A Practical Approach to End-of-Life Issues: Establish God’s Authority Over Life and Death

Close up hands of helping hands elderly home care. Mother and daughter. Mental health and elderly care concept

A Practical Approach to End-of-Life Issues
Presented by Rev. Robert R. Fleischmann

III. Establish God’s Authority Over Life and Death

In Deuteronomy 32:39 God says this about himself: “See now that I myself am He! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand” (NIV). This authority over life is rooted in God’s status as the Creator of all life. In Genesis 2:7 we are told, “God formed man from the dust of the ground” (NIV).

Thousands of years later King David observed life as the handiwork of God when he said: “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body” (Psalm 139:15-16a NIV). And Job, who suffered greatly in his life and found himself wrestling with its purpose and the purpose of suffering, commented: “In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind” (Job 12:10 NIV).

God’s role as having authority over life is clearly stated in Scripture. When women of the Bible gave birth to children they readily acknowledged God’s authorship over life. After Cain killed his brother Abel we are told, “Adam lay with his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, ‘God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him'” (Genesis 4:25 NIV).

When Hannah received her long-desired child the Scriptures read: “So in the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, ‘Because I asked the LORD for him'” (1 Samuel 1:20 NIV).

The growing acceptance of practicing some form of family planning has led some of our members to forget God’s authorship over human life. I hear more and more refer to pregnancies as accidental or even the result of contraceptive failure rather than God’s gift of life. More and more of our members come into our office during pre-marriage counseling with the idea that they will plan their family and then act disappointed, frustrated, or angry when a pregnancy does not correlate with those plans.

As the author of life, God also presumes the sole authority for terminating life. When Cain killed Abel (Genesis 4:8) he did wrong because he presumed for himself authority over life and death. It is God who brings to life and puts to death and it is contrary to his will for anyone to presume that right.

That point was clearly made to Noah and his family after they left the ark that preserved them during the Flood. God had just given then the authority to terminate plant and animal life. But then he had this to say about human life: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man” (Genesis 9:6 NIV). God illustrates here his very high regard for human life. If someone terminates life God authorizes action to terminate the life of those who killed. The logic for this position is fascinating but I am not convinced it adequately addresses the Genesis 9:6 reference and the intent behind it as expressed by God. It is that important!

Concerning God’s supremacy over life and death, the psalmist writes, “My times are in your hands” (Psalms 31:15 NIV). As Christians face death and the emotional challenges it presents, the words of Christ speak loudly, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life” (Matthew 6:27 NIV)? These passages remind us that God is the one who decides when death comes. It is not our decision that death should come sooner or, for that fact, later.

About two years after I accepted the call to serve as the National Director of Christian Life Resources, I finally felt confident enough in my study of these issues to begin to speak and write publicly about them. Soon there were pastors and lay people calling me seeking critical information about care for someone. For fleeting moments I would think to myself that God has somehow given over all authority of life and death to me. It would be my decision over who lives and who does not.

The error of that thinking has become apparent through the pages of Scripture and from practical experience. When you make all the right decisions and the patient dies, and you make all the wrong decisions and the patient lives, God is reminding you that he is in charge. He determines when death comes.

This is an important point to instill upon your members. As they wrestle with those so-called life and death decisions they quickly crumble under the terrible pressure of thinking they have the authority over life and death. In reality, they are still stewards. They assimilate the information and, to the best of their ability, they make decisions. In doing so they do not presume that they will have saved a life or ended one. Rather, they decided in accord with God’s will and with the full confidence of the promise that “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”


The above article is part 3 of Rev. Fleischmann’s 10-part paper. Click here to view the complete outline.

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