counselling the terminally ill

An article in Christianity Today brings to mind some thoughts concerning illness, especially terminal illness and the way Christians should approach them. The article is entitled, “Does Faith Prolong Suffering for Cancer Patients?

A key quote:

Because religious patients often trust in God’s sovereignty and an afterlife, “one might expect them to be more accepting of death and let nature take its course at the end of life, rather than pursuing very aggressive treatments,” said Dr. Andrea Phelps, lead author on the study and senior medical resident at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston. Such a view, she said, reflects a commonly held assumption about how religious patients approach the prospect of imminent death.

But, Phelps added, a few reasons might help explain why religious cancer patients commonly opt for aggressive care in their final days. Among the possibilities:

—faith leads to optimism, even when a prognosis is bleak;

—faith gives purpose to suffering, and in turn helps patients muster stamina for invasive treatments;

—beliefs about sanctity of life may give rise to a quest to prolong life at almost any cost.

“We were concerned” by the study’s findings, Phelps said. “We are worried because aggressive care, at least among cancer patients, is a difficult and burdensome treatment that medically doesn’t usually provide a whole lot of benefit.”

My question: should Christians ‘fight’ when it comes to disease? Often when someone gets very ill, believing family members will talk about ‘let’s fight this’ or ‘you’re going to fight this, aren’t you?’

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Newsweek-WaPo site ‘on faith’

Some very interesting responses to the Evangelical Manifesto can be found on the Washington Post’s site, “On Faith“. The list of contributors is a potpourri of the broadest kind of ecumenicalism.

Among others, Deepak Chopra(!) comments on what he calls  a “new evangelicalism”.

In light of recent discussions regarding the social activism of some, one of his comments is interesting.

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an old timer on social action

Jon Trainer and Champ Thornton are talking about social action and whether there is a mandate for the church to engage in such activities. You can read some of their articles here, here, and here.

I am not sure where Jon and Champ will end up on this question, but for myself I see  no mandate at all for social action as a ministry of the church (except perhaps direct help for church members in crisis). As a Christian individual, I believe I should be kind and helpful to all as I come in contact with needs, but this really isn’t the mission of the church.

While I was working away on Romans today, I ran across a little essay in one of my commentaries on the social gospel. It is by William R. Newell, one-time assistant superintendent of Moody Bible Institute (under R. A. Torrey) and a fine Bible teacher and evangelist in his own right.

Newell left Moody in 1910 to take a Presbyterian pastorate in Florida. He published his commentary on Romans in 1938. He died in 1956.

This essay is from the Romans commentary.

William R. Newell, Romans verse by verse, pp. 46-51


This is the doctrine that Jesus Christ came to reform society (whatever “society” may be!); that He came to abate the evils of selfishness, give a larger “vision” to mankind; and, through His example and precepts, bring about such a change in human affairs, social, political, economic and domestic, as would realize all man’s deep longings for a peaceful, happy existence upon earth, ushering in what these teachers are pleased to call, “the Kingdom of God.”

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on caring for the dying

Our own household is back to ‘normal’ now, as normal as can be in our current circumstances. Life is about change, so normal is always in a state of flux in any home.

My wife returned to us this week after six weeks assisting in the care of her dying mother. My blogging has been light because I have been pulling double duty (well… maybe only one-and-a-half duty) at home while she has been gone. Precious little time is left for reading, thinking, writing and especially blogging when I am left on my own for an extended period of time! But that is another post.

The whole episode of the last six weeks heightened my regard for my dear wife. She selflessly committed herself to the needs of her mother during this time. Our two youngest and I went to visit with her and grandma for one week at the end of October. I was able to observe my wife’s efforts first hand. Her mother is extremely uncomfortable as she grows steadily weaker. She often wakes disoriented and confused. My wife would get up with her mother, assist her to get to the bathroom, sit with her and comfort her fears, pointing her always to her faith in Christ. On many occasions my wife would be up repeatedly through the night as her mom’s discomfort would not allow her to get long or restful sleep.

Some days are better than other days in situations like this. Dying seems to come on in waves. Some days those waves are an ebb tide, and the ‘old mom’ emerges. But, alas, her strength is diminished and those episodes shorten as time goes on.

Caring for the dying exacts a toll on any family. It is the bone-weariness produced by the needs of an increasingly helpless loved one. It is the wearing emotional distress of loss as one sees the life ebbing away. It is the inevitable tension between self and one’s own needs (needs?) and the needs of another, one who cannot any longer fully function as they once did.

For now, others in the family are shouldering the responsibility of care. The bone-weariness rests now almost completely on them. Our hearts and minds are still occupied with mom, preoccupied with concern for her comfort and care, but we are many miles away and must commit her to the Lord and the rest of the family for now.

We are not the only ones who have ever experienced this, of course. The loss of one much loved is the normal course of life. It befalls us all. I hope that our experience makes us more like Christ, who is all compassion. I hope that these days increase the ‘pure religion quotient’ in our lives. May God grant grace to our mom, and may God make us more like His Son.

James 1:27 Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3