Death with dignity
Death is never easy, but God can use it for His purposes.

On November 1st, Brittany Maynard, 29, is going to die. If you haven’t heard her story, Brittany was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer shortly after her wedding. There is no hope for her recovery. As a result, she and her family moved to Oregon, which enacted the “Death with Dignity” law or medical-assisted euthanasia, so she could die on her terms. She chose November 1st for the date of her death. You can see her tell her story here.

Needless to say, her story aroused the nation’s attention and sparked heated debates about medical-assisted euthanasia, suicide and death with dignity. One woman, also dying from a terminal illness, penned an open letter to Brittany pleading with her to not take the lethal medication. The woman’s faith in Jesus Christ was the background of her argument.

I, too, have strong feelings about Brittany’s decision to end her life. On one hand, I feel intense compassion and sympathy for her and her family because of the terrible circumstances. I could not imagine having to slowly die from a painful and degenerative disease or watch my daughter suffer and die. I know what it’s like to have so many dreams and expectations for your life and come to the awful realization that they will never happen. My husband died suddenly at 28 after only three years of marriage.

However, on the other hand, I also want to talk her out of it because I believe she is short-circuiting the work God wants to do through her suffering. Yes, I said God wants to use her suffering for His purposes.

An update from Brittany…

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” Isaiah 55:8-9 (NRSV).

Even believers in Jesus Christ don’t like to hear the word “suffering.” We sing songs about taking up our cross, dying to ourselves and following Jesus, but when faced with suffering and painful situations, we want to get out of it as quickly as possible. We try to speak, pray, beg and manipulate our way out. Then we question God’s love for us when He doesn’t deliver us from it. You remember all of the pain Job endured? Suffering makes us afraid and stirs up anxiety. Our flesh fights against it. Our earthly minds cannot comprehend why suffering is necessary in a believer’s life.

“And if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” Romans 8:17 (NRSV).

However, I want to suggest that suffering is necessary in a believer’s life. There are redemptive qualities to suffering. Redemptive suffering seems like an oxymoron, but God uses suffering to teach, empower and perfect us in ways that we wouldn’t experience lest we’d gone through suffering. There is a purpose for pain.

Here are a few ways God uses suffering in the lives of believers.

God uses suffering to show us another side of Himself.

Many believers study the names of God as revealed in the Old Testament. For example, Jehovah-Jireh “The Lord will Provide,” or Jehovah-Rapha “The Lord who Heals.” (The complete list.) We study these names and characteristics, but fail to realize God oftentimes revealed Himself through difficult circumstances. Abraham wouldn’t have known God as a provider unless he went through the terrible circumstance of being told to sacrifice Isaac. The disciples would not have understood the power and authority of Jesus if they had not gone through the storm (Mark 4:35-41). God allows us to go through suffering so He can reveal things to us about Himself.

Personally, I wouldn’t know God as a comforter and counselor if I hadn’t experienced the death of my husband. Yes, it is a terrible tragedy, but I know God now in ways I never knew Him before. The pain and suffering I still experience from missing my husband continue to teach me new things about God and help me look up and focus my attention on God and spiritual things. My husband’s death put many things in their proper perspective for me. By ending her life, Brittany is going to miss out on the lessons God wants to teach her through her suffering. The first being that God will never leave nor forsake her.

God uses our suffering to teach OTHERS about Himself.

Brittany is also going to shortchange those around her from the lessons God wants to teach them through her suffering and death. Suffering is not just about us. It’s about someone else. Our faith, determination, persistence, hope and trust in Jesus in the face of terminal illness, death, pain and suffering serve as examples to others. Someone may want to know Jesus because of our unwavering faith in God.

Witnessing my husband’s death strengthened my faith in God tremendously. I wrote about some of the lessons I learned here. God even used his death to deliver me from a lifelong fear of death. As I held my husband’s hand and felt his spirit depart from his physical body, I never felt more assured of our life in Christ after death. The Lord continued to minister that knowledge to me in the following months. I never would have experienced this lest I went through the process. God wants to do the same in Brittany’s family.

Sometimes God uses suffering to develop us.

I do not know if Brittany is a Christian. However, as believers God wants to conform us into the image of His Son. Oftentimes, God uses suffering to do it. Some believers call it “the perfecting of our faith.”

1 Peter 1:6–7 (NRSV) says, “In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” When our faith is tested by fire, Jesus reveals Himself to us like never before. We gain new revelatory knowledge about God when we go through suffering.

Suffering is also necessary because it makes us more compassionate and sensitive to the suffering of others. In today’s world, we are so disconnected even though technology enables us to be more connected than ever. As a result, many of us are blind to the suffering of others. God allows pain and suffering to come into our lives to make us more compassionate. Many times in scripture it says Jesus was moved with compassion. God desires for all of His children to have a heart of compassion. If you never experience suffering, then it will be hard for you to conceive of the pain people experience. Before I lost my husband, I couldn’t understand why some people wrestled with the death of loved ones several years later. Now, I understand the magnitude of loss and the grief that follows. As a result, I am more compassionate and understanding when ministering to others. I am also more compelled to minister to others because I know people are hurting. God is using my pain to advance His purposes to reach others for Jesus Christ.

We glorify God when we suffer in hope.

We don’t like to hear this one because it makes us afraid and confuses our limited minds, but suffering in hope glorifies God. Notice I said “in hope.” Suffering for the sake of suffering doesn’t glorify God. But when you go through trials and tribulations and you stand firm on the promises of God and your faith and hope remain in Him, you bring glory to God.

In John 21:18-19, Jesus told Peter about his death. Jesus alluded to Peter’s death as a martyr. He said that this kind of death would best glorify God. When we die in faith and confidence in Jesus Christ, we send a powerful message to the world and bring glory to God. Remember the three Hebrew boys who were willing to die because of their faith in Daniel chapter 3? They sent a powerful message to the king and those watching, which brought a tremendous amount of glory to God. God wants to do the same in and through us. Where would our faith be if the great patriarchs and matriarchs ended their lives prematurely to avoid beheading, stoning, the furnace and illness? There is no dignity in the aforementioned means of death. Where would we be if we didn’t have their testimonies of God’s faithfulness in the midst of suffering to stand on?

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones” Psalm 116:15 (NRSV).

I understand the logic behind the “Death with Dignity” law. People and their families are suffering tremendously. However, faith in God means trusting Him with everything and in all things – even when it is hard. It means surrendering our will to the will of God. When we take the reins of our life from God’s hands and into our own, we are demonstrating our lack of faith and trust in Him to carry us through the most difficult circumstances of life. Thankfully, we have a savior in Jesus Christ who knows exactly what it’s like to suffer and die without dignity. Jesus’ death on the cross showed us that we can die with dignity and in power despite what the world thinks when we commit ourselves to God.

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