THE RIGHT TO LIFE?
Stunned! Shocked! Saddened! “I can’t believe it.” These emotions and expressions of grief and disbelief have swept over the world since last Monday. Isn’t it enough that wars are waged by and against terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Nigeria, Syria, and Israel? That innocent people are suppressed and oppressed in totalitarian countries all over the world. That men and women, boys and girls, and the elderly are dying by the scores nearly every day in these man-made calamities?
Or the apocalyptic uncertainty that imperils the future of our planet by massive earthquakes, incredibly destructive tsunamis, tornadoes, hurricanes, and traumatic changes in weather patterns. Along with the exponential increase in famines and plagues devastating large parts of some continents.
Then there’s everyday life. The relentless aging of the human body, the ravages of disease in the young, the heartbreak of losing children, parents, spouses, brothers, sisters, friends, relatives.
No, that’s not enough. The onslaught of life’s sorrows and struggles continue to undermine humanity’s desperate search for peace and happiness, seemingly without pause or relief. In the midst of all this turmoil and tragedy, we were told that actor/comedian Robin Williams died at the age of 63, but from none of the above listed causes. Rather, he left this earth by his own hand. Suicide. As is customary with the passing of high-profile celebrities—whether political, sports, religious, or entertainment—eulogies have erupted from the four corners of the earth. In that respect, Robin Williams’ death speaks for the 39,000 suicide deaths each year in the United States alone; although on a much larger scale by virtue of his status in life … afforded him by a global society that defines and worships success.
Often when someone dies, loved ones, close associates, and even strangers will ask: Why? Especially, if it’s what we think or label an untimely, premature, even unnatural death. Yet we are reminded all too often that death is, in fact, natural … no matter the cause. Natural, because it is a normal, accepted fact that everyone must one day die. What makes a death like Robin Williams seem unnatural is that, in the eyes of millions including his co-stars in Hollywood, it defies all rationale logic why anyone who had as much fame and fortune as anyone could want or need would end it all … just like that.
Truly, he was a gifted man, one of my personal favorites. Though he could be a little crass at times, I often laughed at his stand-up comic routines or his spontaneous comedic genius on late night television shows. And I have seen several of his movies, including my favorite, Popeye. You read that right. Not because the movie itself was all that great, but because of the sheer brilliance of Williams’ portrayal of one of the most well-known cartoon characters of all time. As a child, I actually learned to like spinach after watching dozens of Popeye episodes!
The very next day, Robin Williams was followed in death by Lauren Bacall, whose feminine magnetism captured the attention of so many who saw her on the big screen. What baby boomer or pre-baby boomer can forget Bogie and Bacall? Though her passing was another stark reminder of death’s certainty, I’m sure many breathed a sigh of relief that her death at the age of 89 was more natural and expected.
According to news broadcasts and articles, most were shocked at the news of Williams’ suicide. But in light of his periodic struggles with chemical dependency and a recent deep depression, others were not that surprised. And, this past Thursday, his widow announced that he had been diagnosed with early stages of Parkinson’s, which often causes depression because of chemical imbalances produced by the disease.
A Time to Reflect
Although it’s very true, I will not use this article to expose the utter futility of fame and fortune when death strikes. In that regard, Jesus said it all: “If you try to hang on to your life you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” (Mark 8: 35-37).
Jesus’s reference to trying to hang on to life is a sure way to lose it, in no way suggests a death wish. In the context of these verses and several other passages in the Gospels, Jesus is saying that the real meaning of life is found in him, not in the love and ultimately vain pursuit of riches, fame, and pleasure—at the expense of one’s eternal soul. Compared to eternity, the span of life on this planet is like one small wave in a vast ocean.
The all too mournful death of Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall and thousands of ordinary people who die every day reminds us of things we don’t want to dwell on. It’s not easy to write about death or to even think about it, but sometimes we must. Most people go out of their way not to even say the word. They prefer passed instead of died. “He passed away last night.” Though it’s more positive and certainly more comfortable to think about life instead of death; when it comes to periodic contemplation of our mortality, it can be downright dangerous if we do what the proverbial ostrich does and, “Stick our head in the sand.”
Now then, ostriches do not, in fact, stick their head in the dirt. Instead, at the sight or sound of something they fear or some sort of trouble, they run. Boy do they run. For miles and miles at speeds up to 40 MPH. But isn’t that we humans do also? We run from the very thought of death. And those who have no personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ have a ton of doubt and uncertainty as to exactly what happens after they take their last breath. As well they should. Accordingly, they often stick their head in the ground. But why do that? Our whole body will be in the ground soon enough. We all need to take personal stock of our humanity and the brevity of life, shortened even more by those who heartbreakingly take their own lives or whose life is taken by another.
But any reflection on our mortality that excludes the very source of our life and, if we let him, the only one who can and does provide an absolute guaranteed bodily resurrection after we die, is an exercise in futility. To ignore the challenges and claims of the Bible concerning Jesus Christ and his love and his life-giving salvation is tantamount to saying, “I don’t need Jesus. What does he have to do with me and where I spend eternity?”
On the supreme authority of the Word of the true and living God, I beg to differ: I need Jesus, you need Jesus … the whole world needs Jesus!
My former father-in-law once said to me when I was talking to him about Christ: “I don’t want to hear any more of that. If I were to fall off this sofa right now and die, someone will be there to point me in the right direction.” How sad? On whose authority could he make such a statement? At the time he was in good health. A few months later he died. Just a few hours before he died, he fell out of his bed. I couldn’t help but think of what he had said to me. My father-in-law was a kind man with a good heart. But all hearts, good and bad, need to be reconciled to God through Christ. During our brief sojourn on this earth, every human spirit needs to be reunited to the one who created that spirit.
There are dozens of other such notions that people think or hope will take place after they die, without knowing for sure. That’s why I speak and write on the authority of God’s Word, not my own imagination or supposition or even wishful thinking.
Many others have the mindset: Hey, I’ll be okay … millions have died before me. As if the sheer number of people who have died—since death was brought to the human race by our original ancestors, Adam and Eve—would mean that all those people can’t be wrong. Or if they are wrong, at least we’re all in the same boat. It’s misguided comfort and consolation through community. Like, “I can’t be any worse off than so many others who have gone before me. At least we’ll all have something in common.” Really? What might they have in common with Adolph Hitler or Joseph Stalin? Actually those who will sadly spend eternity separated from God do have one thing in common. None of them believed in or accepted God’s gift of atonement and redemption for their sins.
What about the Right to Life? Who does our life belong to? Does your life belong to you, and mine to me? Did Robin Williams’ life belong to him? Or Lauren Bacall’s to her? Does everyone have the right to claim exclusive ownership of their very existence? Is that how it really works?
The very first paragraph of one of the very first articles published in USA Today, the day after Robin Williams died states, “By now, no doubt, Robin Williams is making them chuckle at the Pearly Gates. Back home, his family, friends, and fans are struggling, choking back tears while remembering how often he made them cry with laughter.”
At first glance these are poignant and comforting words. I refer to this quote only to show the common perception or belief of the vast majority of people all over the world. Which is essentially wishful thinking that they and their loved ones will make it to heaven or at least won’t end up in hell, depending on one’s belief in the existence of hell … or for that matter heaven. I do hope that Robin and Lauren are in heaven; but unless they had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through believing and receiving him as the one who had a right to their life and could have made their life right with God, then I fear for their eternal soul.
A Matter of Life and Death
“This command I am giving you today is not too difficult for you to understand, and it is not beyond your reach … No, the message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart so that you can obey it” (Deuteronomy 30: 11 & 14). These words were inspired by God, and spoken by Moses to the Israelites shortly before Joshua led them into the Promised Land of Canaan, later to be called Israel. What was this command that was not too difficult to grasp, that was on the tip of their tongues and on the very top of their hearts? Moses answers this question with these stunning words:
“Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between life and death, between prosperity and disaster. For I command you this day to love the Lord your God and to keep his commands, decrees, and regulations by walking in his ways. If you do this, you will live….” (Deuteronomy 30: 15-16, italics for emphasis).
Again, he declares: “Today I have given you the choice between life and death … Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him. This is the key to your life….” (Verses 19-20).
It’s all too evident that the life and death spoken by Moses is more than just physical life and death. The Israelites who heard this message were obviously alive. And certainly by this time in man’s history, it was all too clear that every person ever born would one day die.
When Jesus Christ came to this earth for the express purpose of dying for the horrible sins we all have committed, as well as conquering the very sin nature that everyone is born with which condemns us to death, he provided a means of redemption for all mankind, including all those who came before him—both Jews and Gentiles. This salvation is simply God imparting or imputing the life-giving righteousness of the sinless Son of God to every man, woman, and child who believes what Christ did on the Cross and why he did it. Scripture is clear: We have no righteousness or merit of our own, the kind that God requires to live with him forever in Heaven. Rather, this righteousness is freely given when God forgives all of our sins, past, present, and future. “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (II Corinthians 5:21).
And what is it that we must do to be made right with God? What must we do to inherit everlasting life? It is, in fact, a free inheritance. There is only one thing that we can do: CHOOSE TO BELIEVE GOD. Thereby, choosing life. It’s called faith or trust in the Lord or reliance on him. It’s giving up self-control of our life and eternal destiny to Christ. It is total recognition and acknowledgment that God’s way is the only real way of LIFE, both now and forever more. Because God through his Son IS LIFE.
Which brings us back to what God through Moses so profoundly told the Jews of that time … applicable to all people who have ever lived. We don’t have the right to life, but we do have the right to choose what we will do with our life. There is a difference, and understanding this difference can make all the difference in the world. Moses is telling his people that they must choose between life and death. They are not choosing to be born. Their physical life had already been given to them. They are not choosing whether to physically die or not … that’s a foregone conclusion. Instead, they are exercising their God-given right to choose between eternal life and perpetual, never-ending death—which the Bible defines as separation from God. This is no different from our choice today.
Jesus said it best when he spoke these incredible words to Martha, just a short time before he raised Martha and Mary’s brother, Lazarus, from the world of the dead. “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?” (John 11: 25-26). Jesus’s second reference to death (never ever die) was clearly that of eternal death, meaning everlasting separation from God in hell.
When Jesus asked Martha if she believed that he was life itself (obviously implying he was the source of life, from the moment we are born and the only one who could extend our life through all eternity by raising us bodily from the dead), he was telling her that she must make a choice. She could choose to believe (in) Christ or not to believe (in) him. That’s why Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead: (1) To demonstrate his power over life and death; (2) to confirm that resurrection from the dead includes our very body. Lazarus didn’t walk out of the tomb as a spirit. (See I Corinthians Chapter 15).
So God gave us life. But because we are a fallen race, we ourselves have sentenced this God-given body of ours to death. God knew that would happen from the beginning but he chose not to rescind his gift of free will to mankind. Thus, God provided a redemptive remedy. Through Christ, he gives us life again … everlasting life. We have no say or control over the beginning of our life through physical birth. But we do have the freedom to choose a second birth from above. Jesus said, “You must be born again” (John 3:7).
Thus, it’s a matter of faith and trust that what God says is true. That God and Jesus’s prophetic promises that all who believe in Christ will continue to live (in the very presence of God) forever in Heaven. When we believe this, then God forgives and takes away the penalty of our sins by replacing our unrighteousness with Christ’s righteousness. That’s why the condition of “whosoever believes in him” is part of the most quoted verse in Scripture: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16, italics for emphasis).
Long before Moses, Abraham himself was declared righteous because of one thing and one thing only: his trust in God—that what God said was true. “And Abraham believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith” (Genesis 15:6). Abraham understood that his son, Isaac, was the child of promise, the progenitor of the coming Messiah who would bring salvation to the whole world. This is why Abraham believed the Lord.
Since Christ came into this world there is only one difference between Abraham’s faith, and the faith of Moses and his people to enable them to choose life over death, from the faith of all alive today: Their trust in God and his Messiah looked ahead. Our trust is retroactive, because Messiah, indeed, came to this earth at exactly the appointed time. But the result is the same: A totally unequal but nevertheless magnificent exchange of our sins and the penalty of those sins for God’s righteousness that will enable us to spend eternity in his very presence. As is sometimes said, “It doesn’t get any better than that!”
“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet, God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus” (Romans 3: 23-26).
What Are Our Rights?
Please, pay close attention: It’s a matter of giving up what we think is our right to life! Because the fact is: We have no inherent or innate right to life. God created us. Life belongs to him. Every breath we breathe is possible only through the one who first breathed the breath of life and man became a living soul (Genesis 2:7).
If you’re having trouble with this, let me ask you: What say did you have in being born? What did you contribute to your conception and birth? How much control did you have when you took your first breath on this planet? Did you choose your parents? And they their parents, and so on back as far as you care to go with your genealogy? If we want to talk about rights, then at least we should conclude that our parents have the rights to our life. But, obviously it goes much farther and deeper than that. How did life begin in the first place? Did our father create the sperm within him, or our mother the egg?
Listen to these magnificent words from King David: “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it” (Psalms 139: 13-14). With two words, David expressed his deep appreciation for and acknowledgment of the very source of his being, “Thank you.” He knew beyond any doubt that Almighty God has ownership rights to our very existence, because God created every human being. God has a divine patent and copyright to our complete being … body, soul, and spirit.
However, in that respect, life is nothing like money or land or any other possessions that rightfully belong to someone by virtue of hard work or inheritance, or whatever. Conception and birth is the beginning of all things, a phenomenon that no one who has ever lived has produced or inherited, or caused to happen by themselves and only by themselves.
Just as we have no control over the beginning of our life on this earth, likewise, we have no control over when we die. Whether it be from a sudden auto accident, from a battle in war, from a deadly disease, in old age from a worn out heart and body, we will all die and this death is beyond our control. If we could control the aging process and all the other things that lead to death, I believe we would. In fact, we try our best by spending billions of dollars on health programs and medical cures.
Where does suicide fit it? When someone takes their own life isn’t that exercising control over death and over their life by ending it? No, it does not demonstrate ultimate control. Why can I say that? Because when a person makes the tragic choice of ending their life, it’s clear (though we may not understand all of the reasons or factors) that their life is out of control. They can no longer cope with life’s harsh realities and demands. That’s why we describe such a tragic event as an “unnatural or untimely or premature death.” But the same thing can be said of someone dying from cancer in their forties. Or losing a child by leukemia or in a car accident. Or young men and women dying in war. Or any number of other untimely deaths. Death is death. It has and will continue to overcome every person who has ever lived.
With the gift of life, God also gave us the RIGHT TO CHOOSE. Choose what or who? Choose Christ who is the resurrection and the life. The moment we choose to believe and receive Christ, we have (present tense, right then and there) everlasting life. If we reject him or choose not to choose, then we have chosen eternal death … everlasting separation from God. Either way, it’s our choice. That’s the right we have. We do not have the right to claim that our very life and existence belongs to us, because we did absolutely nothing to come into existence and there is no birthright that applies to being born itself. Birthrights apply only to future possessions or positions or promises … not to the essence of life itself.
But we do have the right to choose our eternal destiny, either heaven or hell. And there will be a destiny, because once we’re born, we will continue to live forever. It’s just a matter of where and with whom.
When we claim our very life and existence as our own, we have committed theft of the highest degree. And like any theft, the thing stolen doesn’t belong to the thief just because he has (temporary) possession of it. But it’s much more than stealing something that doesn’t rightfully belong to us. It’s a deliberate defiance of and callous rebellion against the very one who gave us life. It’s telling God that he doesn’t have the right to show us what must be done in order to alter the course of our eternal destiny without God if we continue to disagree with him.
But if we agree (that’s what repentance means, a change of mind to agree with God) with the Lord and accept his amazing plan to redeem us (redemption means to buy back or purchase), it will immediately change our destiny from hell to heaven. Long ago, God developed a marvelous flight plan to heaven for the human race. Then, through his Son’s death and resurrection, God even purchased our ticket to Heaven. But we must reach out and take that ticket. All we need do is to simply agree with so great a salvation and say, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you died for my sins and rose again. I belong to you. You are mine and I am yours.” When we do, we will have chosen Life over Death.
This is such an enormous, but simple truth to grasp. It’s so supremely significant that Paul had to remind the believers in Corinth of such ownership rights. “…You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body” (I Corinthians 6: 19-20).
And later Paul expressed this in a slightly different way by referring to the world at large. “…Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them” (II Corinthians 5: 14-15).
We do not have rightful ownership to our life. Rather, we are custodians of our life, including whatever God-given gifts, talents, and possessions that comes with that life. A truly wise custodian will listen to and follow the instructions of the owner. I’m sure that Robin Williams wasn’t thinking of all these things just before he died. No, it’s likely that he chose long before to go his own way and do his own thing, like so many before him.
In trying to explain why someone pursues a lifestyle that is headed for disaster, how often do we hear someone say, “Well, it’s his life?” But that’s exactly the error that all those who die without Christ make. It’s a belief that, after all is said and done, the most important thing in life is to say and do what Frank Sinatra made famous with the song Paul Anka wrote for him: I Did It My Way. For sure we have that choice, but do we have the right? If you believe in good and evil, right and wrong, then this question is for you, as well as for all those who could care less about right and wrong. Don’t wait until it’s too late to find out that you didn’t have the right to your life after all.
Things to Ponder
One of the most significant (if not the most important) truths to grasp is that our very life and existence was given to us by God. When we wrap out minds around that precept, then we stand a much better chance of making the right choices in life. Of which, by far, the most vital is whether to choose Christ (thus, eternal life in heaven) or to reject him in favor of another god or gods. Make no mistake: we all will choose someone or something as our god—whether fame, fortune, power, sex, or an actual false, man-made god or even ourselves. Anything that takes the place of the one true and living God, is a god.
To this very day, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Father of Messiah Jesus, is asking the same question that Moses asked so long ago:
Life or death?
Which will you choose?