Well ‘its not a matter of life and death’. You hear this all the time as a common sense expression. What it reflects is the ethical priorities of our culture. Every culture has a value hierarchy, and ‘going on living, whatever the cost, because you only go around once in this life’ seems to be at the top of our value hierarchy. Continuing living seems to trump truth, or honor. We’d rather lie than die. We’d rather be publicly shamed than die (unlike Judas Iscariot in that honor and shame culture). We spend billions of dollars every year on health care. The healthcare industry is the No. 2 industry in America, only slightly behind technology.
The this-worldly orientation of all of this approach to life is starkly clear. We have doctors and hospitals that have as a basic default of propping up physical existence at whatever the catastrophic cost. Put people on respirators, put them in iron lungs, put them into a coma on the one in million chance they might revive, because ‘this life is all there is’. In some ways the hospitals have become the new temples, the doctors and surgeons the priests, the nurses the deacons, and we worship at the altar of the miracles of modern medicine.
But none of this is a Christian perspective on life. Christians know, or should know, that we do not need to prop up this life at any and all costs, because we already have the gift of everlasting life. Christians need to ask questions when they or their fellow Christians end up in hospitals, like “will this procedure prolong the living, or will this procedure just prolong the dying”. It should be easier for Christians to let go, and head on off to eternity than for those who don’t believe in everlasting life of a positive sort. Instead, Christians allow doctors and hospitals to badger them into doing extraordinary things to prop up the dying, to their own cost and often hospitals and insurance companies are just trying their own backsides.
I certainly believe in miracles and also in prayer, but when a person does not respond to treatment and has a terminal disease or has ‘had a good innings’ as the Brits would say and is old and infirm, then it becomes time to let them slip off this mortal coil and slide into eternity. I suspect one reason so many in the church have a hard time making such decisions or letting loved ones go is because they are uncertain about everlasting life, in their own case and in the case of their ill or dying loved one. In short, they have weak faith. It would be good for pastors to get on with preaching about the afterlife and most especially the resurrection so that the congregation may embrace a vital and virile faith in the afterlife. How about a series of sermons on ‘How to Have a Nice Afterlife’?
It’s all very well to joke about Christians who are too heavenly minded to be much earthly good, but I more often encounter Christians who are so focused on this life and squeezing every drop of it out to the last that one could say they are so earthly minded that they are hardly embracing or prepared for eternity. That’s putting the emphasis on the wrong syllable, for sure.
I’m very thankful for doctors, hospitals, medicines, but I do not worship at the altar of modern medicine, and I do not want to be so self-protective and so focused on propping up this life, that I end up like Dylan Thomas who once said “Do not go gentle into that good night/ rage rage against the dying of the light’. That’s no way to finish strong or in a Christlike manner.