In several heart-wrenching videos (here, here and here), 29-year-old Brittany Maynard has talked about her intent to take her life, possibly tomorrow, by means of physician-assisted suicide in Oregon because of a fast-growing, inoperable, fatal brain tumor.
Joni Eareckson Tada, who has suffered more and longer than most of us, has responded to Brittany’s sorrowful plan with empathy and biblical conviction. All of Joni’s concerns merit serious consideration. The one I want to expand on is this: She said, “I understand Brittany may be in great pain, and her treatment options are limited and have their own devastating side effects, but I believe Brittany is missing a critical factor in her formula for death: God.” Others have written open appeals to Brittany; I write mainly for those who are considering this issue afresh in light of Brittany’s story.
Cancer Is an Enemy
I hate cancer. It is regularly an accomplice in the life-robbing work of our “final enemy,” death (1 Corinthians 15:26). Death was not part of paradise as God created it in the beginning. And death will not be part of the New Earth as God brings it in the resurrection. In that sense, it opposes the ultimate goodness that God designed for this creation. It is an enemy.
But in the resurrection, “death will be no more” (Revelation 21:4).
So death remains, for now. It hisses with fearsome rage. But for those who are in Christ, its fangs have been removed.
Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting? (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)
Answer: “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:56-57). They are covered. The sting—the fangs—has been removed.
Therefore, in Christ, we will die physically, but not spiritually. Our souls will go “home” (2 Corinthians 5:8).
Subjection to Futility—in Hope
But even though, in the beginning, Satan incited sin, and death came through sin (Romans 5:12), God himself was the judge who brought the sentence of death on the human race. The horror of death is God’s appointed response to the horror of sin. Death, by God’s design, is the physical mirror of the moral outrage of human rebellion against God.
Thus God tells us that in response to sin, “creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope …” (Romans 8:20). Only God could do that. Neither Adam nor Satan acted with a view to the hope of the age to come. This was God’s doing. God appointed death for the human race. He did it with a view to death’s final defeat and removal. But it was he who did it.
So the Bible continues, “in the hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption, and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). There is a bondage to the corruption of death for now. But the day of freedom is coming. God has appointed these times.
Until then, we die. And we live, with Christ. This death, and this life, are by God’s appointment. Satan incited sin. Adam and Eve acted sin. And God decreed the consequence of sin, namely, death.
And he is removing that consequence in stages. At the first coming of Christ, the immeasurable penalty of sin was paid (Colossians 2:14). Death will be no more.
But until then, the final disposition of death and life belong to God. He brought it in; he will take it out. And while it is here, he claims unique rights over it. “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand” (Deuteronomy 32:39).
Therefore, Job’s reverent and grief-stricken response to the death of his 10 children was profoundly and painfully right: “The L??? gave, and the L??? has taken away; blessed be the name of the L???” (Job 1:21).