The Impression You Leave – A Look at Suffering and Burden Sharing
Rev. Robert Fleischmann, National Director, Christian Life Resources
When abortion became legal in 1973, many called it the beginning of the slippery slope. In the middle 1980s then-U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop spoke at a Christian Life Resources convention where he said, “It is a small leap in logic to go from terminating a life within the womb and terminating a life outside of the womb.”
Over time a subtle devaluation of human life took place in our society. A former Colorado governor once said that the elderly were duty-bound to die by not becoming a burden on families and society. Today, that thinking still permeates our society. Many aging parents tell their children that they “hope to not be a burden for them.” How misguided! The Bible does not scold anyone for becoming a burden if it cannot be helped. The Bible does not instruct people to avoid burdens but to carry burdens (Galatians 6:2).
Consider the full impact of this verse: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). We know our assignment from God is to serve as witnesses to His truth, love, and salvation through Christ. We probably give first thought to our pastors and missionaries, those who witness to the world with the message of life and salvation through Jesus. Our church buildings and worship services primarily serve as outreach tools. Members bring friends and family, and through interaction within the church setting, hopefully become members.
These words from Peter, however, go much further. Peter is talking about people coming to you. They see something in you and the way you conduct your life that strikes them. They watch your sacrifice, they see you in tense and trying circumstances, and they observe the way you live your priorities. Do you see what Peter is saying? He says we witness to: “everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
Why would anyone ask you about the hope that you have? How can this happen? It has to do with the way you live. People will not come to you by invitation to talk about your hope. Rather, they are attracted to you, because they see hope when they were not expecting to see it. They see a calm and cool demeanor in the face of tribulation.
Practically speaking, these words are very compelling to those who are diagnosed with a terminal medical condition or to family members caring for an ailing loved one. No matter where you are, what you do, and what you say, people are observing you. If the world is convinced that the elderly, disabled, and feeble are useless burdens, and they see your sacrifice to carry those burdens, they will become curious. Why do you do it? What is your answer? If you are selfish or self-centered you might talk about doing it out of a sense of duty or obligation. When you are God-centered, however, you show love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19). When someone asks why you continue to care for someone unable to respond they want to know what drives you. How can you keep going? You are being asked about the hope that you have. They want to know about the inner strength you are drawing from to keep going. They want to know about God, His love, and His salvation.
No one I know wants to suffer in life, let alone at the end of life. No one wants to be in a so-called “vegetative state” where they seem unaware of their surroundings and unable to interact with others. Many, even in Christian circles, argue that in such circumstances steps can be taken to shorten life. It is a mentality that is not only appealing to the world but also not very surprising — unless people know God’s prohibition against causing death.
The ordeal of living in such a condition, in fact, may have nothing to do with the patient or even the family members who care for the patient. It may, in fact, be about the janitor, the family of the patient next door, or the medical staff. They know what is happening. They are watching this so-called “hopeless” situation contrasted by the “hopeful” nature of the family continuing to care, to caress, to talk, to hand-hold, and to love this patient. This hopeful nature can be used by God to open the door for the Christian witness. When that door is open you can talk about being loved by God so much that He sent His Son, Jesus to die for sin. It is that love that drives you on (2 Corinthians 5:14). It is when you leave that impression that God makes the worst of times the best of times to share His message of hope and salvation.
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