Friday, October 29, 2004

CHRISTIANITY AND MEDICAL ETHICS

CHRISTIANITY AND MEDICAL ETHICS

By Dr. Tan Chong Tin


This morning, I would like to share on the subject of medical ethics, which has a wide and varied range of complexities. In particular, I would like to focus on the question of life and death in our discussion of the issues involved. The topics that we are going to probe into are the problems of abortion, birth control and pregnancy, brain dead and euthanasia. I have chosen them because I believe that everyone has to face them, whether it is the individual or the family. In the process of discussing these problems, I hope we can arrive at a better understanding of our life, the way we ought to manage our lifestyle as well as the question of life and death itself. If there is any disagreement, you are welcomed to further discuss with me so that we can better comprehend God’s truth relating to this whole area of medical ethics.

Let us pray before we begin: “Our Father in heaven, we are here to seek to know your will. We ask Lord that you will grant us a heart of wisdom. May the light of your Spirit illumine both speaker and listener. We ask this in the precious name of Jesus. Amen.”


Sanctity of life

First of all, I would like to talk about the dignity of life, or using another phrase, the sanctity of life and outline some principles relating to the understanding of issues pertaining to life and death. Later we will move on to examine some real life problems and how to deal with them in relation to these principles. I believe that God has laid down for us a very important principle; that we should respect life, both our own and others. It is clearly stated in the Bible that one of the Ten Commandments is: “Thou shall not kill.” That commandment itself contains the basic teaching that we must respect life.

Why should we respect life and why are we forbidden from killing others? Basically, there are at least three reasons. The first reason is because we have been created in the image of God. The scriptural proof for this can be found in Genesis 9:6: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.” Our having the likeness of God is also what sets us apart from animals. Although we should respect animal life, the fact that animals do not share this human similarity means that the respect we should accord them is far less than that conferred to humans. This respect towards life applies to all humans without exception since every one of them has been created in the image of God.

What do we mean by “God’s image”? For sure, some theologians would say that the term refers to the creativity, self-consciousness and communication between God and man. When God created man, he put into him human character and ethical values. However, the same yardstick is not used to measure the extent different persons reflect the image of God. For example, a newborn baby has no moral capacity in him. On the other hand, an adult may lose his sense of moral although as a whole he still possesses the image of God. In this regard, the dignity of man has no relation to the worth given him by others or to the estimation of society but rather is rooted in the fact that he has the image of God in him. This is most clearly demonstrated by Jesus when he was in the world. The people whom he often associated with were deemed as having no value or status in the eyes of society, such as women, tax collectors and fishermen. That Christ valued every single person as a unique individual was made manifestly clear in his entire human dealings. Therefore, even if the world were to look upon us with contempt, we can rest assured that in the eyes of God, we are made in his image and therefore possess self-dignity.

The second reason is that life is given by God to each of us. He is the Creator, the endower and the keeper of life. Job 14:5 states that, “Man’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his month and have set limits he cannot exceed.” God is the one who grants us the gift of life. He is the author of human life and is sovereign over it. Our life does not belong to us as of right. Therefore, we are not to eliminate or squander our own life, more so that of others. Although God ultimately determines each of our lives, what we do will also influence its course. For example, our lifestyle has much bearing on the length of our lives. We may not be able to ascertain how long we will live but we can be sure that if we smoke and drink heavily and neglect our health, our lives may be shortened perhaps by ten or even twenty years. What God require of us is that we ought to be responsible in the way we live. The Bible teaches the concept of the Christian as a steward of God. Jesus, in the Parable of the Talents, told the story of a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them, each according to their ability” [Matthew 25: 14-15]. From this, we can see and understand that we are stewards of God – stewards of life. Although life itself is a gift, we still have to be responsible for it.

The third reason is that we have to be responsible for the lives of our brethren as well as our own. We must not harm or kill others. When Cain killed his brother, God asked him: Where is your brother Abel? Cain, attempting to eschew his responsibility, replied instead, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” [Genesis 4:9] We may refer also to the passage in Matthew concerning the sheep and the goats where Jesus talked about the deeds of the righteous and the unrighteous during judgement. To the righteous, the King will tell them: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” To the unrighteous however, the King will reply: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” [Matthew 25:31-46] There is no doubt therefore that we are to be responsible for others and how we treat them.

While it may be true that life is sacred, its sanctity however is not absolute. Jesus made it very clear that we must love him more than we love our own life and that of our family members when he said: “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever lose his life for my sake will find it.” [Matthew 10:37-39] So although life is sacred, the value of Jesus in our hearts must be higher than the value of our own lives. This is what Jesus demanded from his disciples and we as his followers.

Although life is a gift from God, this gift is not always sweet and pleasant. Life may be bitter and filled with hardship yet we still have to treasure it simply because God is the author of life. In this respect, we can learn from Job the manner in which he responded to his severe afflictions and accepted his sufferings. In the midst of his terrible pain and condition, Job said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of Lord be praised.” [Job 1:21] In spite of the bitterness of life, Job did not cease to revere God, the author of his life. After that, Job went on to say: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.”[Job 19:25-26]. Even in his severe hardship, Job’s faith enabled him to see the Lord who loved him.

How does the world value human life? The secular concept of life is based on the perception that life is the fundamental and irreplaceable condition of the experience of all human values. Therefore each and every person should be protected and respected. The ultimate goal of life is to seek goodness although at the same time, part of this goodness is beyond the control or decision of an individual. The governing authorities should therefore maintain the stability of society and ensure the well being of its citizens by enforcing the law. Although the freedom of a person to run his life should be respected, the act of committing suicide however is illegal. Those who take their own lives generally do so under morbidity.


Abortion

Let us now move on to the various issues involved. The first issue we will discuss is abortion. Abortion is a major and controversial issue. Basically, there are two different approaches taken: one is pro-life and the other pro-choice. Pro-life advocates are those who are against abortion. Pro-choice advocates, on the other hand, support abortion. In analysing this issue, we have to appreciate and understand that both sides uphold the fundamental principle of non-violation of life. What causes their contrasting viewpoints is the disagreement over the definition of when life begins.

Pro-choice advocates argue that the embryo is merely part of the mother’s body and therefore she has the authority to decide what to do with it. Pro-life advocates however, contend that every embryo is an individual life in itself and hence the divine prerogative to take away its life belongs to God. Whether for the pro-life or the pro-choice, the argument put forward is derived from a technical point of view. It is a technical point that is rather difficult. To understand the problem in a simple way, one may ask the question: When is the exact time a foetus possess a soul? The traditional understanding as to when life begins is when the sperm and ovum join and fertilization takes place. Life thus begins when the embryo is formed through conception.

Those who oppose the conservative point of view raise several arguments. Firstly, they argue that when an embryo is formed, there is a 75% probability that it would not successfully develop into a foetus, which is a very common occurrence. For them, this is the strongest argument suggesting that the embryo may not as yet signify the beginning of life. This is the general conceptual point put forward by pro-abortionists. Certainly no one would request a pastor to conduct a funeral for a dead embryo! In this regard, we are not naturally inclined to accept an embryo as a human life. Secondly, it is a usual birth control practice among women, even Christian ones, to use IUCD – a process of putting a special instrument into the uterus when the embryo is formed in order to prevent it from being implanted onto the uterus. Would not such a practice amount to abortion and worse still, occurring on a monthly basis? Generally, people would not consider it as a moral or ethical issue. So, detractors argue that the beginning of life cannot be the point of fertilization.

There is indeed no shortage of secular viewpoints in the attempt to determine when life actually begins. Certain quarters take the view that life is formed at the point when the implantation of fertilized cells takes place in the uterus. It follows that there is a soul in the embryo. From the medical or scientific point of view, identical twins are formed when the fertilized cells implanted on the uterus are separated into two. If we take this scientific explanation into account, using IUCD will not be an issue here. Others consider that the image of God in man, which makes his life sacred, lies in the function of the brain. As it takes about three months for the brain to be formed, it is only at this point that life begins. Still there are others who adopt the position that only when the embryo develops human form – a process that takes about eight to ten weeks – should it be considered as having human life. Another theory states that the point in which human life begins is when the foetus starts to move about in the womb after four months. Lastly, there is the viewpoint that it is when a foetus can live or survive outside the uterus, should it be considered as a human being.

The question as to when life begins is indeed a difficult one to answer. A number of Christian literatures that discuss the abortion subject attempt to make certain assumptions from several key verses to determine the beginning of life. The first portion of Scripture they referred to is Psalm 139:13-16: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb ... 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.” Support was also derived from Jeremiah 1:5: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” The verse tells us before Jeremiah was born the Lord had known him.

By relying on these Scripture verses, some authors formed the interpretation that the foetus has a soul. However, I think that these verses merely tell us that God is the Creator of life and that he loves us. It would be stretching things too far if we were to use the verses to support the assumption that life begins on a particular month. For example, we can take the case of the mother of Samson, who was told by an angel of the Lord: “You are sterile and childless, but you are going to conceive and have a son. Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean, because you will conceive and give birth to a son. No razor may be used on his head, because the boy is to be a Nazirite, set apart to God from birth, and he will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines.” [Judges 13:3-5] So even before Samson’s mother conceived, an angel of God had told her that the child she would give birth to was the chosen one. Certainly it would be difficult if not impossible for us to determine from the preceding verses when exactly a man has a soul in him. It follows that we cannot simply make an assumption as to when life begins where there is no clear scriptural statement on the matter.

Another Scripture reference is Exodus 21:22-23, which concerns the Old Testament law relating to personal injuries: “if men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.” From what we can perceive of the law, if the woman was killed then life is to be taken for life, but if the fighting only causes her to give birth prematurely life does not have to be taken for life. Hence we can draw the implication from the law that the life of a foetus is not equal to the life of an adult human.

Taking the above into account, perhaps we can form the concept that although an embryo has potential life, that life is not to be equated with an adult human’s life. As an analogy, in a presidential election, every one of the contesting candidates has the potential of being elected as the president in the same way an ovum and a sperm have the potential of fertilization. It would be wrong however, for us to say that any of the candidates is the president since each one of them is merely a potential or possible president. Going back to the scenario of the ovum and sperm, although fertilization may have occurred, 75% of fertilized cells would not normally grow into an embryo. Hence, if we were to adopt the view that we should not equate or compare foetus life with an adult human life, it would explain the Mosaic Law above as well as accord more with the Christian perspective of the practice of abortion.

Let us suppose that a woman has a particular disease that ravages all the organs in her body. At the same time, she is pregnant. Although her condition can be cured, about 20% of young women who have been afflicted with it will eventually die. Let us further suppose that the woman has a serious kidney problem arising from that disease and that her pregnancy will exacerbate the condition and increase the risk of death. From the medical point of view, most if not all would agree that an abortion of the foetus should be carried out in order to protect the mother. Abortion under such circumstances is permitted by law in order to save the mother’s life. However, it is very different in many real life situations. For instance, in a famine where a mother is faced with having no food to feed her children, most of us would certainly disagree and even protest that she should allow them to die at her own expense. In fact, like all loving mothers, she would sacrifice even her own life in order that her children might survive.

How we view the position of the embryo is indeed important in our treatment of the issue of abortion – especially the question of the origin of life. The Christian should not consider the embryo as part of the mother’s body but rather as an individual life of its own right, although it is not to be equated with an adult human life. We must value the foetus because God has created it and there is the potential for it to eventually develop into an adult human. Once we understand this, we will not regard abortion as merely a birth control mechanism or a social tool for our convenience but will see it as an act that threatens and undermines the sacredness of life.


Birth Control and Human Fertilization

Birth control itself is something righteous. This is because the family blueprint presupposes good stewardship. Nevertheless, if we resort to abortion or use medical means to prevent the embryo from being embedded in the uterus as a form of birth control, then we are bordering on the forbidden zone where ethics and morality come into question. As technology advances in leaps and bounds, the methods of conception also vary. For example, the technique of “in vitro” fertilization (IVP) accompanied by embryo transfer (ET) is widely accepted and practised nowadays. Although in principal we may be able to accept IVF, ethical and moral complications arise when the sperm or ovum donor is a third party or where the process involves surrogate motherhood. In the latter, the embryo that has been formed in the laboratory is placed in the womb of another woman who carries it and after giving birth, returns the child to the biological parents. Understandably, there is grave concern that the practice of IVF under such conditions would affect and undermine the family structure and induce morality problems, such as interference with the procreation process and intrusion into marital bonds and parenthood.


Brain death

Our discussion thus far has revolved around the beginning of life. Now we shall examine the end of human life and the issue of brain death. The pertinent question is when does the soul leave the human body? Although the moral issues surrounding brain death are relatively less complex, the basic arguments and theories involved still have to be understood. After the Second World War, medical technology had developed very rapidly. Due to various diseases and injuries, there were many instances of severe damage to the brain, which resulted in patients being unable to breathe. Prior to post-war medical advances, when a person was unable to breathe, the heart would stop functioning and the person would be declared dead. With the progress in medicine, the study of anaesthesiology also advanced.

Anaesthesiology is concerned with saving severe brain damage patients by sustaining their breathing with the aid of a variety of breathing instruments in order to keep them alive. After some time, these patients would stop responding. When the instruments are taken away, the breathing will stop and the blood pressure and body temperature will decrease. After several days the heartbeat will stop too. Usually, the patients would be taken care of in the intensive care unit (ICU), which is very costly. From the doctor’s point of view, these patients have in actual fact died and the soul has left the body. They can no longer breathe on their own although their hearts continue beating. Despite the fact that breathing instruments may continue to be used upon the patients, the life that is being sustained is a superficial one – a state of mere existence. The actual substance of life is no longer in existence. Thus, it is from here that the concept of brain death started to develop.

It is submitted that when a patient is in a brain dead condition, the life sustaining equipment should be disconnected from him to prevent wastage of funds. With the present advancement in technology, brain dead patients may still have organs such as heart, kidneys or liver that are in good condition. They can be donated to others who may be in need of them. For this purpose, campaigns to promote awareness of brain death should be carried out to help the general public understand the implications involved and encourage them to pledge their organs in the event they suffer such a condition. Such a donation may be the last act of kindness before a person passes away.

Basically, brain death is a biological situation where although a person may have stop breathing, his heart continues to beat and his blood pressure still runs. After some time however, the organs in his body will start to deteriorate and his heart will stop beating. The point of death is the moment when brain death occurs and not the time when the heart stops beating. Medical experts have formulated proper criteria to ascertain whether a patient is brain dead. The procedure involves two doctors who will examine a patient at different times in order to determine whether he is brain dead. When it has been diagnosed that the patient is brain dead, the life sustaining equipment would be disconnected from the person and he will officially be declared dead.

For the past forty years, many countries have accepted and implemented this concept. This concept is quite unlike the concept of the sacredness of life although their technical definition is quite similar. Firstly, we have to understand that a brain dead person is not to be equated with a person in a vegetated state. The former is dead but the latter is still alive. A vegetated person is someone who has lost the ability to think rationally due to serious damage of the brain. Nevertheless, he is still able to swallow food and breathe on his own. He is able to blink his eyes at times and his hands and legs can still move. What he has lost is his rational thinking. As a result, he is unable to listen to what is spoken to him since he has no consciousness. However if he is well taken care of, he may survive ten to twenty years. On the other hand, when a person is brain dead, his blood pressure and body temperature will slowly decrease after several days. Eventually his heart will stop beating and his condition can no longer be improved.

The rationale for terminating the life of a person who is brain dead is not based on the fact that his life is not worth sustaining anymore as a result of severe brain damage. Neither is it due to financial inexpediency, as there is no longer any hope for recovery, nor the undue burden placed upon family members or the possibility of organ donation. Rather, one must realise and comprehend that when a person is brain dead, he is actually dead – as a matter of fact. There is no point in keeping him alive factitiously.

The concept of brain dead does not infringe the principle of the sanctity of life. Instead, it has contributed to a greater understanding about the concept of life. Death is not merely defined as the non-function of a part of the body but the cessation of the coordinated function of the whole organism. Let me refer to two examples. Firstly, when a lizard is trampled to death, we can observe that its tail still moves. However, it cannot be said that the lizard is alive merely because its tail continues to move. Since the function of the whole organism has ceased, the lizard is regarded as dead. Secondly, when a criminal is executed, his heart continues to beat for several minutes. There may be slight pupil movement even after three to five hours. Bone and skin transplantation can still be carried out more than a day after the execution. How then do we determine the exact time of death of the criminal? Is it at the point he is executed, the moment the heart cease to beat after a few minutes or the time the pupil stops shrinking? Most people would concur that the time of death is when the head is decapitated from the body (if ever there was a practice of execution by decapitation).

Although part of the body may still function, when the whole coordinated function of the body ceases, then the life of the person is terminated. It is the same with brain death. When a person is brain dead, the whole function of the body ceases to operate. Despite the fact that the heart would still beat for another three to five days, the reality is that the process of deterioration has already taken place. If one were to emphasize that a person is still alive because his heart still beats, how would he be able to explain it in the case of a heart transplant between two persons? If A replaces his defective heart with a healthy one from B, who is deceased, how are we to regard A – is A still alive or B who is alive in A? Therefore, we cannot depend solely on the organ of the body to decide whether a person is still alive or not. As we gain understanding of the concept of life, we will discover that life is conformity of functions. When those functions are not in conformity, it spells the beginning of death.

From the viewpoint of culture, religion, law and tradition, death is a specific time or moment when the soul leaves the body. But from the medical point of view, death is a process. Death is considered as a process, which may take the span of several days. The task of determining the exact time when the process of death starts is a difficult one and relies greatly on the advance of medical science. For example, a person suffers a heart attack and as a result, his heart stops beating. After some time, his body temperature drops and his skin colour starts turning bluish and begins to rot. Anyone who sees the person’s condition will without doubt consider him to be dead. However, before the person starts to decay, a doctor who examines him with the aid of a stethoscope can ascertain that the person is dead when he hears no heartbeat and sees no sign of breathing. Moreover, the doctor can tell that the person is dead with the help of a cardiogram when he sees the machine signalling a continuous straight line on its screen, signifying that the heart has stop beating.

Death is actually a process. Through the understanding of medical knowledge, the actual time of death can be brought forward. Apart from this process, we would not be able to determine the actual time when the soul leaves the body. Only God himself would know the time of death. The issue in medical science is to decide whether the process of death has started or not. As explained previously and reiterated here, brain death does not contradict the principle of the sacredness of life. Rather, it provides a new comprehension of the definition of death with the advancement in technology. We should therefore instil this awareness and understanding in the Church and encourage Christians to go for organ donation.



Euthanasia

The third issue that I would like to discuss is euthanasia or mercy killing. It is a practice that is increasingly common nowadays. Euthanasia gives rise to many meanings or interpretations. We can read from the news of nurses or doctors who inject poison into the body of patients who are terminally ill in order that they might die faster and thus be alleviated from their pain and suffering. This is the general present day understanding of many people concerning the concept of euthanasia. However, euthanasia actually has several shades of meaning. I will rely on three illustrations in order to bring out the different aspects of euthanasia and highlight several principles for our guidance.

The first aspect of euthanasia can be seen from an example concerning a 14-year old patient of mine who was suffering from epilepsy. He started having the disease when he was seven. When he was fourteen, he could not communicate with others as a result of his condition. He could not understand what people said, could not talk and was subjected to regular seizures of fits. The boy’s father, who was a fisherman, had spent most of his fortune to cure him, as he was the only son from eleven children. On one occasion, the boy’s sister brought him to me after she saw her father pushing the boy into the sea while he was suffering from a seizure. There was another occasion when the boy had his seizure again. Although the father saw it, he pretended not to know and ignored the boy. The ethical issue that arises is whether the boy who no longer has any capacity of communication is still to be regarded as a person who has been created in the image of God? When the boy fell into the water, would it not be better off for him and his family if he were to drown? Some philosophers would argue that the boy still possesses the image of God. Otherwise, there would be no difference between him and an animal.

The second aspect of euthanasia can be observed from an example based on a film that was screened about ten years ago. The story was about a sculptor who became paralysed after an accident. He could not move about freely and had to heavily depend on others for assistance. He also suffered from kidney failure due to the accident. Hence, he had to undergo dialysis treatment. Due to his condition, he was not able to continue sculpting. The focus of the story was that the man felt that he had no more meaning or purpose to continue living. His life meant nothing to him, as he had lost the ability to sculpt. As a result, he refused to receive the dialysis treatment. The doctor who saved him considered his action to be a violation of the principle of preservation of life. Thus, the doctor injected valium into him to make him unconscious so that he could not refuse the treatment. That upset the man and he sued the doctor in court for compelling him to undergo the treatment. He won the case because the law forbade a doctor from compelling a patient to undergo treatment. The man also had a girlfriend who still loved him and remained faithful to him. In spite of that, he asked her to leave him. The story, although based on a film, may happen in real life.

The third aspect of euthanasia can be understood from a story based on a real life account although some minor modification has been made to it. A 50-year old lady was suffering from cancer of the intestines. After undergoing an initial surgery, she recovered from the illness. Two years later, the cancer recurred and she underwent several operations and treatments, including chemotherapy and diathermy. However, the cancer could not be contained and spread all over her body. Her doctor told her that she had only two months to live. One day, the doctor informed her about an experimental medication to heal the cancer that was being carried out in a hospital in the United States. The procedure required a patient to go to the States for about two weeks to undergo diagnosis and receive the experimental treatment. However, there was no guarantee that the cancer could be cured. Although the lady could afford the cost of the treatment, she refused to accept it. Her answer was that she was prepared to meet the Lord and could not bear to undergo any more suffering from the chemotherapy treatment. Two months later, she passed away. This illustration brings out another aspect of euthanasia: Where there is a cure that is very new and experimental, should a patient take the risk and go for the treatment? Should the Christian reject what science can offer?

I have used three examples to explain the basic principles and the issues involved in euthanasia. The first principle is that life is sacred. The authorship of life rests with our Lord. The sanctity of life is not dependent on the contribution or the value of a man to society. Therefore, a father who resorts to mercy killing to end the life of his son who is terminally sick is not acceptable to the Christian as well as the society. If a society accepts this kind of concept, many ethical and moral issues would arise as a result. As Christians, we believe that the Lord has the ownership of our lives and therefore we cannot endorse the practice of euthanasia. However, the secular world may view it differently as it may not necessarily agree that God has the authorship over our lives but instead emphasizes the responsibility of the individual. What is paramount is the value of individual freedom. Gradually, many people began to accept voluntary euthanasia. In the case of Malaysia, I do not think that euthanasia will be allowed since Islam is predominant. In countries that are more secular, the practice of euthanasia is bound to be a point of contention and evoke numerous uncomfortable issues.

The second principle is that while we respect the sanctity of life, the prolongation of the physical being or flesh is not the most valuable goal of our lives. The hope that the Christian has is in eternity and not in his earthly life. As such, we do not necessarily have to accept whatever science offers. We are not compelled to receive any form of new treatment that is made available by scientific and technological advancements. Where a particular treatment is experimental, costly and may not guarantee the desired result or even cause considerable side effects that will increase the suffering of the patient, it would be acceptable under such circumstances to permit the patient to die without receiving further treatment. Some would term it as a form of passive euthanasia – allowing nature to take its course. The same principle may be applied to a vegetated patient who has no hope of recovery. There is no need to use the most advanced and expensive antibody or other medicine to sustain his life. It is really quite pointless to spend large sums of money to sustain the patient merely to satisfy the conscience or to relieve guilt. To prolong life for the sake of prolongation of the physical being is a non-necessity since earthly life is not the ultimate end for the Christian.

The third principle is that since we know life is a gift granted by God, we should persevere in our suffering. In the story of the paralysed sculptor as highlighted above, the man rejected his girlfriend. In my view, his decision may not quite accord with Christian thinking or biblical teaching. When we accept that God is the giver of our life, we must also understand that our life cannot stand on its own. Rather, our lives are interdependent. Although we may be someone respectable and independent when we are healthy and strong, we still have to depend on others to take care of us when we fall sick. This is the basic human need for community, which God has placed in man when he created him. It teaches one to be responsible for the lives of others and to accept their minister.

From Scripture, we can observe that humans are creatures that are dependent on one another. In contrast, contemporary ideologies have made men think of themselves as individual entities. Scripture teaches that Christians are part of the body of Christ. We are supposed to depend on others since life is about inter-dependence. In the account of Jesus and Mary in John 12:1-8, it was recorded that Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume and poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair. When Judas saw what Mary had done, he objected that the perfume should have been sold and the money given to the poor. However, Jesus told Judas to leave Mary alone and defended her, saying that she had done a beautiful thing to him. Mark 14:9 recorded Jesus as saying that wherever the gospel would be preach throughout the world, what Mary had done would also be told in memory of her. From these verses, we can gather that Jesus was a person who was willing to rely on others and gracious enough to accept their ministry.

Another example of Christ can be seen from his encounter with God in the garden of Gethsemane. In Gethsemane, Jesus prayed to his Father: “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” However, God did not answer his prayer. There was such a great struggle within Jesus that Scripture recorded Jesus saying to his disciples: “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch.” After he prayed and returned to them, to his dismay, he found them sleeping. Jesus then said to Peter: “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?”[Mark 14: 32-37] The humanity of Jesus is clearly evident in this passage. When he had to deal with difficulties in his life or had to make an important decision, Jesus relied on his friends, hoping that they would keep him company throughout his journey. He was a person who was willing to reckon with others. Likewise, when we face difficulties and others extend their help to us, we should accept it with an open heart so that we can survive the dark valleys of life.

The story of the paralysed sculptor stirred numerous responses. There was a particular letter sent to a magazine by a lady who suffered from poliomyelitis. Both her legs were paralysed and the movement of her hands were restricted. She wrote that the story of the sculptor was unfair to victims like her. He was still able to move around with a motorised wheel chair although he could no longer sculpt. The lady used to be a pianist. Although she was unable to play the piano anymore, with the aid of high technology equipment, she was able to move three of her fingers to play the guitar. She still has her family and her capacity to appreciate music and life is still beautiful and meaningful for her.

The account of the lady drives home the point that if we believe that life is given by God, we ought to persevere despite the difficulties that we face. We should have the faith and courage to endure these hardships and understand that they are good for our soul and be comforted that our family, our friends and God still love us. Without doubt, it takes a great deal of faith and courage to restructure our whole life. The lady who wrote the letter is a Christian. I believe God not only wants us to know that the authorship of life belongs to him but that he also wants us to understand that we are the stewards of our lives. Life may be sweet or bitter. Even in difficulties, life can still be meaningful. This realization will give us the strength to enable us to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Isaiah 40:31 declares: “[B]ut those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”



7 Comments:

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