The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

I’ve been thinking about how we live and what people draw on to make the decisions. We all draw on trust and knowledge of the world and they are the background to our decisions and our behaviour. Whether the trust is in a person or people or social systems or religion or phi-losophy – and people can trust in many things! – we use that to help us navigate meaning and morals, truth and goals. We can see this in people’s response to vaccinations or how they define responsible behaviour or how they vote or what they buy or what medical treat-ments they seek or how they determine risk.

What is the goal of being here on Earth? Being hap-py? Having no pain? Seeking enlightenment as a self aware being? The answer to this question plays a big part in how we see ourselves and how we approach life and how we behave.

Christianity challenges humanity when it teaches that the goal of being here on Earth is following Jesus Christ and being in a relationship with God that is marked by God’s forgiveness and service of us lead-ing us to reconcile and serve those around us. Being blessed isn’t about happiness or being pain-free per se but about living the moment with Jesus – and to accept the possibility of suffering.

This week I read an article about pain relief at the end of life and the tension the medical pro-fession – particularly in hospice care – face regarding the optimum balance between pain control, tolerable side-effects, and the conscious awareness of the patient. The article sug-gested that if we define suffering as only pain then we may be increasing other suffering. “ … when a suffering-less death becomes the medical summum bonum, morphine and other drugs become our sacraments. This is not necessarily good. Pharmaceuticals are the wrong treatment for certain kinds of suffering.” (The Lancet Vol. 374: 873)

I didn’t exactly fist pump but you can see that the article struck a chord with me – that ac-knowledging the wrestle involved in what physicians and families draw on to make decisions reveals that we are more than sentient animals but possibly spiritual animals as well. Faith and trust can play a decisive part in how we face all situations – even – especially – end of life. And yet, we also wouldn’t say that one should only use ‘faith remedies’ but that to seek medical support is also appropriate – and we are back to trust and knowledge again.

For the religious person the question might arise, ‘Should I only trust – have faith in – God and disregard the world’s knowledge?’. To which I often remember the following …

A pastor’s church was being flooded and the water was in the church and the rescue services came by in a 4 wheel drive and told him to leave and they’d take him to safety. ‘No thanks, I’m staying, the Lord will save me.’ Later he is sitting on the roof as a rescue boat comes by and offers to take him to safety. ‘No thanks, I’m staying, the Lord will save me.’ Later still he is clinging to the top of the church bell tower and a helicopter flies over and calls down that they will winch him to safety. ‘No thanks’, he shouts back up, ‘the Lord will save me’. A little while later he is before God’s throne dripping wet and in some exasperation says to God, ‘What happened? You said you’d save me!’. To which God replies, ‘I sent you a 4 wheel drive, a boat, and a helicopter, what more did you want?’.

How do we live and make decisions? It begins with our identity – knowing who we are – knowing whom or what we trust – knowing knowledge that is credible – and then putting our best foot forward. For Christians, our identity might be described as ‘loved by God’ and with Jesus with us then putting that foot forward will always be in the direction of doing what is best for others.