Legally Right, Morally Wrong Discussion


Over at My Dogs are Smarter, Paul Hogue began a discussion about the Terri Schiavo case, asking “How does a Christian react to this?” See here for the first post. He invited me to respond, and my post is here.

Here’s a quick recap. One commenter, Craig Williams wrote that:

My one disappointment in what has been the reported “christian” response (lower case intentional here) to Terri Schiavo’s circumstance, is what I would call – a lack of faith. That is, everyone is passionate about protecting her mortal life, however diminished it is, that they fail to recognize that the New Testament takes a bigger view. This mortal life is never considered what is most important to Christian people.

My response, which Paul quoted yesterday:

I agree wholeheartedly that “the spiritual reality trumps mortality.” However, while we do not fear death, and may even welcome it under some circumstances, we always remember that God’s plans and His timing is not ours. The Christian response to suffering is to say: “Not my will, Lord, but Thine.”

Paul then asks:

But what of it? This is a concept as foreign as anything possibly can be to even some in the Church, much less to the world-at-large. How do we communicate such an idea when the natural inclination of unsaved men and women is to run as far away from pain as is possible to get?

Excellent question. When I wrote earlier about Terri’s plight, (here) my point was that suffering is unintelligible from a secular worldview. Without an eternal perspective, why bother with pain, difficulty, and troubles, if a quick fix or a way out is available?

But if suffering doesn’t make sense to the secular, this brings us right back to Paul’s original question: What’s a Christian to do?

Because I’m a political scientist, I’ve spent my entire adult life thinking about this question . . .

The Schiavo case is, of course, intrinsically important. Terri lost her life in the political struggle. However, the battle over her life highlights a portentous political reality: the divide between the religious and the secular is growing, and the ramifications of that in our communal life will become ever more apparent.

This was the elephant in the room throughout the public debate over Terri’s ordeal. There were some liberals on her side — it was fascinating to watch David Boies (Bush v. Gore) argue in favor of reinserting her feeding tube.

Still, things really do get dicey when one of the toughest theological questions we’ve got — the orgin of evil, the purpose of suffering — is situated right at the heart of a political question.

So what do we do? We’ve got to be wise. And wisdom requires searching out the right people to talk when the need arises. You have to have standing to talk about suffering. That’s one reason I quoted Joe Ford — the young Harvard junior who has cerebral palsy — in my post about Terri.

Another one is Joni Eareckson Tada. Joni’s been in a wheelchair for some thirty years. . . and she is easily one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever met. I once had the opportunity to work on a project with her — she is positively radiant.


Whenever Joni speaks, people listen. We’ve seen her best Larry King several times.

Here’s what Joni wrote about Terri.

I’ll write more on this later; I’m opening comments on this one — please let me know what you think.


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