“I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” These final words in the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley resonate with most people in the modern west. It is about the triumph of raw willpower in the face of uncontrollable life circumstances. Ironically, Henley died. He was 53.
Mankind’s natural understanding of how best to live can be characterized by one core value: Independence. Other words are used too, like freedom, autonomy, individual rights, self-determination, etc. But, the primary goal of a natural man is to preserve one’s ability to do ‘whatever I want,’ while avoiding emotional pain and physical suffering. When this is a man’s guiding principle in life the results are disastrous. It is not a new idea, it was invented by Satan and tested by Adam and Eve.
Jesus warns against man’s self-centered pursuit of freedom in Luke 9:25, “For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?” Mankind’s natural pathology, if left to fester, will kill all of us. Jesus has the antidote: “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it” (Luke 9:24). Submission to God is everyone’s only hope. Life is found only when you and I give up fighting for ‘me.’
How is this done? “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). What does Jesus mean? When a criminal was judged worthy of death by a Roman court he would sometimes be doomed to the most humiliating and painful method of all. Once this process began the prisoner was required to carry the death tool to the actual killing site. This torture climaxed by having one’s unprotected body fixed to the unbending wood by unforgiving nails in front of an unmerciful crowd until, exhausted by crushing pain and mortifying shame, one simply dies. Jesus says to do that…every day? What is Jesus telling us about Himself and how we ought to interpret life, suffering, and death?
By telling us to take up our cross daily, Jesus is giving humanity a new understanding of life and death. As disciples of Christ, death and suffering are not to be avoided but rather put in their proper context, as tools orienting our lives more completely to God. Jesus’ humiliation, in His submission to suffering and death on a cross, is not merely a pattern for man to follow but the doorway to the path we all must take if we are to find lasting life.
So how is it that some Christians are both pro-life AND pro-physician-assisted suicide? Many people hold to the pro-life position because they believe every human has the right to self-determination. Valuing individual rights is often their basis for protecting the life of a preborn baby. After all, the person of the baby is distinct from the person of the mother. While there are kernels of truth to this position, being pro-life cannot rest on the notion of independence or some particular individual right alone. If people do not have intrinsic value because we are made in the image of God, then our moral positions are merely a reflection of our own shallow concept of my right to myself. Furthermore, how could this notion of unmolested independence, the ability to do with my life as I see fit, ever resist the concept of euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide?
If total independence is our basic core value, then society’s policies will be determined by the maximum amount of ‘autonomy’ afforded to those individuals who believe their freedom is adversely affected by the care of a loved one, the existential suffering of disease, or the realization of an unplanned pregnancy. When one’s core value is independence, those situations are perceived to negatively impact one’s chosen life plans or eclipse a hoped-for lifestyle. The solution, it is argued, can only be to grant, either by law or by social acceptance, the power to eliminate the obstacle.
Traditional Christianity views personal suffering via disease, disability, inconvenience, or sacrifice as sovereignly placed doorways. Not to be shunned as hammer blows on the nails to the coffin of our lifestyle preferences but celebrated as a crowbar prying open that coffin we determined to make for ourselves.
As examples, all of the apostles were martyred, save one, who was exiled. As to suffering, even the Apostle Paul had a ‘thorn in his flesh’ that he prayed three times for God to remove. God did not remove it but rather reminds Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12: 9). We live and we die as Christians for the glory of God. And all our decisions must serve to orient our lives more completely to God and to help others do the same. Euthanasia, physician-ssisted suicide and abortion ALWAYS does the opposite.