Choosing to Lay Down and Die

In the last number of weeks I have been spending quite a bit of time reflecting on the texture of this thing we call “life” – not so much on the essence or beingness of life as on the experienced or existential reality of life. My meditations on this subject were informed by two very different sources; two radically diverse ways of viewing life.
1. On January 20, I attended a “public consultation” that the Ontario government held for the people of Thunder Bay. The purpose of this evening was for Canadian citizens to give feedback to the action of the Supreme Court of Canada in February 2015 where they struck down the federal law prohibiting assisted suicide. This rule applies to anyone who is no longer a minor and consents to the termination of their life due to being the victim of an illness that causes “enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual in the circumstances of his or her condition.” Of the approximately 170 people who attended this consultation, the overwhelming majority approved of and affirmed the decision of the supreme court, I am certain of this because we were given electronic devices whereby we could vote on various questions and the results would immediately be activated on a public screen. Only 26 participants in the “public consultation” were opposed to assisted suicide under any circumstances.
2. Paul the apostle used this language when he referenced how we should do life, “those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality… (Rom 2:7).

I wonder how many of us in the city of Thunder Bay wake up, and begin our day by seeking for glory, honor and immortality. C.S. Lewis said it this way in his work, The Abolition of Man, “We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.” Lewis had a way of expressing what the rest of us see but have no words to explain.

I think there are many reasons why we in Thunder Bay are in a place where assisted suicide is now legal. I also think that at least one of them is that Christians have abdicated their role of offering an alternative to laying down and dying. I think we can talk quite religiously about the Absolute and about Deity, and although we can argue with utmost theological correctness about the honor and dignity of what it truly means to be human, there is no danger of us doing anything about it. What alternatives have we, in the Christian community, offered the city of Thunder Bay for the crisis in providing housing for the elderly, the dying and those with compromised physical or mental capacity? We may preach sermons that offer different ways of thinking about what it means to be human, but do our neighbors notice a robust, thriving, noble, boldly humble individual living next door, one who turns their categories for what it means to be human upside down? Do our colleagues and workmates see “men with chests” who are breathing the air of another world and responding with “patience in well-doing” expressed through the lovingkindness, ceaseless giving and fearless hope of Jesus?

I met with a woman this past week who has spent much of her adult life crusading for and building programming and housing for the marginalized, the poor, the despised people, the individuals with mental health concerns, those most vulnerable to this new legislation. While in her office, I asked her what the face of Christianity looked like – from the outside, looking in. Her answer was not unexpected. The Christians of Thunder Bay, for the most part, are so disengaged from the crisis and hurting in this city that she couldn’t recognize the face if she saw it! Is it a surprise that people want to lay down and die? What alternative do we show them? What nobility? What great sacrifice? What laying down of our life for those who are suffering? What courageous risk-taking for the sake of the Name and the word of the cross do they see us engaged in?

I hear rumors of ”men with chests” from regions far distant from Western Christianity. I hear of four hour prayer vigils nightly-before 12 hour workdays. I hear of fasting for weeks at a time. I hear of spiritual disciplines practiced at great cost to the self – for sheer love of Jesus. I hear of radical simplicity in living – owning a cloak, a satchel and a Bible. I hear of men and women who others do not feel really comfortable to be around because their eyes blaze with the zeal of another world. For these, suffering is not some strange circumstance that marks human life gone tragically wrong. Rather, for them, suffering is the very furnace out of which those who reign in this life are born. Suffering becomes the kiln for learning absolute dependence on the abundance of grace and free gift of righteousness through the one man, Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:17) Like the suffering Savior they follow, they are the gritty, earthed, variety of persons who stand radiant and strong before a world that wants to lay down and die. This kind of humanity derives a strength and beauty born of time with the Savior, molded through experience living through the fires and sufferings of this world. This kind of humanity has resurrection life breathed into them, and their lungs are robust and powerful because they breathe in the life-giving presence of Jesus and breathe out acts of sacrificial love and service to others. It is in this refined air that true humans, as imagined by God in the first place, rise again to life. They carry on through suffering and sorrow for a singular purpose – they seek the glory, honor and immortality that can only be found through following Jesus of Nazareth.