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Learning To Suffer And To Die Well

One of the things I never heard before I became a Confessional Lutheran was this idea that Christianity is about teaching us how to suffer and die well.

What!?! Hold on a minute and pump the brakes a bit! What in the world is that supposed to mean? Who in their right mind wants to suffer in this life let alone die anytime soon?

While I completely understand those sentiments (because, after all, I am a human being myself), we need to remember what Scripture tells us about both suffering and dying.


Deuteronomy 8:3 (ESV) And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

Job 1:20-21 (ESV) Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD."

Psalm 34:19 (ESV) Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all.

Matthew 10:38-39 (ESV) And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Romans 5:3-4 (ESV) Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,

Romans 8:18 (ESV) For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Romans 8:28 (ESV) And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:35 (ESV) Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

Galatians 6:2 (ESV) Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Philippians 1:29 (ESV) For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,

Philippians 3:10 (ESV) that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,

1 Peter 3:14-17 (ESV) But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

1 Peter 4:1 (ESV) Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,

1 Peter 5:10 (ESV) And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

1 Corinthians 15:54-57 (ESV) When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (ESV) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

2 Corinthians 4:17-18 (ESV) For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

2 Corinthians 12:7 (ESV) So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.

Hebrews 9:27 (ESV) And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,

Revelation 21:4 (ESV) He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.


Just a handful of examples, but this is the reality we must all face.

Of course, we can't read those without also reading Matthew 11:28-30 (rest for the soul), Mark 16:1-8 (hope in the Resurrection), John 3:16-21 (Jesus gives life), John 6:40 (assurance), John 10:27-29 (assurance), John 20:1-18 (hope in the Resurrection), and Revelation 7:9-17 (the Last Day).

As Living With Dying reminds us, "We give to God our burdens: sin, worry, loss, heartache, sickness. We also look to Him to supply our needs: forgiveness, increased faith, guidance, strength, relief, healing, patience, peace."

You might think I'm "preaching to the choir" here, but I can assure you that there are a lot of Christians out there right now who may find it hard to accept or to believe that suffering is to be an expected part of a believer's life.

Furthermore, those same people can't even stand to bear the thought of possibly going through anything like watching a loved one slowly die if not experience a slow and agonizing death themselves.

However, we Christians are not immune to any of that in this life, but we are immune to "the wages of sin" since we are promised in Romans 6:23 that "the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Still, for whatever reason, so many of us will go through life acting as though these realities and these promises will never apply to us? It's as if we are faithful, steadfast Christians who have memorized all the key verses of the Bible, but only until the rubber meets the road, and then we become hopeless by taking our eyes off of Jesus Christ and what He's already done for us upon the cross, and placing them upon our fast-changing circumstances and feelings instead.

Look, I get it. It's a current struggle for me as well every now and then. I'd be willing to be that it's an ongoing struggle for each and every one of us if we're being honest.  


Our thoughts are more about dying than about death. We’re more concerned about how we shall face dying than about conquering death. Socrates mastered the art of dying, Christ overcame death as eschatos echthros (1 Cor. 15:26). Being able to face dying doesn’t yet mean we can face death. It’s possible for a human being to manage dying, but overcoming death means resurrection. It is not through the ars moriendi but through Christ’s resurrection that a new and cleansing wind can blow through our present world. 
-- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Letter to Eberhard Bethge—March 27, 1944” in Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 8: Letters and Papers from Prison, edited by John W. de Gruchy, translated by Isabel Best et al (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010), 333.

The aim of the philosophical doctrine of immortality is to make dying easy, but the doctrine of the resurrection takes death with complete seriousness. The natural man’s dread of death is not chased away by the consolations of philosophy. 
-- Hermann Sasse, “Jesus Christ is Lord: The Church’s Original Confession” in We Confess Jesus Christ, translated by Hermann Sasse (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1984), 19.


Rev. Arron Gust is Vice President of the Central District of the Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) and he recently published a piece in response to Canada's new law that allows citizens the legal right to kill themselves.

It's something for us to prayerfully consider in light of this topic today.


 
Good News To Proclaim! 
Recently the government of Canada passed bill C-384, a bill which allows Canadians the legal right to kill themselves. Interestingly, people on both sides of the issue remain upset. Those in support of physician-assisted suicide are upset because they feel the bill does not go far enough; those opposed continue to argue any legalization on the issue is immoral. 
These are, of course, gross oversimplifications of the many concerns people hold on both sides, but as Christians who hear the Good Shepherd we have a Good Word to proclaim in the midst of these discussions. 
You see, when all is said and done, what lies at the heart of the debate are people’s fears. Fear of suffering, fear of death, fear of not being in control—fears which are amplified in the absence of hearing, knowing, or trusting the Words of the Good Shepherd. 
Now, I don’t know anyone who would rationally want to suffer or intentionally go through the hardships of a debilitating disease, but the Good Shepherd reminds us it is not our decision to end our life or the life of another—a life which He Himself redeemed with His own death and resurrection. 
Psalm 23 teaches us something very interesting about the Good Shepherd, and that is He does not remove us, nor take us around the valley of the shadow of death, but He leads us through it. 
In the same way the Father used the suffering and death of His Son Jesus Christ to bring us forgiveness, life, and salvation. He can, will, and does work through our sufferings, as we confess what the Good Shepherd has done for us, in this valley of tears and joys called life. 
In the days leading up to the passing of bill C-384 Josh Paterson of the BC Civil Liberties Association said in an interview with CTV he was worried that if this bill does not pass, “people would have to take their lives in an unsafe way!” The last time I checked taking one’s life is never safe. 
Dear baptized friends, this is our moment to speak up and confess to our neighbours and those going through these tremendous battles of suffering the Good News God’s baptized children take for granted every day. To speak up and say there is no safe way to end your life… but there is a safe way to die. And that is to die in Christ, to die in the Good Shepherd, to trust His baptismal gift of death and resurrection as the only safe way through death. As He leads us through this valley of the shadow of death, He will grant the grace to accept our afflictions—all the way into life everlasting. 
Upon the cross Jesus became sin for us. His death is our death. And the open, empty tomb is a testimony that death has lost its sting; the grave has been vanquished. 
This is the only Good News we are given to proclaim. It is the only news that will open the ears of those sheep who are not hearing the Good Shepherd’s voice, the voice which promises that nothing in this life—not disease, nor pain, nor suffering—can snatch you out of His hand.


Yes, we have "good news to proclaim!" to ourselves and the rest of the world!

Assisted Suicide. Euthanasia. Mercy Killing. All of it is a direct violation of the 6th Commandment, is it not? Ironically, a majority of Christians that I know are definitely anti-abortion, but the strange thing is how they are pro-assisted suicide, pro-euthanasia, and pro-mercy killing.

My guess is that it's because the topic hits a little too close to home for many. This tells me that we need to spend more time having a conversation about these issues within the Church.

Thankfully, the LCMS has a wonderful free resource called "Mercy At Life's End: A Guide For Laity And Their Pastor" by Rev. John T. Pless that can definitely help with this.

In fact, here's a sample from the opening pages...


Christians are increasingly confronted with situations where they must make decisions concerning appropriate medical care when life appears to be ending. A variety of factors might complicate the decision-making process. In some cases, pastors may find themselves dealing with families where poor decisions have been made under the emotional stress of the moment. In other cases, family members are in disagreement and conflict over what is deemed an appropriate course of action. This booklet is offered with the hope that it will be of assistance to both pastors and Christian laity in thinking biblically about how to demonstrate the mercy of the Triune God to those to whom death draws near within the boundaries that our Creator has established and hallowed by His Word. 
The booklet is envisioned to have multiple uses and multiple audiences. For instance, the booklet might be used in whole or in part by a pastor as he counsels those who are confronted with crucial decisions about medical treatment and care for themselves or their loved ones. Here the booklet provides some guidance in “asking the right questions” when these decisions need to be made so that we always aim to care, not kill. Another potential use for this booklet might be in adult Bible class. It is prudent that pastors help their people think through end-of-life issues in advance. Chronic illness, tragic accidents and other circumstances where death seems imminent can cloud clear thinking. With emotions rubbed raw, decisions can be made too hastily. Christians will desire to make decisions about life and death that are in accord with God’s Word, rather than those that might be driven by fear or an unbiblical notion of what constitutes compassion. It is a good thing to think through the basis and boundaries of end-of-life decisions before we find ourselves at the hospice or in the intensive care unit. 
This book grows out of my work as a pastor and, more recently, as a teacher of pastoral theology and theological ethics at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Ind. Teaching future pastors and deaconesses who will regularly confront these issues has given me an opportunity to think more deeply about how we are to faithfully speak both God’s Law and Gospel in the face of death. Pastor Peter Brock, formerly a student and now the pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in Bingen, Ind., has been a long-standing conversation partner in matters of ethics and pastoral theology, especially as these disciplines relate to the end of life. I am grateful for these conversations, which reach back to his student days, and I trust he will see something of them in these pages. 
Maggie Karner, director of LCMS Life and Health Ministries, proposed this project. Maggie’s patience and encouragement have enabled me to bring this booklet to completion. Dr. Kevin Voss of the Concordia Bioethics Institute at Concordia University Wisconsin, Mequon, Wis., has offered insightful suggestions that have greatly improved this work. I am thankful for the assistance and advice of these colleagues, but I take the responsibility for any deficiencies herein. 
Mercy at Life’s End is offered to the church in these days of Easter with the prayer that our risen Lord will make good use of it to extend the light of His Gospel to all who walk through the valley of the shadow of death, that they might trust in Him alone and be brought with joy to the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. 


"This is most certainly true."

You can also find additional resources through the "Life Ministry" section of the LCMS website that I pray will deliver you the "peace of God, that surpasses all understanding" (Philippians 4:7).

Better yet, please take a few more minutes to check out this sermon from Rev. Matt Richard called "Through The Vale Of Tears" in which he reminds us...


We live our lives, as Christians, in the valley of tears. Yes, we Christians live our lives in the valley of tears, or as they poetically say, in this vale of tears. 
The phrase, “vale of tears,” is a phrase that is often used to describe the tribulations of life that we Christians all experience in the here and now. In other words, from the time of your conception until your death, you and I, travel and labor through this valley of life – a valley that is characterized by tears, trouble, and sorrow. Indeed, we live, breathe, and have movement not on top of the mountains, but more often than not, within this valley of tears. 
Considering this valley of tears, it is a valley that is dark. It contains hardships, suffering, loss, grief, persecution, and pain. It is a valley that is clouded with gloom, where we experience the attacks of the devil, the struggles with the sinful nature, the persecution of the world, and the sting of death itself. 
For us as North Americans though, we like to pretend that our lives are not in this valley of tears. That’s right; we like to avoid the valley of tears at all costs. It makes us uncomfortable and it goes against our ingrained view of entitlement. So, we try to make peace with the darkness of the valley. We try to turn the lemons of the valley into lemonade. We convince ourselves that we are overcomers. We say, “When we get knocked down, we get up again.” And then when we stand as supposed overcomers, we look into the dark valley of tears and we roar as if we are invincible. 
We also buy every kind of gadget that promises to take us from the valley’s tears to happiness – every gadget that promises us an easier life. We are suckers when it comes to those infomercials with their three easy payments. Then with all of our gadgets we also run to positive messages that don’t remind us of the valley of darkness that we are in. Oh, and don’t forget death! We do everything possible to sanitize the effects of death. Plastic surgery can fix dying skin that sags on our faces, makeup covers the wrinkles of age, Rogaine attempts to reverse hair lose, and medication can temporarily reverse the effects of disease. We all dream that we can be like the Joneses down the street who have apparently overcome the valley of tears. 
All this stated though, no matter how hard we try to climb out of the valley of tears or deny it, there is no escape – the valley’s walls are too steep and the valley is too dark. No matter how hard we wipe away the tears, they keep flowing – they keep flowing until our last dying breath. In this life, the devil continues to attack, our sinful flesh always longs to sin and wreak havoc in our lives, and the world continues to spew forth lies. There is no bottom to this stuff.


His description of daily life is more sobering than mine for sure and his message of hope for us is more poignant as well.


As for the time being and as we continue to walk through the valley of tears, you Baptized Saints must cling to the promises of God’s Word – the promises that are for you. Continually receive the Sacrament of the Altar – that is given and shed for you. Remember your Baptisms – where God’s name was placed upon you. Patiently endure any misfortune, comforting yourself with the truth that the Lord is with you in His Word and Sacraments. Comfort yourself with Jesus’ Word that this life is only a ‘little while.’ Know that as tough as it gets in this life that the Lord holds not only the beginning but the end of this world. 
Do not grow weary and do not grow faint in this valley of tears, for the Lord grants power to the faint and increases the strength of those who have no strength. 
Wait for the Lord and rest dear Saints – the Lord holds you. The day is coming that the valley of tears will end and all things will be made anew. Lift up your chins, the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end. Do not fear the drops of tears from your eyes, for the Lord will not cast you aside. Sadness lasts only ‘a little while’ and then will change into gladness. All grief will be swallowed up in the end and pain will be remembered no more. 
In the name of Jesus Christ: Amen.


Hopefully, all of this has brought you some measure of comfort and peace, which the world cannot give you, and pointed you back to God and the promises found in His Word during your discomfort and pain in both life and the nearness of death.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, dead or alive, whether currently suffering or not, there is victory in the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and He has already won it for you, which you receive as eternal life through faith in His suffering, His death, and His and resurrection for the sins of all mankind.



NOTE: Please understand that I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or just a regular Christian, Corporate Recruiter, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. As another Christian Blogger once wrote, "Please do not see this blog as me attempting to 'publicly teach' the faith, but view it as an informal Public Journal of sorts about my own experiences and journey, and if any of my notes here help you in any way at all, then I say, 'Praise the Lord!' but please do double check them against the Word of God and with your own Pastor." To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this disclaimer/note, please understand that I'm a relatively new convert to Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little more than 3 years ago now. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and repeatedly point us back to over and over again) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Also, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier/older pieces I wrote for this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that "Old Evangelical Adam" category (and they don't have a disclaimer like this) since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). This knowledge of the Lutheran basics was completely foreign to me even though I was baptized, confirmed, and married in an LCMS church! So, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because they are not blasphemous/heretical, because I now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse footnotes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors both past and present have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained under-shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries (this disclaimer/note is a perfect example of what I mean! haha). I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a "Christian Dude's Diary" in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Feel free to comment/email me at any time. Grace and peace to you and yours!

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About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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