Author Ava Pennington
Author Ava Pennington

My heart weeps for her, even though we’ve never met. Twenty-nine, a newlywed, and terminally ill with brain cancer. Who wouldn’t be moved by Brittany Maynard’s story? 

Last April, Maynard was given no more than six months to live due to stage four glioblastoma, a malignant brain tumor. As her time grows short, her pain is intensifying, along with more frequent seizures and increasing exhaustion.

She has concluded that the best option is to schedule her death for November 1.

I cannot imagine what she’s going through. I don’t know how agonizing the pain is or how many other symptoms are contributing to her misery.

Pain is personal. Intimately personal. And so is death.

Yet, I can’t help but wonder where God fits in. Not so much in Maynard’s life, since her comments do not indicate a relationship with Jesus Christ. Even though He is the One who suffered and died for us so that her suffering, and ours, would be temporary. So that death will not have a permanent hold on us if we only receive what Jesus did for us.

No, my wondering has to do with my own life. I say I believe that God is sovereign, but are there limits to my beliefs? Is God sovereign only as long as my pain is manageable? Is He the giver—and taker—of life only as long as I decide He is?

I pray I never have to experience Brittany Maynard’s situation. But if I did, would my circumstances tomorrow trump who I say God is today?

This world is sin-sick. Evil is rampant. Disease saps our strength and our resolve. Yet, there is something to be gained by not cutting short our suffering. An opportunity for tenderness, perhaps. For sacrifice. For honor in the face of adversity. For refining our own spirit so that our trust in our Creator and Savior is deepened and shared with those who travel with us on this journey.

The words sound noble, and a bit empty, as I write them in the absence of unremitting pain. They ring of self-righteousness—a holier than thou attitude—that has not yet been tried in the furnace of unfathomable affliction.

But I keep coming back to the question of who God is. If He is sovereign—wholly in control—then what does it say when we make the ultimate decision to end our life? When we wrest control out of His hands and place it in our own? When we decide, “thus far and no farther”? Question markThese are questions that cannot be answered lightly. For the time will come when we will live out the ramifications, either in our own life or in the life of a loved one. Do we wait until then to decide the limits of what we believe? Or do we choose now…and pray to remain faithful to who God is and the relationship He grants us through Jesus Christ?

Our choices will be tested in the fires of affliction. But if we don’t make those choices now, we’ll have nothing to hold on to then.

My heart goes out to the Brittany Maynards of the world. Because, like her, in the absence of convictions about who God is—the total of all His attributes, including both His sovereignty and His love—it will be circumstances that drive our decisions.

Convictions or circumstances? Which one determines your values and mine? Yes, it’s a personal question. But it’s a question we owe it to ourselves to think about…and to answer now.

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2 Comments

  1. Paulette

    I remember a bible study you led with this same theme. You’re right, we must make those decisions about what we believe and Who God is before the crisis comes. In my 20s I wrestled with the theoretical idea of abortion and decided it is always wrong to take a life. So when I found myself pregnant at 42 with a baby with Down syndrome I knew the answer to the abortion question. It didn’t make it easier, but it was one question I didn’t have to deal with while in crisis. Now 17 years later I can see what God was doing in my life. So many people would have missed out on the opportunity to know Faith, and her mission would have gone unfulfilled.

  2. admin

    Thank you for sharing your own experience, Paulette. You’ve learned first-hand the importance of deciding what we believe before the crisis hits. And everyone who knows Faith has been blessed by her!

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