who belong to Jesus. By implication the comfort and salvation of those who do not know Jesus is not promised.
The powers of evil exist but they have no control over those who belong to Jesus Christ.
What guidance does this summary give considering that those who pursue IVF, organ donation and euthanasia are seeking is some form of comfort from childlessness, from disease and death, and from the horror of dying?
It encourages parents not to place too much importance on having children, especially not by a means that risks destroying human life, for our time on this earth and our time as families is temporary. The Bible instructs us that the Lord commands us not to destroy human life. If we are willing to do this for the temporary gain of children should we not question if we belong to Jesus Christ? If we do not love Him, we may find that we end with eternal damnation in hell rather than with eternal life.
It encourages us not to pursue life and good health at any cost. Receiving a vital organ from someone else, requires that that the other person die and in reality only gains a very short reprieve from death, as we know it on the earth, when compared to eternity. Should we not to be more concerned with the position of the donor with respect to the Lord God, than we are about prolonging our own life? Consider my bog posting, titled Personhood – Which Comes First Death of the Body or Departure of Soul, where I considered that the possibility exists for even an unresponsive person to communicate in their soul with God. The Bible talks about a day of grace, or a day to become right with God and enter into the comfort that He gives, that ends with our death on this earth. Should we not be very careful not to shorten another persons day of grace?
It encourages us to be less concerned about trying desperately to avoid the horrible challenges that the process of dying can bring. For, dying is temporary. What comes after death is eternal, whether it be eternal life with God in the new heaven and the new earth of eternal damnation apart from the goodness of God in hell. The Bible speaks of the potential hidden blessing in the trials of various forms of suffering, especially if this results in us drawing nearer to God.
You see, based on this summary of the Bible, that speaks of the only source of true comfort, it is far more important to concern ourselves with our relationship with God, the Lord Jesus Christ, then to concern ourselves with having a child by the destructive means of IVF, with gaining a few more years of life at the expense of shortening the life of another when their vital organs are taken, or to consider trying to shorten our lives or those of our loved one in order to avoid temporary suffering that can be part of the dying process.