By Norris Burkes, Feb 6, 2022
Last week, I wrote about Ruth, a patient who asked our hospice team to be present as she took the life-ending prescriptions allowed by California law. If you missed the column, please visit my website where you can listen to it or read it. www.thechaplain.net.
As you might guess, the column prompted some healthy responses, mostly favorable. Still, a few readers insisted that life-and-death matters should be left up to God since only God chooses the end of life, not the individuals.
As a healthcare chaplain, I recognize leave-it-up-to-God as one of three popular cliches. However, I’m not sure they always reflect the kind of healthy faith that God planned for us.
Take a moment and consider these adages.
The first one I usually hear is, “I never question God.”
If you tell me that you never doubt God, I’ll ask you to consider how doubt takes more courage than certainty. If you don’t think doubt is a big part of faith, you haven’t read Psalms where King David openly questions God.
So, when I hear people claim that they don’t question God, I’m tempted to throw down the elementary-schoolyard challenge: “What’s the matter? Are ya’ chicken?”
Don’t you think God can handle your puny doubts and criticisms? I encourage folks to stand up and shake their fist at God.
“Stop badmouthing God behind his back,” I tell them. “Go to that God Spot where you talk to him and say, ‘Hey, God! My life stinks!’”
He’s God. He can take it.
Another unhealthy saying I hear is, “Let me pray about that first.”
Don’t get me wrong here. Prayer promotes good physical and spiritual health. God and I both want you to pray.
It’s just that sometimes we hide our own intentions behind our prayers.
For instance, when I was a pastor trying to recruit volunteers to teach a Sunday School class, parishioners would often say, “I don’t know, Pastor. Let me pray about that first.”
Their “prayers” were a stalling technique to get me to ask someone else. They were wimping out.
My father-in-law is a retired pastor, but he rarely uses that phrase. When people suggest he pray about something before making a commitment, he often replies, “No, I’m all prayed up.”
His response reflects the wisdom of 1 Thessalonians 5:17 commanding Christians to “pray continually.” Of course, he’s not always on his knees. He knows that prayer isn’t primarily words. As Richard Rohr writes, “Prayer is primarily a place, an attitude and a stance.”
Now, let’s circle back to the idea of, “We are leaving it all up to God.”
That can be a helpful saying if you’re working the 12-step process for addiction recovery. It means you’ve taken the positive step of confessing your powerlessness over a problem and surrendering it to God.
But if you’ve “left it up to God” because you’re too wimpy to be decisive, then you aren’t practicing faith. You’re playing roulette.
I often hear this thoughts from people considering the gut-wrenching decision of disconnecting their loved ones from life support. Instead of facing the hard choice, they just back out of the hospital room telling the doctors, “We’ve left it up to God.”
The saying has me, and nearly every chaplain I know, wanting to scream, “If you were really leaving it up to God, you’d let us pull out the wires and tubes and let God do what he’ll do.”
My chaplain colleagues see the contradiction: If we’re really “leaving it up to God,” we wouldn’t be using every medical intervention in the book to play tug-of-war with God over the patient’s life.
At the end of the day, life throws us some amazingly complex questions, but as people of faith, we needn’t rely on cliches.
If you agree, I hope you’ll let me know. If you disagree, then may I suggest you simply pray about it and leave it up to God.
Contact Chaplain Norris at email@example.com or 10556 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or voicemail (843) 608-9715.