Terri Schiavo & Eternity

“All that is not eternal is eternally out of date.” —C.S. Lewis

Everyone who pays attention to any sort of media has been bombarded by the onslaught of coverage dedicated to the case of Terri Schiavo. The summarized version of the story goes something like this: a severely brain damaged woman in a Florida hospice is dependent on a feeding tube to continue living in a “permanent vegetative state.” Schiavo’s husband wants to let her die by removing the feeding tube, stating that is what she would have wanted. Her parents want to keep her alive by keeping the tube in place. A vicious tug of war has been fought in the halls of government, the media and in the court of public opinion.

I don’t want to try to solve this complex issue in a short essay. But as I have read the different opinions and been exposed to the media outlets, I am concerned that we are desecrating the sacred by simplifying Schiavo’s situation to a political issue. I can acknowledge that there are far-reaching ramifications around the conclusion of her story, but I think they are more spiritual than political in nature.

In trying to make sense of the senseless, I have been asking myself how God sees the Terri Schiavo debate. Is He sad? Is He angry? I don’t know. Is He present? I am confident that He is. All of Scripture seems to indicate that God is concerned with the lives of individual people, and I am sure that God is concerned with her. I wonder, though, if we see things the way God sees them. Maybe we have focused too much time on the politics of Schiavo’s physical body and spent too little time curious about the eternal destination of her soul.

I believe every soul ends up somewhere when we die, and that is why God cares desperately about our salvation. He went to great lengths to provide us with a choice. Whether you believe that hell is a literal place of suffering forever and ever or not, the Bible tells us that it exists and that people do end up there. Those who accept God’s plan for salvation escape hell and get to share in God’s glory forever. Terri Schiavo’s soul (and yours and mine) is committed to either hell or paradise. And that is both a powerful and terrifying idea.

One of the most puzzling things about Jesus was His tendency to forgive the sins of a person who was sick or crippled without healing his or her physical ailment. In Matthew 9, a paralyzed man is brought to Jesus by his friends with the expectation that Jesus will make the guy walk. In an incredible revelation of God’s perspective, Jesus looks past the man’s physical condition and treats instead his deeper need for forgiveness. He then restores the man to health, but not before his spiritual condition has been resolved. I have tried to look at Schiavo in the same way and hope that her soul is secure even as her body fails her.

Two weeks from now, Terri Schiavo will no longer be on the front pages, and our attentions will drift elsewhere. Her life may or may not have an impact on the way the legal system treats those caught between physical life and death. I pray that her life (and death) will lead us to consider the home of our souls long after our bodies have failed us.

"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” —John 5:24 (NAS)

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[Chris Tryon is an amateur theologian who believes that Starbucks coffee is a small bit of heaven in a cup.]

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