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Joel Belz: The ethics of Abraham revisited


WORLD Radio - Joel Belz: The ethics of Abraham revisited

How to follow God’s lead in the ethics of death

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MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, May 10th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

How far should we go to save another person’s life? It’s a critical question–as you know if you’ve been listening to WORLD’s newest season of Lawless. That podcast explores the case of Terri Schiavo. So, check that out if you haven’t already!

Today, though, we’ll go even further back, to 1987 and back to another famous controversial case of a feeding tube removed–this time, Nancy Jobes of New Jersey. Here’s WORLD founder Joel Belz with a classic commentary:

JOEL BELZ, FOUNDER: The generation ahead of us is almost certainly one in which society will ask more and more frequently, is this particular life worth living? It is already true that our technological capabilities have leaped ahead of our ability to make sound ethical judgments. And progress in technology seems to be moving a good bit faster than progress in ethics. So things will get worse.

This summer, the state of New Jersey shamelessly failed to preserve the life of a woman who was too weak to defend herself. The state did so fully conscious of what it was doing. Virtually unconscious since a careless operating room accident seven years ago. The woman in her 30s died earlier this month from starvation because her life was judged to be no longer meaningful. Otherwise basically healthy, the woman did not die from other problems. She had become an inconvenience, and the state agreed with the family's desire to cut off her sustenance.

Horrified though I was with this report, I couldn't help thinking that all of us have our own collection of yardsticks by which we measure the value of human lives. If you look in one direction, human life seems very much undervalued: abortion, war, dictatorships of both the right and the left. All of these take their unfeeling tolls. But occasionally, you look in the other direction, and sense that maybe life can be overvalued, too. How? When judges set aside death sentences because of legal technicalities, when someone chants, ‘Better red than dead,’ or even when a president lapses into thinking the lives of two, three or four hostages are more important than the principle of not dealing with terrorists.

Important as life is and jealously though God wants us to guard it, there is something yet more important that we are to guard with even more care. That is our devotion to God himself.

You needn't go further than the story of Abraham offering up Isaac on the altar to understand that. If Abraham had made life itself the supreme value right then he would have offended God with idolatry. What Abraham needed to discover, and what we need to discover for ourselves and then speak clearly to others in this ambivalent ethical age, is that God and only God is in charge. He is in charge and he is trustworthy even with the hard issues of life. And in death, the challenge is to follow God's lead. Does he indicate that he is calling someone unmistakably to himself? Then who are we to resist? But is he saying, on the other hand, that the time is not yet, but there is still more learning to take place through patience, then who are we to hurry God?

Such indicators may be easier here in the abstract than they are in the agony of real life. And certainly they are easier for believers than for those who reject the truth of God.

But while we may not have a yardstick that the world will recognize as valid for the hard issues of life and death, Scripture does give us–as it does, in all matters–clear and faithful indicators unavailable to unbelievers. God is still God, and we are only his image bearers. A good rule of thumb still seems to be, let him be the one who acts. Let us be the ones to accept willingly what he does. That doesn't solve all the hard problems, but it points us in the right direction.

REICHARD: That’s WORLD founder Joel Belz, reading his commentary titled “More Ethical Than Abraham?” This is adapted from his book, Consider These Things. The column originally appeared on August 31st, 1987 in WORLD Magazine.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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