The Suffering to Come

If “it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife,” then it’s just as true that willingly reading the comment section of an online article universally acknowledges . . . that you are likely to end up sad or mad. Or smad.

The story of Brittany Maynard is all over social media. Brittany’s a young woman suffering from brain cancer. She’s also made the choice to end her life two days after her husband’s birthday in November. She doesn’t want to endure the suffering that is sure to come. Instead, she’ll die at home, in her bedroom, with her parents and husband and best friend beside her before the pain becomes unbearable.

Brittany’s story kicks you right in the shins. It’s a different kind of painful to watch a young woman, full of life and adventure, struggle with a body that is broken and breaking more by the moment. (The issue of “death with dignity” warrants a whole conversation on its own.)

It’s also hard to read the comments, the ones that offer no hope in Christ, no comfort of the Resurrection, no assurance that because Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave, salvation is free and life is everlasting, the ones that encourage her to go ahead and die.

And then it is harder still to hear one of Brittany’s statements: “The reason to consider life, and what’s of value, is to make sure you’re not missing out. Seize the day.”

Carpe diem.

But what do you do when the days ahead, the few you have left, are ones you don’t want to seize? When the days that are to follow are filled with pain and hurt, despair and frustration? What if you don’t want to seize those days? What if the days you want are the days that are no longer yours to have? How does “carpe diem” offer any reassurance to a woman facing death, knowing it’s coming, feeling it creep steadily closer and closer?

It doesn’t.

The answer, of course, is Christ.

In the midst of the brain tumors and lost babies and freak accidents, Christ speaks words of life. And not a life that only lasts until we’ve traveled all the places we want to go or said our goodbyes to all our loved ones. No, He speaks forgiveness, life and salvation that last for eternity.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have LIFE and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). 

Carpe THAT, Satan!

And when He says “abundantly,” He means it.

In Baptism, He gives life.

In the Holy Communion, He gives life.

And He doesn’t stop there. To comfort you in  your distress and your pain, He gives you a pastor. And from the mouth of your pastor, He speaks forgiveness and a peace that is so big our brains can hardly fathom it.

He gives you the fellowship of the saints, the mutual consolation of those who have known pain and angst and fear and cancer and ebola and miscarriages.

He gives you His Word: on your iPad, in your hand, on your lips, in your heart.

All of it: life.

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Both of my grandmothers, baptized into Christ, now rest from their labors and await the day of the Resurrection. “Behold a host, arrayed in white, Like thousand snow clad mountains bright! With palms they stand; Who is this band Before the throne of light? These are the saints of glorious fame, Who from the great affliction came And in the flood Of Jesus’ blood Are cleansed from guilt and shame. They now serve God both day and night; They sing their songs in endless light. Their anthems ring As they all sing With angels shining bright” (LSB).

And so baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, we face death head on. It doesn’t mean it won’t hurt. Or that we won’t be scared. Or that we won’t wish it would just go away.

“Dying,” one of my deaconess friends once told me, “is hard work.”

But because of, on account of Christ’s own suffering on the cross, His own agony and death, we can confess with Job: “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

So we pray for the Brittanys of the world, for the men and women and children who are seeing — in their own bodies — the brokenness that resulted from the Fall, for those who see little value in a life that begins at conception and ends at natural death, for those who struggle to understand life under the cross, for the ones who would try to finagle with God’s good plan and will for their lives, even when it doesn’t appear to be that good at all.

And we confess, even in the midst of our suffering and our tears, that Jesus lives and that we belong to Him. And because He lives, we live. We live now, and we will live with Him in eternity, even after our bodies give out and our brains give up and our hearts fail.

He’s the reason to consider life, to ponder what’s of value.

Him and nothing, no one, else.

“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Heb. 12:22-24).

 

For more on life issues, specifically a biblical view that supports life from conception to natural death, please visit LCMS Life Ministries.

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