April 3, 1991
A few weeks ago, a little Alberta girl died in a car accident while she was singing “Jesus Loves Me.” A family member took comfort in the confidence that she was ushered into the arms of Jesus while she sang.
Apparently that confidence is not shared by the majority. A medical social worker in Saskatchewan says “the belief in death as the gate to a heavenly reward is no longer how people view the end of life.” She says the first concern today is the loss of living, not with “heaven or damnation” and “death is a block to health” not the entrance to eternity.
She went on to explain current trends concerning the care of terminally ill patients. If there is no hope for an improvement in the quality of life, then passive euthanasia (as opposed to active, which is illegal) is an option. That is, it is better to stop life-sustaining treatment than to suffer.
It seems that if this life is all there is, choosing to end it is a contradiction. Not that I’m big on suffering; given a choice, pain will always be far down my list of preferred experiences. But for those who believe life is all there is, living in pain seems more logical than pulling the plug when things get too tough.
The problem is that death is not a universal gateway to heaven. The Bible says it is the “wages of sin,” the final enemy of human beings. What comes after death is the real issue. Jesus Christ says a person either spends eternity with Him or is cast away from Him forever, depending on what they believe about Him. Blunt it may be, but that is what God says about death.
As for suffering, the Bible indicates four causes: first, sin in general causes general suffering for people, whether it is their own sin or that of others. Secondly, some kind of suffering is often the way by which life ends. Thirdly, God will sometimes chasten His sinning children with suffering as He works to correct their destructive behavior. Lastly, He can glorify Himself through either removing the problem or giving supernatural endurance to the sufferer.
Suffering can draw people to God. Deuteronomy 8:3 says God “humbled” His people by allowing them to suffer hunger, then feeding them with manna that they might “know that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” Suffering taught them to rely on Him.
The Apostle Paul suffered when he lost personal prestige. Despite his loss, suffering brought him to know Christ and eternal life. Jesus, although innocent Himself, suffered as God used His sacrifice to redeem mankind. Since then, many Christians have suffered as they follow Christ, and God has used their sacrifices to impress upon others the validity of the gospel message and used that suffering to bring many to salvation through faith in His Son.
Scripturally, about the only negative thing I can discover concerning suffering is that it doesn’t feel good. In fact, the Bible teaches if suffering comes our way, there is some reason God has allowed it. We may not always perfectly understand what He is up to but when painful things happen and we feel like “pulling the plug,” God encourages us with verses like 1 Peter 5:10: “The God of all grace, who has called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, will make you perfect, and establish, strengthen, and settle you.”
As we seek His face, we can ask Him to either reduce the pain, eliminate it, or give us strength to endure it. In this way, we learn to trust Him with the pain of living. Then, when the time comes to endure the pain of dying it is even possible that He grant the grace for us to be singing while we travel to the arms of Jesus, not crying or protesting because we have had to suffer.