Roger Foley and the Culture of Death

Last Saturday I re-watched The Avengers: Infinity War.  This time my wife got to see it.  If you’ve seen it, the main bad guy in this movie has the name Thanos.  Thanos is seeking to gain the six infinity stones that will give him the power to eliminate half the universe’s population in the snap of his fingers.  What a lot of people don’t know is that his name comes from the Greek “thanatos,” meaning death.  William Cullen Bryant wrote a poem titled “Thanatopsis,” which explained means the consideration of death.  The word euthanasia comes from “eu,” Greek for good and “thanatos.”  Hence it is supposedly a “good death,” or as Thanos would say, a mercy.

This leads us to Roger Foley.  Foley is a 42 year old Canadian man who is chronically ill and is in need of constant attention.  He claims that after multiple attempts to get him to accept help dying, he recorded a couple of these sessions in which he was encouraged to received assistance with ending his life.  In one instance, he asked to receive home health care, but instead was once again told about the option of receiving assisted suicide.

While I could make an argument about government-run health-care and how eventually they turn into bureaucracies that have to make financial decisions which could eventually lead to this kind of encouragement to die and eventually to an obligation to die, I won’t.  Instead, I believe that we live in a culture where death has become normalized.  With abortion and now end-of-life “solutions,” the world has become “thanaekkaio:” obsessed with death.  It is prevalent in our video games, our movies, our books, our healthcare, our thoughts.

As Christians we are not to be obsessed with death and dying, but with life and living, even in the midst of dying.  Why? Because Christ is life.

If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden in Christ in God.  When Christ  who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory, (Colossians 3:1-4, ESV; italics mine).

Look at those verses! Our minds are not to be set on things in this world, whether we are referring to televisions and iPhones or diseases and death.  That doesn’t mean we can’t seek treatment when sick.  To set the mind on something is to put focus upon it and to put our energy into it.  Paul wrote that we’ve already died, but have been raised with Christ, our lives hidden in Christ in God.  In other words, we don’t need to obsess with death since all death is now is a move from this world into the next.  All the things that would make us anxious have already been dealt with.  No judgment, no torment, no wrath.  Hence the writer of Hebrews wrote that Jesus, “likewise partook of the same things [flesh and blood], that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver all those through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery,” (Hebrews 2:14-15, ESV).  I know, most people seem to be more afraid of how they will die rather than death itself, and I’ll deal with that, but we should see the lack of obsession.  If there is any obsession with death, it really ought to simply be an obsession with seeing Christ face to face.  That’s why Paul wrote to the Philippians,

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.  If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me.  Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.  I am hard pressed between the two.  My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better,” (1:21-23, ESV; italics mine).

Notice that once again, that Paul brings up that living is Christ.  Our lives are in Christ, we are “partakers of the divine nature,” as Peter would say (2 Peter 1:4).  Who we are is defined in who Christ is.  But Paul wanted not just to be in Christ but with Christ.  Yet, his desire to be with Christ did not affect his decision to live on earth.  He would still be willing to go through all that he must if it is what Christ would have him do.  He gave up his desires and wants for what Christ wants because he was in Christ.  That would of course mean

far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches, (2 Corinthians 11:23-28, ESV)

And, of course, that doesn’t include his last imprisonment and his beheading.  No one wants to suffer, whether at the hands of some other person or at the hands of some disease.  Yet, we are not to fret and obsess with death (or how we die) like our culture is pushing upon us.  We must push back.  As J. I. Packer wrote, “The Christian’s most loving service to his neighbor in our modern world. . .is to uphold the authority of God’s law as man’s one true guide to true life,” (Knowing and Doing the Will of God, originally in Growing in Christ, 232-233).  That means that we must speak God’s truth, His law about life and death, in this fallen world.  But in addition to that, we must live it and love it ourselves.

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