Uzzah: Situational Ethics Refuted

In the last few days, my husband, Will, and I have been writing a letter-to-the-editor. In one of the medical journals to which he subscribes an article recently appeared which attempts to justify physician-assisted suicide, and of all things makes the patently absurd argument that it is in the interest of patient autonomy. Helping someone kill themselves advances their autonomy? Do words mean anything anymore?

But it has actually been kind of fun to talk about because the issue is a small part of a general departure from Judeo-Christian ethics and biblical worldview. From a purely secular point of view, I understand completely why people would think physician-assisted suicide should be permissible. A plea to emotion–the patient is suffering with no viable chance of cure–is sufficient, and because Darwinism has so pervaded worldview, many in our society see no difference between ending the life of a human being and ending the life of the family dog. It is the humane thing to do to end the suffering of a much loved mutt, so why not put Granny down when she’s in pain? Three reasons: (1) the Bible says not to; (2) each person is made in the image of God; and (3) less important, but still a consideration is that proper palliative care eliminates the anguish often described to support physician-assisted suicide.
The question, at its core, is really very profound — do certain situations supersede the explicit prohibitions or commands of the Bible? In other words is it sometimes, in very extreme cases, permissible to murder? Or how about the person who just knows they are supposed to leave their spouse for another? In their particular circumstance they reason that it is acceptable because they are married to a boring and unaffectionate doofus and they have just met the most sold-out follower of Christ who shares the same passion for feeding the poor and fighting injustice around the world. We can easily be persuaded by the situation, but the truth is that when the Bible speaks to something, the specifics don’t matter. If you look at the ten commandments in Exodus 20 you will not find “do not steal except from the very rich.” Nor will you find “honor your father and mother except when they fail as parents.” There are no exceptions listed for any of the commandments, and I believe the blurring of ethics can be explained, in part, by the cultural reluctance to see anything as black and white. I am not in anyway suggesting everything is black and white; gray areas abound. But there is no trace of gray in the ten commandments.
I am thankful that as a follower of Christ that only the moral laws from the Old Testament apply to me. All those ceremonial requirements would be a lot to keep up with, but for the ancient Jews the same principle applied: if it was specifically stated in God’s Word there were no exceptions. Of course Jewish children grew up spending much of their time learning all the laws and regulations, and one guy named Uzzah surely learned to never, ever touch the ark of the covenant because it was forbidden in Scripture. But when the oxen carrying the ark stumbled, Uzzah reached out to save it. And that sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? For goodness sake, he was trying to save the ark. But what Uzzah did violated God’s law. God wasn’t asking for a explanation or a reasoned exception; He was looking for obedience and for reverence.
I believe Uzzah and physician-assisted suicide are related because God isn’t looking for an explanation or an exception to His commandment. He’s looking for obedience. In fact Uzzah’s downfall has everyday relevance because I think we all rationalize our behaviors and reach out to steady the ark in various ways almost everyday. This week may we review God’s commands and take seriously the strict obedience we are called to. Situations may make it hard to do the right thing, but situations never make a wrong thing the right thing.

Lucado on Tough Times

It’s a rainy and gloomy day here in Washington. A day that seems appropriate in some way for a funeral, and in fact one is being held this morning at my church. The sweet girl who passed away, Amy, was only forty years old, and she was diagnosed with cancer just last spring. I knew her more as an acquaintance, a friend of a friend, but what an impression she made! Her contagious joy was evident, and her service to the God she loved well-known. She went on many mission trips, serving and caring for people around the globe. I find it utterly perplexing that it was not God’s will for Amy to have some last-minute healing. He is Sovereign. He has a plan and it is good. But it is still beyond my understanding. I can trust Him and find His plan perplexing at the same time, and I do.

Yesterday I had a child with a snot level that exceeded churchability, so we stayed home. I had a few pages left to read in Max Lucado’s For the Tough Times and it seemed the right time to finish it up. It is good. If you’ve ever read him, you know. His writing is simple and true. It’s uplifting and biblical. Clearly, Lucado is gifted with words. But the subject is a hard one. Writing about tough times is…well, it’s tough. Lucado talks about God’s love for us and God’s faithfulness. He makes many wonderful and eloquent points. But there is one thing I found to be missing, and that is the vital role of other people. I think Lucado should remind his readers, most of whom are likely in the midst of a tough time, that an important lifeline, a major means of grace is provided through other believers. Yes, the Spirit of God ministers to us directly, but He also expects us to be comforted, by His grace, through others.
It is an incredible blessing to have godly people who love you, who pray for you, who even show up unexpectedly in your driveway, just like a pair of angels, right when you need them (you know who are you my fabulous and faithful angels). And I firmly believe that those kind of relationships are divinely orchestrated, that the relationships themselves are a gift of God to be treasured, but I also believe that God expects us to seek biblical community (I highly recommend reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, which brilliantly outlines what biblical community looks like). But for starters we need to be intentional, and we need to stop pretending that we’ve got it all together, that the one man show thing is really working for us. I’m trying to better about this, but my natural inclination is to maintain the absurd facade that everything is positively peachy every minute of every day.
Natalie Grant has a beautiful song which speaks to this issue. I won’t tell you what it says. I’ll just tell you the title, Held, and it’s well worth $0.99, I assure you.
So my prayer this week is for Amy’s family and friends, that they will know the comfort of God Almighty and that they will be ministers of grace for one another. May all of us be increasingly faithful to recognize and fulfill one another’s needs.

Teddy Bear Wisdom

About a week ago Will and I took the boys to Theodore Roosevelt Island — a great place to let our yardless boys run around and gain a couple tidbits of history at the same time. If you’ve never been, it is literally a little island in the Potomac, closer to the Virginia side than DC, but almost directly in front of the Kennedy Center. There is a foot bridge onto the Island and then in the center, where there is a clearing of trees, there is a rather large statue of Roosevelt and tall stone tablets engraved with some of his quotes. It is simple and charming, and we hadn’t been there in years and years. This photograph isn’t exactly an Ansel Adams, but it did help me remember to blog about this quote. And I love this quote.

“Alike for the nation and the individual the one indispensable requisite is character.”
I agree with Teddy, don’t you? Character is vital. But the quote really just begs the question, doesn’t it? How does one come to be a person of character anyway? Well, for the follower of Christ the answer is clear. In Romans 5, Paul tells us that “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” This rings true for me. The people in my life with the greatest depth of character are people who have suffered. My grandfather passed away five years ago, and how I miss his encouragement and faithful prayers on my behalf! He was a man of great character, and I’m confident that part of his depth can be explained by the great suffering he endured early in life. His father died when he was a young teenager, and he also had osteomyelitis in his leg, which meant he was in and out of the hospital for years, spending weeks at a time there.
Although years later my grandfather was cured with antibiotics, before that he racked up countless surgeries and experimental therapies, including maggot therapy. Yes, maggots in his leg, and oddly it helped. But with a working mother, raising seven children, my great-grandmother Ida had only so much time to spend at my grandfather’s bedside. When she would go to leave the hospital, he would cling to her and beg her to stay with him. What a heart wrenching picture that paints in my head–the very idea of leaving one of my sons like that. But sometimes just carrying on, just doing what you have to do, just persevering produces character. That family, those children of Ida, who persevered in very tough times all had incredible character and faith. Even their offspring, my second and third cousins, seem to have inherited the indelible mark of Ida.
But what about godless people who have lived decent and honorable lives, lives of undeniable character? They may not be terribly common, but we all know people who are committed to leading an ethical life apart from God. It can be done. The problem is that it doesn’t make a lick of sense to do it. Apart from God there is no reference point for good. There is no standard. Without an ultimate source of truth, moral relativism is the necessary conclusion. So the secular ethicist has a hard road; his path is illogical and he lacks the power of the Holy Spirit to enable him to lead a moral life.
So the Roosevelt quote identifies an important what: character. It is just missing the how and the why, which are actually one and the same: Jesus.

Who We Need Most

My last post was about what we need most, so this week it seems natural to talk about who we need most. Obviously, each person needs a family that loves them. In my experience, as a parent of three boys, and as a child myself, the father role is exceedingly important. I could read to my boys, take them to the park, buy them new toys, feed them their favorite foods, and play games with them all day long, but none of this compares to five minutes of football with Daddy. Although it should be noted that Saturday’s football fun resulted in a single stitch for Nate’s chin, and guess who got to take him to the ER? And when my dad was alive his approval was of great importance to me. I wanted to make him proud in way that did not and does not apply to my mom. Maybe that just indicates the security I have of her undying love, I don’t know for sure. I just know there is something special about daddies and all the statistics about the fatherless are heartbreaking.

So family is important, but we need friends too–people who are going to love us, and encourage us and hold us accountable. It’s great to have friends who are at your same stage of life; you can exchange familiar stories and knowing smiles. But it’s also fun to have friends from other generations. Caitlin (my twenty-two-year-old niece) and I have now had dinner twice with women who span five decades. We call it the multi-generational girls night out, or miggno. It is a total blast–plus the wisdom shared by those who have lived life is invaluable. Every woman would be blessed by a regular miggno, although I am extremely partial to the members of ours.
But friends and family are not who we need most in this life. In fact, if you expect mere mortals to meet your deepest needs you will always be disappointed. Always. Is the divorce rate not proof? How about all the fractured families and friendships? The best friend in the world is still imperfect. The best spouse in the world is still going to say things to hurt your feelings. The best parent in the world is still going to fall short in some way. There is only one person who lived a perfect life, and there is only one person who loves you perfectly. Blaise Pascal, the brilliant French mathematician from the seventeenth century, recognized the silly charade we play of trying to fill the longings in our hearts with earthly substitutes. Pascal said we have a God-shaped hole in our heart that only God can fill.
The Holy, Perfect God of the Universe loves you. Through the redemptive work that Jesus Christ did on the cross, you can experience relationship with Him. You can have that God-shaped hole in your heart filled to overflowing. You can rid yourself of that nagging feeling that something in this life is missing. Because if you don’t know Jesus, something is missing! You are missing the Person you need most. The Person who knows you and loves you best!
As we contemplate this week, the suffering of Jesus, the betrayal by those closest to Him, and the atonement He offered for our sins, I pray that we come to appreciate His sacrifice more than ever. And I pray that if there is anyone who reads this that doesn’t know Jesus in a real and personal way, that they will put their trust in Him. He loves you. He loves you perfectly. And He is who we all need most.