Saturday, February 8, 2014

Is This the Day of Decision? – Thanatological Perspectives on Trinitarian Theology

I can hardly wait to see this all grown up.

I am developing a journal article with the working title “Trinitarian Perspectives on Thanatology.” (Trinitarian means that I affirm one God, eternally existing in three persons. Thanatology is the study and practice of death, dying, bereavement, grief and mourning.) But I’ve also found myself thinking about the impact of mortality on my theology as well. So, here is a little bit of where those thoughts have been leading me lately.

When the diagnosis is terminal, crushing a patient’s expectations of an unlimited future, the next question is almost always about that future. “So, Doc, how long have I got?”
Some physicians will respond, not with a clear prognosis of the events and process to be expected, but with a numerical prognostication—a guess. No matter how the doctor tries to advise that it is, at best, a guess, what the patient wants to hear is something like this: “Well, given your height, weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, and drinking habits, I’d say somewhere in the range of two months, one week, three days, and seventeen hours or so.” Even when they listen carefully and hear a less specific prediction, some go home to mark their calendar. One patient even bet the doctor he’d beat the three-month dead-line she set, and the physician agreed that she’d buy him a beer if he did. (To her credit, when he did, she did.)
I'm looking forward to the big event.
This is why some of us admonish physicians, nurses, aides, social workers, chaplains, caregivers, and anyone else involved with the dying and bereaved to speak of “hours to days,” or “days to weeks,” “even weeks to months.” Most of us are not Hospice patients, though, and we expect at least months to years, preferably years to decades. None of us, however, will admit to expecting decades to centuries. But we frequently seem to assume that we will continue living for the foreseeable future (i.e., forever).
But you won’t.
And so, as much as I try to admonish doctors, nurses, etc. to use a less certain time frame, I try to admonish everyone I know to contemplate the eventual end to their life, and communicate what they are contemplating. That discussion can be distasteful to some. But the alternative is excessively cruel: leaving family members to guess at what their incapacitated loved-one may or may not have decided regarding their treatment. And so, obtain, complete, copy, and distribute an Advance Directives form. They are available from your physician’s office, or the nearest hospital. But for the convenience of my family, I gave them as Christmas presents last year.
Does this seem to be running fast?
What’s wrong with taking the position that “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it?” That attitude results almost universally in making under-informed and overly-influenced decisions. Why? Because there are very few diagnoses that require a treatment decision in the coming weeks to months. At the very best, you may have hours to days. And some of the most important decisions (I have faced three in my life.) can make even seconds to minutes a dangerous luxury. Therefore, the patient, or the family member tasked with the second-most-important life-decision possible, looks plaintively at the nearest doctor, nurse, aide, social worker, chaplain, or other “professional,” expecting them to make a decision for them.
And they will.
With little or no contemplation of the patient’s wishes, health-care providers simply project onto the situation their own personal preferences. Who can blame them? The patient has left them little option by providing no guiding information. The family members rarely have discussed the possibility of anyone dying, and almost never imagine the kinds of momentary decisions that are required.
Therefore, if you are an average person, the most important decisions you should make will be made for you by others. Most often, if you have not expressed your preferences, then you will have left your closest loved-one to guess on your behalf.
How. Dare. You.
But what does this have to do with my Trinitarian Theology? The same mechanism is at work. For most, “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” Maybe someone else will tell us what we’re supposed to believe. If I may gently express my loving annoyance toward all the “pan-theists,” “pan-tribulationists,” and/or “pan-trinitarians” who believe “it will all pan-out in the end:” understand that your glib humor fosters procrastination in others regarding the most important decisions they will ever make. I strongly agree with A.W. Tozer: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” (The Knowledge of the Holy)
Just another minute or so...
So, you have two decisions to make.
First, determine to respond today to the loving heavenly Father whose Holy Spirit is guiding you toward trusting in what the Son, Jesus Christ, has done for you, is seeking to do in you, so that you can be blessed by what He will do through you.
Second, as soon as your physician’s office opens, get a copy of the Advance Directives form and bless your family by contemplating, completing, and communicating your decisions for what you want done in the event you become unable to express your health-care preferences.
“Now I contemplate my death,
        before I take my final breath.
If I should die—perish the thought!—
        what life-saving methods would I have sought?”

2 comments:

Unknown said...

Excellent Bill. Sharing it.

Wm. Darius Myers said...

Thanks for that.

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