Justifying death

By David A. Liapis

Have you ever been in an ethics class and been confronted with an ethical dilemma exercise? One that I’ve encountered a few times is a doomsday scenario where there are more people than can fit in the only survivable fallout shelter, and the group is tasked with deciding which people would be let in and kept alive to rebuild and repopulate the world, and which would be left outside in the nuclear holocaust to die. Basic facts for each of the individuals are given – gender, age, education level, profession/expertise, and, for some, character traits and medical conditions. The group is then given 30 minutes to decide who lives, who dies and why.

The discussions I’ve been a part of were tumultuous and challenging, and we always ran out time. Then came the interrogation from the instructor. Why did we choose to let the prostitute or mentally handicapped person in or out of the shelter? Why the old scientist or the convicted felon? Right or wrong, we found we all had opinions, and justification, for who we’d let live or die; and if we’re honest with ourselves, we all ascribe value to people based on what we know – or think we know – about them.

Let me ask some tough questions. Do you feel the pain of loss as deeply when someone you don’t know dies? Why not? Are they not a human being with dignity and value? Do you feel as badly when disaster strikes some country across the ocean as you do for your home country? Why? Are not 10,000 foreigners as deserving of life and health as everyone else (theological answer aside)? Have you ever questioned why God would let a “good” person die instead of someone you deemed “bad”?

I am still grieving along with many people the loss of a man whom I was friends with years ago and whose extended family I have remained connected with over the years. This man was hero in many ways – a fireman, a husband, a father, a God-fearing, patriotic American. He was a young man who was full of life and promise and upon whom his pregnant wife and four other children depended. And yet, God took home to heaven “before his time” after losing a painful and tragic battle with a brain tumor. Now his widow has to deal with her own emotional turmoil in additional to that of her four little children and be ready to bring a fifth, now fatherless, child into the world. There are fewer more tragic scenarios than this one.

Sometimes, like now, we might wish we were the classroom instructor grilling God about why he chooses to let some “evil” people live and prosper while other, seemingly more “worthy,” people die. We want the authority to demand God’s justification for his choice and we question the fairness or wisdom of it. But, we cannot. Instead, we have two options: 1. Doubt the goodness and wisdom of the God who is supposed to be all knowing, all powerful and the very definition of love; or 2. Trust in that same God even though his ways are not our ways and believe he will somehow heal the pain, mend the brokenness and work all things together for good in his time.

There is only one reason anyone ever chooses option two – the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the hope we have in the resurrection. The Bible tells us that because Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose again to life that death has been defeated and its sting has been removed. Only those who trust in Jesus can find hope in the midst of such unspeakable sorrow. Only those who know Jesus as Savior can say, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

Without these amazing truths that undergird our faith, we are hopeless; pain and suffering are meaningless; and life is a cruel joke that ends in sorrow and death. But, oh Christian, rejoice that not only our lives, but even our deaths have meaning! Rejoice that death to us is but a door to the eternal presence of our Lord! Triumph in the truth that Jesus has turned death on its head, and that one day all God’s adopted children with be gathered together to praise the triune God for eternity! To him be the power, and the glory forever! Amen.

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