Is Death Merciful?

In 1939 Karl Brandt popularized a word among the German people; this word, having trickled down the steps of time, landed into the hands of modern American culture. Brandt’s word was gnandentod. You may have never heard the German word gnandentod; likely you have heard the Greek equivalent, euthanasia. Both gnandentod and euthanasia mean merciful death. German culture in 1939 discussed when a merciful death, a euthanasia, was appropriate. When a life was unworthy of living (lebensunwertes leben), they concluded, a merciful death wasn’t something to be feared but it was a welcome friend. Brandt offered five reasons for a life unworthy of living: a sterile or hereditarily undesirable person, a mentally impaired child, a mentally impaired adult, jailed in-mates of particularly heinous crimes, and being Jewish. While we may not (indeed should not) agree with any of Brandt’s reasons for euthanasia, Americans largely accept the concept of a merciful death, when the issue of pain prevails.

Biblically speaking, death is never considered a blessing. Death is a curse, (Genesis 3:17, 19) a curse inflicted on mankind by disobedience towards God (Genesis 2:17-17). Even when pain intensifies and the leisure of life wains, the Bible does not view death as merciful. Pain is not the king of the universe; he does not wield the scepter of life and death; upon his brow does not rest the crown of life. Therefore, pain cannot and will not define who is worthy of life. Since pain is not king, then death is not his principality of blessing, nor is death his steward of peace. Death was not elected by God to bring peace to his children. Pain and death are curses which do not rightfully belong to God or his image.

When we discuss the problem of pain and the idea of a merciful death, we must recall the tears of our savior. When Lazarus became painfully ill and was going to die, Jesus stated, “this illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4). Jesus here creates an interesting dichotomy between God’s blessing and death. Notice as you read further into John 11, Jesus fully intends to raise Lazarus from the dead. Despite having the power and knowing he is going to raise Lazarus from the dead, Jesus’s reaction to the death of Lazarus is tears. Jesus wept (11:25). The crowd reacts, “see how much he loved him!” Jesus did not view Lazarus’s pain, his death, or the lamenting of those who lost Lazarus as merciful.

While euthanasia may be inspired by motives of compassion, death is not a compassionate friend. Death is not a blessing. Death is not good. Death does not properly belong to the image of God. The resurrection of Jesus, and our eventual resurrection in Jesus, is the blessing. Jesus alone overcame death. By his resurrection, Jesus usurped the tyrants of death and pain from their hold over mankind. Even in our deepest pains, trials, and moments of despondency, the name of the Lord must be on our lips. By living every painfilled moment of our lives under the light yoke of Jesus, we can faithfully sing with Paul, “death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55).


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