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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Taking the Plunge

Ok, I'm taking the plunge. After my initial comments about Terri Schiavo yesterday, I want to follow up with some reflection.

First, here's James Kushiner's very brief summary of what's wrong with this picture. I'd like to state up front that I think his criticisms are valid (assuming he's got his facts straight...I haven't checked them).

To be clear, I think there's plenty of wrong in this whole situation - not just with what Terri's husband is doing, but also with the media, the politicians (on both sides), and unfortunately, with the way many evangelicals are responding. There, have I managed to offend everyone all in fell swoop?

I confess that I'm a little frustrated that most of the conversations I've heard about this topic have reduced it to an ethical debate, where everyone is shouting "I'm right, you're wrong!" and pointing fingers. I think this causes two distinct problems:
  • 1) some people begin to equate their "rightness" with their "righteousness" (my being right makes me better than those of you who are wrong)
  • 2) others begin to conclude that there really is nothing "wrong" (so stop judging me you hypocritical religious zealot!)
I'd like to talk about something different. I'd like to ask, "Where does the gospel fit in all this?"

You see, I think the gospel skewers both of those positions. The gospel says there really is such a thing as right and a wrong, but then it goes on to point the finger at all of us - we are all on God's wrong side. Creation is fallen, and the effects of that cataclysmic event permeate every square inch of creation. This is why we have tsumanis, serial killers, pedophiles, perjurers, kids going name it, we've got it. Our sin runs the gamut, it covers a broad spectrum, and Michael Schiavo is just somewhere there in the mix, probably a lot closer to the rest of us than we'd really care to admit.

Now that last statement may raise some hackles, but it's really true. If I am honest and look at what goes on deep within my own heart, I'll bet that I share many of the same frustrations, hurts, desires, lusts, and cravings that Michael is experiencing. And my wife is still alive and kicking - she is beautiful, she loves me, she puts up with me when I am cranky, she is quick to forgive, slow to anger.

She is a godly woman, and most of the time I am actually smart enough to recognize that. But there have been moments within the past week where I have despised her, loathed her, thought, "I would just love to walk away from you forever." (If anyone is still reading at this point, you are probably thinking something like, "Good grief, this man hopes to be a pastor? Lord have mercy...")

But listen! That really is what is in my heart at times - and I have a sneaky suspicion many of you have felt the same way. My problem is not Marilyn; my problem is me.

The same thing is true for Michael Schiavo: his problem is not that is wife is in this vegetative state (although that is certainly bringing his problem to the fore) - his problem is that he is rebelling against the situation in which God has placed him. He is saying, "You screwed up, this is more than I can (or should) have to bear...I'm getting out!"

But the rest of us do precisely the same thing in our hearts all the time!

Now granted, most of us don't pull our wife off life support (more many of us, our wives are OUR life support) - but I suspect that more than a few of us would be sorely tempted if we were in Michael's shoes. And what does Mark 9 have to say about the heart?

So what does it look like to shine the gospel of God's truth on this situation? I think we must continue to agree with God's word: "sin is sin, wrong is wrong." However, we must immediately follow by confessing that "I am right there with you in heart, if not in deed." We must perceive ourselves as sinners in desperate need of God's redeeming grace in our lives, and we must constantly speak in such a way that those around us hear that recognition - not as a theoretical theological platitude, but as the bedrock of our beliefs.

We must be quick to repent of our own sin, and just as quick to identity with others as they feel the weight of theirs.

Michael Schiavo probably doesn't need any more people telling him how wrong he is - God's witness in word and creation have made that abundantly clear already. Most people know they are in the wrong. What people like Michael need most is compassionate friends who are willing to help them bear their burdens, to identity with them in their weakness, to call them to repent when they stumble, and to continually offer the hope of forgiveness when they screw up.

That's really the heart of the gospel - Jesus came not to save the righteous, but sinners. Are you "bad enough" to be eligible for the gospel?


At 3:26 PM, March 23, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

Along these lines, there's a nice gospel centered perspective over on JollyBlogger. A little snippet follows...
"Yet, with all of my moral outrage on this, I have to stop and ask myself if I am viewing this situation, and Michael in particular through a gospel-centered lens, or through a cross-centered lens?

Viewing Michael through a cross-centered lens won't change the sinfulness of his actions. Viewing Michael through a cross-centered lens won't change our obligation to rescue those being led away to slaughter. Viewing Michael through a cross-centered lens won't change our obligation to voice our opposition to the laws that make the starvation of a person like Terri possible.

But we are also faced with how we are to respond to Michael as a person. Put more precisely, how does the gospel guide our response to Michael as a person? If all should go his way, how should the Christian community react to him in the future?"
I fear that, for the rest of Michael's life, Christians will be praying for his comeuppance more than they will for his salvation. Christians will be mostly concerned that Michael receive justice for his part in this rather than mercy.

At 7:34 PM, March 23, 2005, Blogger Charles said...

What about the sinfulness of the parents? See, when I asked you that question, I expected a more nuanced response. I have to admit that. The parents don’t want to let go because they want Terri there for them.

Why is it sinful to let go? I’m not with all these wackos who think that you shouldn’t take your children to the Doctor, but let’s think about it another way, and I think I asked this before. At what point does medicine make us try and play God? Meaning, is it possible that God wanted Terri to die, and these people are keeping her alive for their own selfish reasons? Is it really righteous to play God in this way?

We are not talking about nursing someone back to health, which Jesus talked about. We are talking about a person who is completely brain dead. In order for her to stay alive, they have to stick a fricken tube down her throat. Don’t you think that is kind of, I don’t know, over the line of playing God, especially after 15 years? She is not going to get better! How is it glorifying God to keep her on this earth?

OK, I’m not saying Michael is a saint or that he isn’t selfish, or as you say, sinful, in his actions. But at what point do we throw in the towel? At what point do we decide that are actions, however noble we may think they are, are just a reflection of us trying to play God? Stealing is wrong because God gave something to someone else that he didn’t want you to have. In that same line, isn’t it wrong to keep someone alive who God most likely wanted to die?

At 7:38 PM, March 23, 2005, Blogger Marilyn said...

Just a short response to charlesdog. Actually since I believe that God is sovereign ie. in control of everything no matter how out of control it seems, it would follow that no matter what we do to "play god", He still has the last word. So...if God wanted Teri to die, she would be dead. Hmm...just some food for thought.

At 7:58 PM, March 23, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

Well, my whole point was just to say, "Yeah, I think there's a whole lot of sinfulness involved here." The parents are probably the only people I didn't name specifically, and although I'm not specifically trying to exonerate them (because I don't know their hearts), they're probably the last ones I'd single out for blame, because if anything they seem to be erring on the side of caution rather than haste.

So I agree w/ Marilyn that God is sovereign; simultaneously, he has also made us humans responsible. I think what rightly concerns people is how quickly we abandon our responsibilities to others in favor of our own agenda... and there certainly seems to be signs of that here.

Ultimately, motives matter immensely whether something is right or wrong - and everyone answers to God for those because he is the one who searches the heart. (You may recall my comments about ethics on Ryan's No Simple Dilemma post).

The real issue that I was seeking to address though, was not "who's wrong here," but "how does the gospel speak to a situation like this." Any thoughts about that?

At 8:59 PM, March 23, 2005, Blogger rs said...

We also need to remember that Michael is claiming this is what his wife wants. What do we do with that? What if we look at this from Terri's perspective instead of the other parties involved and say "what would I want if I were in her situation?"

Maybe Michael, who knew his wife best, really is acting according to her desires?

At 9:30 PM, March 23, 2005, Blogger Anne said...

Christian, well said. This entire situation has caused me to examine my own thoughts, words, and motives - that's for sure. And I appreciated the Jollyblogger post on Michael Schiavo (I linked to it on my own blog) because it pierced me to the heart.
I've been thinking about Michael more today and asking God to help me love him. It occurs to me that he, whatever his motives, is possibly missing out on a huge blessing in caring for and bearing with his wife. God so often works on us through suffering. And I say that knowing I haven't faced even a tiny fraction of the suffering the Schiavo/Schindler family has faced. But I may one day, and without God's grace I'll run from it, too, as it appears Michael is doing. (I may be wrong about that, but that's what it looks like he's doing.)
In blogging about Terri, I have to keep asking myself if it's Christ's love compelling me or the need to make a point and/or win an argument. I so want my motivation to be love, and this has caused me to pray for love more than usual. My heart easily breaks for some (her and her parents) but I'm asking God to break my heart for people like Michael and his attorney.
Anyway, that was a long-winded way of thanking you for your post and your pointing to the Gospel - the point of it all!

At 10:23 PM, March 23, 2005, Blogger Charles said...

Christian and Marilyn: Yes, God controls all, but that still doesn’t mean that the hearts of the parents will not be judged as well. Just like God uses people to do bad things but judges them because of their hearts. I am just saying that it is so easy to bash Michael. It is a way to not ask the hard questions. It is much more hard to try and figure out where the hearts of the parents are, because it looks so sincere from the outside, and Michael’s heart looks so Black from the outside, but I just don’t know about this. As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. How does keeping Terri alive against her husband’s wishes glorify God more than letting her go against the parents’ wishes? I don’t really get that airing on the side of life thing. I think that quality of life is more important, but that is probably the Agnostic coming out in me.

So you say that we glorify God if we air on the side of life, no matter what?

At 5:54 AM, March 24, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

Charlesdog: I see where you are coming from. And I agree w/ you: no action, no matter how "good" it appears on the outside, is a guaranteed win in God's eyes, because it always comes back to that Puritan prinicple - for something to be truly good it needs to a) square w/ God's word, b) done for God's glory, and c) spring from faith in Christ.

You are also right - it IS easy to bash Michael. But its not enough simply to shift our scrutiny off of him and onto the parents - ultimately, that's just one more way to avoid the really hard questions.

You see, we really need to go all the way and take a good hard look at the guy in the mirror, because that's the only person we can actually do something about.

That means you and me both.

It's like Rico's comment in Christianity Explored - we really don't have a big enough view of sin. Our own. You and me both.

So that's my question for both of us - what are you and I each going to do about our own sin?


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