Philippians, Spiritual Agriculture, and Suicide
Plans change. I often encourage the teams I lead on mission trips to have a constant attitude of flexibility. I have learned that working with Mission Discovery to bring the gospel to people around the world in a tangible way is logistical hot yoga. It’s always moving, challenging, and Spirit driven, which means my plans don’t mean much. This week I planned to write about the whole chapter of Philippians 1. My plans have changed.
Paul’s incarceration at the time that he wrote this letter has an impact on his physical and emotional state of being. You can look deeply into the words on the page. They aren’t stagnant. Some words in the Bible can be stagnant can’t they? Genealogies and measurements aren’t generally the sections I want to read unless I’m having trouble sleeping. But reading Philippians chapter 1, the words bite like a crisp red wine and each phrase is saturated with depth and meaning. So I will just stay in this chapter, week after week until the only thing left to do is move on to Chapter 2.
Paul makes several outstanding statements in this chapter. It only fits with the unfolding of Brittany Manard’s story that we take a look at the internal battle happening with Paul as he is writing.
Maynard was a beautiful 29 year old girl married for just over a year when she was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer. She was given 6 months to live with no hope of survival. The other night, after suffering through another bout of intense seizures she decided to take her own life using drugs provided legally by doctors in Oregon. Her name is all over the news because some people believe that when faced with a situation like this a person should have the right to terminate their own life, while others think God is the author of life and death and we shouldn’t interrupt His plan.
Let’s jump into the text of the New Testament.
I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. (Philippians 1:20-24 NIV)
Did you know that Paul, writer of one-third of the New Testament, had suicidal thoughts? And he didn’t even keep them secret. The fact that Paul struggles with this debate means that even the most faithful servant of Christ today could be struggling with the idea that there is more hope on the other side of eternity than on this side. In short, it means that being a Christian doesn’t give us a “get out of jail free” card. In fact, I would venture to say it means the opposite. Being Christian doesn’t excuse us from being human.
Being Christian does not excuse us from being human.
As I was checking my Facebook the other morning I came across a post that made my skin crawl. This is what it said… “Goodness gracious people! There is NOTHING courageous or glamorous about suicide.” I mistakenly went on to read the comments on this post in which the poster quoted from the 10 commandments and damned all those who have committed suicide to Hell.
My blood was boiling. While we could dig ourselves into a theological discussion on this matter, I fear that things like that will only drive us apart, and I would rather bring us together by asking one simple question. If you were one of the people that came against Brittany’s decision and have found yourself standing on one side of the fence because you believe the decision of life or death belongs only to God, and if we interrupt His plan we are damned to Hell, here is the question I would ask you… Where were you?
If I am on that side of the fence, where I believe that someone will go to Hell if they end their own life, and I know they plan to do it…
and I do nothing about it…
Doesn’t that seal my fate as well? If I didn’t try my hardest to bring that person the hope of Christ in the darkest moments of their life, but I could have, am I not just as guilty? I didn’t look up Brittany’s number and call to tell her all of the sunshiny things to live for. I didn’t even try. I didn’t drive to Portland and knock on her door to tell her everything might be ok tomorrow. I didn’t even have flowers delivered. I did NOTHING.
And maybe I couldn’t have logistically. So the question becomes, did I do everything I could to show her Christ while she was wading in darkness, fear, and physical pain and planning to it all?
Did I even pray for her?
So am I guilty? Is her blood on my hands?
As Christians, we need to be very careful that we don’t sink into an attitude of entitlement. It is not our place to make declarations about who is in and who is out. In fact, when Jesus threw parties, the very people making those declarations were the people standing outside the doors.
I believe the grace of God explodes the walls of our imaginations, theologies and dogmas. It penetrates into the darkest of hearts and finds its way to every corner of humanity. We cannot put limits on the eternal work of Christ. That’s the good news that the world is dying to hear.
As I read the gospels, I see Jesus as a person who drew those cast out by the religious society of the day closer to him, while at the same time rebuking those who thought they had the right to play God by making their opinions of condemnation known to the world.
In my walk with Christ I have found this to be true: those people who make it a practice to point out the flaws and imperfections in another persons faith are struggling to find security and confidence in their own faith and salvation. In other words, pointing out the speck of dust in someone else’s eye is an effort to ignore the plank in my own.
1. If you are a person that struggles with your place in life, and that sometimes sees more hope on the other side of eternity than on this side… know this, YOU ARE NOT ALONE! In fact, a prominent writer in the New Testament had those same thoughts… Follow in his footsteps and SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS! Sometimes all it takes is getting it out. Let someone else know what you are going through.
2. When you see someone struggling, and wading in darkness and depression, what will you do? Are you prepared to be a light in that situation? What are your thoughts on suicide and how would they change if someone close to you were struggling with thoughts of finality.
3. For some of us, Brittany’s story hit a little too close to home. We have experienced the loss of someone close to our hearts, because they chose to end their own life. I find sadness not in where they are in death, but where they were in life. I cannot look into someones heart and know where they were with Christ, and I certainly cannot claim to know where they will spend eternity. But I can look back and ask myself that simple question, “Where was I?”
And I don’t use that question to condemn myself. It’s a challenge to engage with the lives of those around me, plant seeds of light, not darkness. Always encourage people rather than discourage them. Maya Angelou tells us people will never remember what we do or say, but how we make them feel. Mark 4 tells us that our job as followers of Christ is to plant seeds, and that’s it. God does the rest.
So… What seeds are you planting?
What seeds do you want to plant?