Preserving Life

MRI scan on the monitor of patient`s head

You’re really in there, I believe. You wanted to die, but I saved you. As I read your brain activity, you’re still aware. You just can’t show us.

How do I know that? I’m the neurologist who saved your life. You botched the attempt to kill yourself, and I kept you alive. There was brain damage, yes. No, you can’t respond. But you’re alive in there. I know it. No doubt at all.

Yes, your wife told me “no heroic measures.” But that meant nothing beside the moral imperative. I had to preserve your life. Dead, there’s nothing anybody, nothing even God, can do. And you didn’t really want that, not with the way you botched your attempt to take your own life!

What could you have been thinking? You were about to take yourself out of God’s hands, away from God’s grace! No possibility of repentance then. Just the eternal fires of hell, where you could regret your decision forever.

But I saved you. And since I know you’re in there, you’ll have time to regret your decision now, to repent. You’ll thank me. As close to the flames as you were, I bet you’re thanking me now.

No, won’t happen. Your wife won’t force me to remove life support. I got her charged with helping you kill yourself.

True, it won’t hold up, but the court cases will drag out for years. I have a foundation that will fund your care, and another that will pay the legal bills. Politicians are signing on. All for your sake! All to preserve your life!

So if you haven’t already, you’ll have plenty of time to repent. And to thank us.

For preserving your life, of course!

I have to do this. I had to save your life, because life is sacred. I have your soul, the only thing more important than your life.

I’m certain it’s the right thing to do.

For some non-fiction thoughts on end of life, see:

Hospice and Palliative Care: A Quality Alternative to Assisted Suicide

Suicide and Grief

Is Euthanasia Wrong – NO



Reading Fiction and Good Fiction

I found the post Reading Fiction: Russell Moore by Scot McKnight to be interesting. So many Christians act as if reading fiction was a waste of time that could better be spent doing “useful” things. I think that misunderstands how our minds work.

Of course, in the comments we encounter the usual question of what is “good” fiction. That one’s harder to answer. Moore refers to a number of works that would be considered “good” or “great” by literature professors. I tend to be more eclectic. I wrote about that here, not to mention my post On Reading Bad Books and What They Are.

The Swing over the River

“And then I let go when I’m at the farthest point out, drop into the river and swim to the far shore. The current will be helping me.”

“And if you can’t make it?”

“I’ll come up against that rock.”

“What rock? I can barely see anything.”

“There’s a rock in the water just where the river turns. If I can’t make it to shore, I will almost certainly end up at that rock.”

“And if you miss?”

They could both hear the roar of the rapids below.

“If I miss, I’ll die, and you’ll think of another plan.”

“I don’t think there is another plan.”

“Let’s get going, then. The bandits can’t be far behind.”

This is a work of fiction.
Copyright © 2011
Henry E. Neufeld

Sheldon looked around. The ragged group of refugees had pretty much fallen where they stopped. In the darkness with just a waning moon, he couldn’t see their faces, but he knew there would be no hope. They’d been forced further and further south, and everyone knew one couldn’t ford the river here. Soon they would all be killed.But this kid thought he could swing out over the river, and get near enough to the other bank to avoid the rocks. He maintained that the current at that point would push him in the right direction. Not only that, but he’d have to do it with a rope tied around his waist. Once that rope was tied at both ends, they’d run another one, and let the people cross on the one rope while holding the other.

It would be the end of the road for their mule, who was carrying the supplies. It was the kid again who had inclued that much rope in their load. He seemed to think there were few things that couldn’t be solved with the proper length of rope. Whether the refugees could cross the river in that manner remained to be seen. Sheldon doubted they’d all make it.

The kid looked at the rope hanging from the tree. The memories were strong. The little river near his home, not too swift, but very muddy, and considered somewhat dangerous, especially for the very young. He’d only been five years old the first time he tried to swing out over the river, much too young. Nothing had ever stopped him. No amount of orders, no punishments, no matter how severe, could keep him away from the rope swing. And he was good.

As he looked at the river below in the moonlight, he realized how fragile were his plans. There was no room for error. If he was any less skilled than he had said, he would land either amongst the rocks on this side or in the middle of the stream, where he would have no chance to reach the other bank before being swept around the turn and caught in the rapids.

Then he heard his father’s voice. “It’s dangerous. It’s a waste of time. You need to learn to do useful things.” His father was very fond of useful, practical things. The swing over the river wasn’t useful. Fun, yes, but not useful. His father hadn’t understood fun.

He positioned himself as far back as he could, to get the most momentum. “What do you think now, Dad?” he muttered, and launched himself over the river.

He didn’t have time to think. He just reacted. One moment he was hanging from the rope, and the next he was dropping toward the water. He had time for just one thought: This is the biggest thrill I’ve ever experienced. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Sheldon felt somewhat different. He only caught glimpses of the kid in the river. He thought he wasn’t close enough to the far bank. Then he saw him crawling out on the rock. He had come up against the rock–barely.

At that moment all the kid could think was: Too bad I can’t tell my dad. Some useless activity!

(This story has been submitted to the One Word at a Time Blog Carnival: Swings, though I think it’s mildly off track for that!)

The God-Talk Club and the She-Bears

[This is a work of fiction, from my God-Talk Club series. – added 11:42 central time]

Small talk was dying down and everyone had their drinks.  Mark had a question:

“I’ve been given an assignment,”1 he said to the group, and I’d like your thoughts.

“What is it?” asked Mandy.

“We’re supposed to write a 10 minute homily on 2 Kings 3:23-24.”

“Ten minutes?  That’s going to cramp your style.  You can’t tell them everything you’ve learned in your seminary classes.”  Mandy was laughing as she said it, and Mark took it in good humor.  He really did like to put his whole seminary training into each homily.

“Ten minutes,” echoed Jerry.  “You can’t really get to the meat of a scripture in that period of time.

“I didn’t know you Presbyterians had long sermons.  I thought you generally had about 20 minute homilies,” said Mandy.

“Not at my church.  It’s more like 30-40 minutes, and sometimes we get more in the pastor’s Sunday School class.”

“Oh, you learn something new every day,” said Mandy.  “But we should get back to Mark.  What are your questions?”

“Well,” said Mark and paused.  He felt like he knew what he’d hear from each person and was almost afraid to start.  “It’s such a violent story.  Elisha seems to get offended and so he slaughters a bunch of kids.  Where’s the moral in that?”

Justine, Mandy, and Jerry started talking at once, then started to apologize to each other.

Over the confusion, Bob Norman cut in.  “OK, I’ll bite.  What is this story of the she-bears?”

“You don’t know that one?” exclaimed Mac.  “That’s  a skeptical staple.  A Christian says ‘God is love’ and you say ‘But what about the she bears?’  I’m going to have to revoke your skeptic’s license.”

Bob was working on getting used to Mac.  He was a science teacher, an atheist, and quite convinced, but he had been raised in a conventionally religious home, one where he didn’t see church all that often.  Until he had gotten together with the God-Talk Club he hadn’t argued religion that much.  He just didn’t believe.

Mac, on the other hand, seemed to think that the purpose of skeptics was to argue with Christians.  She knew more about Christianity than most Christians.

“So what is the story?” asked Bob, looking at Mac.

“Well, this prophet named Elisha was walking along, and some children started taunting him about being bald.  So he cursed them and called some she bears to maul them.  The bears got 42 of them.”

Jerry cut in, “Well, not precisely.  How about we read the text as it’s written?”

Jerry pulled out his Bible and read:

(23) He went from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!”  (24) And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD.  And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys. — 2 Kings 2:23-24 (ESV)

“OK,” asked Bob, “so why are they telling this guy to go up?  And is this Elisha you’re talking about?”

“Well Elijah had just been taken up into heaven, so the boys were suggesting that Elisha do the same thing,” said Jerry.

“But I don’t believe that anyone can go up to heaven,” said Bob.

“Why don’t we discuss the story based on what the people who wrote it believed?” asked Mandy.  She barely cut off Jerry who had been about to argue the point.  He again thought about how hard it was for him to take Mandy seriously because of the way she behaved, yet she had these flashes of wisdom.

“Maybe the boys didn’t believe that Elijah had ascended either,” said Mark.  “They might have been suggesting that Elisha was lying.  Elisha was the only witness, after all.”

“That’s quite possible,” said Mandy.

“But it doesn’t help us much in understanding the story,” said Jerry.  Whatever their reasons they were taunting God’s prophet.”

“So Justine,” said Bob, turning to look her right in the eye.  “What would you do if some children in your congregation were taunting you?”

“Well, it would depend on what they were doing,” she answered.  “If they’re just joking, I’d laugh and go on.  If they’re threatening me, I’m going to deal with it.  Worst case, I might call the police.  I’ve had some teenagers who needed police intervention.  I don’t like it, but it happens.”

“But you wouldn’t curse them, or, in the absence of readily available she-bears, you wouldn’t release the dogs on them,” said Mac decisively, as though she thought she had just won a point.

“Precisely,” said Bob.

“But Justine isn’t a prophet,” said Jerry.

“So?  She’s a pastor.  Isn’t that close enough?” asked Bob.

“I hardly think so.  Elisha was the greatest prophet of his time.  It would be more like taunting the president,” said Jerry.

“But the secret service doesn’t shoot adults who taunt the president, much less children,” said Bob.

“Supposing a teenager–and these boys could be teenagers–was carrying a handgun and waved it at the president.  Then what would happen?” asked Jerry.

“It’s quite possible that the secret service might shoot the teenager.  But there’s no indication these children were carrying guns, or swords or spears,” said Bob again.

“But there’s nothing that says they didn’t either.  They might have been very threatening.”  Now Jerry looked like he was making a point.

“But wouldn’t that be adding something to the text?” asked Mark.

“Well, we’re adding to the text whether we assume they’re little children or teenagers, and whether we assume they had no weapons or lots of them.  It doesn’t give us those details,” said Jerry.

“So shouldn’t we deal with the text as it is?” asked Justine.  “It seems to say that taunting the prophet was enough provocation, and that God responded to Elijah’s curse by sending the she-bears.  I don’t particularly like it, but that’s what it says.”

“Well, actually, I don’t think so,” said Mandy.  Everyone started looking right at her.  “The text doesn’t tell us whether Elisha’s action was justified.  It just tell us that it happened.”

“So is it possible that Elisha might not be doing the right thing here?” asked Mark.

“I think so.  I think Elisha was tired and angry and so he cursed the children.”  Mandy had that “mother concludes and has made the point to the children” look she got from time to time.  The fact that she was sprawled carelessly sideways across an easy chair detracted from the effect.

“So why would God honor his angry request?” asked Jerry.

Mandy considered for a moment.  “Because he was God’s prophet.  What would happen if he cursed someone and nothing happened?  God has to go hunting for a new prophet!”

“I really don’t think that’s an appropriate way to speak about  a prophet.  Surely a prophet wouldn’t do wrong in a situation like this,” said Jerry.

“Elijah made mistakes.  Moses made mistakes.  David was a man after God’s own heart and he committed adultery and then murdered someone to cover it up.  What makes you think Bible characters always do right?” said Mandy.

“But in all those cases we have a clear indication that what they did was wrong.  Not here,” replied Jerry.

“Well, from my point of view that makes God look even worse.  He will kill forty-two children in order to keep his prophet respectable,” said Bob.  Mac nodded.

“But God can do anything he wants!  We don’t have the right to judge God’s actions,” said Jerry.

“So when you say, ‘God is love’ is that your considered judgment, or are you just repeating what God told you to say?” asked Mac.

“I know that God is love,” said Jerry.

“But how do you know?  Can you know that God is love without looking at God’s actions and deciding, ‘Those are loving actions?'” asked Mac.

“I think she’s got a point,” said Mandy.  “After all, we testify to God’s love and to the things God has done for us.  Have we not looked at God’s action and said, ‘That is love’?”

“But we wouldn’t even know what love was if God didn’t tell us!” said Jerry.

“Well, I agree with Jerry,” said Justine.  “God has the right to do what he wants.  So I think there must be something there that those children or teenagers did to deserve what happened to them.  If God did it, it must be right, and it says right there [she pointed to Jerry’s Bible] that God did it!”

“I’ve got to agree with Jerry as well.  It seems that you [he looked at Mandy] and Mark want to have the story in your Bible but you don’t want to accept what it really says.”  Bob looked at Jerry.  “Not that I agree with you about anything else!”

“I would never even think it,” said Jerry dryly.

“I have to disagree.  You’ve both decided what the story must mean.  There are many other statements about morality in the Bible.  I think that if we are told elsewhere that an action is wrong, we are not forced to conclude that a person who does that in a story is right.  That was complicated,” said Mandy, and grinned.

“But then you are saying that God did something wrong,” said Jerry, and Bob and Mac both nodded.

“I’m saying that God worked with people as they were.  You can’t always have ideal actions when you’re not dealing with ideal people.”

“There I agree with you, Mandy,” said Justine.  “I don’t really have a problem with this story, but God does work with us where we are.”

“I think I like Mandy’s explanation,” said Mark.  I wonder if I can say it in 10 minutes?  I’m inclined to give all the explanations and let people choose.”

And with that, the group began to break up.

1The real-world source of this question is not a professor at my imaginary seminary but David Ker at his Lingamish blog. I already responded in a real-world sense on my Participatory Bible Study blog.

Not a Christmas Carol

* “No!” yelled Evelyn at the apparition. “No! You’ve got it all wrong!”

“As I was saying,” the ghost intoned, “you will be visited by three spirits.”

“Yes, I know. Christmas past, Christmas present, Christmas future. Everybody knows that. It’s been done and redone. But it doesn’t apply to me.”

The ghost looked mildly disturbed, as though programmed to intone certain things and expect certain results. “Before dawn,” it continued, “you will be visited by three spirits.”

“Yes, you said that already,” Evelyn interrupted peevishly. It didn’t help that the ghost looked a great deal like her late husband, a quiet and self-effacing man who could easily lose his place in a conversation if interrupted.

The ghost looked a bit mistier, not to mention mystified. “You will be visited,” it started again.

Evelyn jumped out of her chair, the comfortable recliner where she had been dozing briefly, preparing herself for Christmas eve, a busy night for her. She charged straight at the ghost, unconcerned by its resemblance to her late husband—or perhaps the resemblance drove her on. She was already wearing the Santa suit, one of several items of apparel that helped earn her the nickname “Ms. Claus.”

Continue reading “Not a Christmas Carol”