Recently I went to ‘file’ my last sermon and found I couldn’t fit it into the box – so I tipped them all out and sorted them into tidy piles. In the process I found this mini-sermon I delivered almost ten years ago as part of a preaching class. It’s pretty rough, but I still believe it…
Last night ’60 Minutes’ documented the story of Sidney, a child born 17 weeks prematurely. Despite the parents’ request that the hospital not use ‘extra-heroic’ means to keep her alive after the birth Sidney was subject to massive intervention when she would otherwise have died. Then all the fears of the parents became real. Sidney underwent operation after operation to keep her alive and to patch her up when something else went wrong. It was four months before the mother could hold her baby. The child’s life was kept limping on, long days after it would have lain itself down in the arms of death. Perhaps that would have been kinder.
Finally Sidney was released from hospital. She still returns for major repairs on a regular basis. She has voluntary control of a part of her left arm. Only. She shows practically no sign of understanding what’s going on around her. She can’t see more than a few feet. She does not appear to know her father, her mother, or even her self.
The parents are angry and are suing the hospital. ’60 Minutes’ showed a Doctor protesting that, for every Sidney, three or four others grow into real quality of life. "Surely we shouldn’t let them all die in order to prevent a Sidney from living?" The courts disagreed and the hospital is ordered to pay the parents tens of millions of dollars because the hospital, in its passion for saving lives, had ignored the parent’s pleas that this one, little life be allowed to slip into a decent grave. Pleas that, in the event, appear justified. Surely death would have been kinder than the macabre existence of Sidney?
As I wondered about this I imagined a conversation between an angel and God.
This angel is the one in charge of planet earth.
The time is shortly after the fall; the infant human race as just been discharged from the garden. The angel confronts God:
"Why?! Why did you do it!? How could you let such a damaged people live? Have you no compassion? Look at them! They have no awareness. They’ll never be able to recognise or know us. They will never mature, never have a relationship with us. They are trapped! Locked inside themselves; speechless, blind, and impotent!
How could you allow them to live… like that!?
You said yourself that people in their condition Die! – and yet you give them ‘life’! A crippled, unsustainable ‘life’! How could you?!"
God turns his gaze from the tiny planet and its maimed race, his face crossed with sorrow and pain. "In the end, Lucifer," he says, "You are not their father."
And so the angel leaves the presence of terrible, risk-taking grace.
There is no way that I can judge Sidney’s parents harshly. Their heads are screwed on right and their hearts are in the right place too. They know better than any of us or any of the doctors the terror, the utter horror of Sidney’s life. Doomed to be less than a 6-month old for as long as her suffering life continues, unable to even communicate pain. They know the facts, and out of sincere compassion they wish that things were different.
And what of the hospitals?
And their aparent mania for saving lives?
At all costs?
Western medicine is a multi-headed beast, but this particular face of the profession is what was being questioned by ’60 Minutes’. "Why save life at such horrific cost? Where did we learn to place such enormous value on human life?"
I can only observe that that value in medicine, the belief in the preciousness of every individual human life – despite the cost of suffering – comes out of a Christian society, and it is a post-Christian society that questions it.
Sidney’s parents know what they know and they’re not wrong.
But do they know the whole story?
That God is over all of us, and every parent, one day, gives over responsibility to our Heavenly Father.
Do they know that God did not ignore the human suffering he allowed – even nurtured – into existence, but that in Jesus he personally accepted all of human suffering?
And that the failures, the outcasts, the cripples, have been given a promise of new life
because death could not hold him down.
One day, the kingdom will come.
The kingdom where the first are last
and the last are first.
I’m going to be there.
I’m going to be there if only to see Sidney
enjoy her Father’s arms around her.