He sat there on a bed in the ICU. He was propped slightly; his head drooped, his eyes closed. He had been breathing with a ventilator for twenty-four hours. I patted his hand, then quickly slipped around to the end of the bed, not wanting him to sense the depth of my despair.
“I love you, Daddy,” I said, not sure he even heard me. His head snapped up and his eyes opened. Our eyes met and locked. “I love you, too,” he said in a raspy but firm voice. Then his head dropped to his chest again. It caught me off guard. Those were the first words he had spoken since I arrived more than two hours earlier. The weight of my decision just grew heavier.
At that moment the attending doctor stepped up, encouraging me to sign the papers. I nodded impatiently, trying to impart the fact that I would not be pressured into a hasty decision. I turned and hurried out the door. Down the elevator, I walked past crowds of people moving in and out of the hospital. I felt isolated. I rushed across the street to my car, slipped inside, then broke down and wept.
Less than twenty-four hours earlier, at work, I had received a call from my brother informing me that Dad had been taken to the hospital. Nearly dying at the home, he had survived only through the ventilator. My brother told me the doctor was strongly recommending we sign a document requesting that in the future, no extraordinary mechanical means would be used to revive our dad. This was not the first time Dad had been in need of such measures. Each episode had been traumatic and physically difficult for him.
A severe head injury from an auto accident fourteen years earlier had resulted in seizures that, when they came, left Dad totally unaware of the present. Although he had given up smoking twenty-five years earlier, the effects of a pack a day for over forty years could not be reversed. Mild emphysema hampered his lungs’ ability to convert the healing oxygen his body needed. Congestive heart failure and dehydration plagued him; rheumatoid arthritis had crippled his hands. The doctor’s advice was pragmatic, but I couldn’t be sure of the motives. Did he believe my dad was just another old man who had outlived his usefulness? It was my father’s life we were dealing with.
I had quickly set aside my family and business affairs and drove three-hundred miles to be at his side. Though I knew my dad’s eternal life was secure, I could not even consider a decision as significant as this from long distance. Crossroads We stood at a crossroads. Dad and I had discussed this idea in the past but didn’t cover specifics. No scripture answered this question. My mind was fogged in, locked on the emotions of losing my dad. What was fair about this? I felt as though I were being asked to sign an execution order. My wife keeps a statement centrally located on our refrigerator door: “The present circumstance is an instrument in the hands of a loving God, to shape us for eternity; do not reject the instrument lest you lose its work.” Sometimes, though, when pounded by an unexpected and violent storm, we focus on the storm’s effects, losing sight of its Master.
I was physically alone at the hospital. My brothers lived in other states. I yearned for my wife to whom I could pour my heart out. God, however, was pointing me to Himself. As my soul quieted, the Holy Spirit whispered, “My grace is sufficient for you . . .” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV). The storm began to relent. A faint light on the distant shore of faith began to flicker anew.
I knew deep within that God was sovereign over the end of life, just as He had been at its conception. I knew that I should simply place my dad in His hands. My dad would exit this physical life at the precise moment God ordained it to happen — no sooner and no later. God had taught me through wonderful lessons that He is almighty, but my emotions clouded my foundational grasp of His nature. Is there a point at which one draws the line regarding man’s efforts to sustain a person’s life? When is enough enough? Is it ever right for me to say my dad’s physical condition has degraded so much that no extraordinary mechanical means should be employed to keep him alive?
I spoke at length by phone with my wife and felt a strengthening that would carry me to the next step. I called my brothers and shared with them my view of Dad’s condition. Each offered comfort and expressed their support for me. These lengthy discussions proved cathartic to me. I sat down and reread the forms. Amid a raging torrent of doubt and anxiety, I signed them. By this action, in my heart, I had placed my dad’s life completely in the hands of the eternal God. Peace immediately flooded me — pure, all-encompassing, transcending all understanding (Philippians 4:7). I was consumed with the deep love of my heavenly Father, and I knew I was in the presence of His Son.
They moved Dad into a regular room, and I sat with him for hours. Although the specter of death lingered, my dad did not pass on. He was taken back to the nursing home. Over the next eight weeks Dad weakened and seemed to be near death several times. No ventilator was used — only the special care and necessary medications to give him aid and comfort. In each case he regained his strength and continued his journey. God is sovereign and compassionate. He knows us and teaches us as only our Creator could. God used those weeks to let me see how He alone sustains life. My father’s life was not in my hands. He would exit this physical life at the precise moment God ordained it — no sooner and no later.
Late one evening I received the call: My dad had passed away while he slept. This, of course, did not surprise God. He knew that the document prohibiting ventilators would not be a factor. The issue of the medical release was an exercise of faith on my part. Though I deeply mourned the separation from the dad I dearly loved, I rejoiced that his physical struggle was ended and he was reunited with my mother, his wife of over fifty years. And I carried forward a new understanding from the One who had taught me gently and displayed His sovereignty.
The ratchet has revolutionized the world of hand tools. If you don’t know what a ratchet is – I’ll tell you. It is a rotating and locking mechanism which allows you to move forward but not back. In the case of a socket wrench – place the socket on the bolt head, set the wrench to loosen the bolt, and the ratchet locks and turns the bolt in one direction, then moves freely in the other, allowing you to reset in order to turn the bolt head again.
Why are we talking ratchets? Because the concept can be seen in everyday life in the creep of controversial social issues. And the majority of people – of all political and social stripes – don’t understand this and can’t see it. Therefore, radical changes take place, generally moving slowly, and, like a ratchet, always forward, never backwards.
People say they can’t understand how “such and such” happened until it is pointed out by a path of seemingly insignificant steps that very few people noticed. The ones who do notice, and cry out to beware, are many times ignored as fanatics, because the mainstreams of people grow weary of such discussions (‘crying wolf’, etc.)
And then, some see a change that they may not agree with; but they assume it is an isolated issue, fixed, no further concern needed. The proponents of that change, however, see these small steps as “beachheads” that they will never give up (the ratchet effect) and from which they will make further incursions (moving constantly forward).
One such issue that most in the USA have grown weary of is the “abortion debate” (in the realm of our Creator God, Who values all life = an oxymoron). The vast – VAST – majority of Americans disagreed with the Roe vs Wade decision of 1973. This was a classic case of Supreme Court legislation, circumventing the legislative process established by our Founding Fathers, of government by the people and for the people.
Arguments have been put forward that such heinous disregard for human life would have a backlash in our culture. We see that today in the “throw-away children” and the blatant disrespect for life and property. Proponents of abortion rebut the pro-life argument by leveling a smokescreen regarding ‘when does life really begin’. That argument would have no credence with a people who believed in Almighty God and honored His Scriptures. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.” (Psalm 139:13-15a) But the ‘beginning of life’ arguments went largely unchallenged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. World wars, incredible technological innovations, leaps in scientific discoveries, affluence and severe financial crises overshadowed these weighty cultural and theological debates. The Church universal lost its way; became enmeshed in social changes and politics that actually ran counter to everything in Scripture – especially the teachings of Jesus – and began to respond with man’s devices. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” (James 1:5-8) It abdicated its position as propagator of the gospel and defender of the orphan, widow, prisoner, slave, and outcast. No longer is God feared – and thus His Wisdom is not present in the “debate.” King Solomon warned, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10).
The ratchet of social change and anti-God teachings moved slowly, one small step at a time – always forward, never backward. The Church, having gone to sleep, was caught off guard when abortion was legalized. Today, ideas of euthanasia and infanticide are achieving stronger platforms. Winds of change, economic instability, debt crises all push people to cast aside these issues, saying we must focus on the “greater” problems facing us. Peter Singer, an Australian ethicist, just to name one, smiles and continues to “ratchet” forward, propagating arguments for “post-birth” abortion (infanticide), against animal cruelty (save the lab rats, abort the babies), and for euthanasia. The elite intelligentsia is groveling to get on-board with these ideas, while young idealists consider these thoughts to be the new wave of an evolving generation.
Another ratchet movement is the groundswell of support for homosexuality. For years the argument that homosexuals are born that way, a position soundly rejected up until the second half of the twentieth century, was pounded into our culture by intellectuals and liberal sociologists. The ratchet moved one notch forward; the argument gained momentum and the media took up the mantra; the ratchet clicked into another notch; same-sex marriage became the focus of the movement; the ratchet is moving forward again. Christians have been ‘cowed’ into remaining quiet.
However, transcendent above all this human wisdom, our immutable God seeks to refine a Church that will be salt and light in this world. Whether we want to admit it, a Sovereign God is in control and will not continue to bestow blessings on a people who reject Him, regardless of how many times we invoke “God Bless America”. We may cry and wring our hands, and get emotionally distraught over someone proposing infanticide to reduce medical costs and long-term care issues, but we will do nothing about it. We may “preach to the choir” our belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman – as God created it. The Church will preach fiery sermons and hold toothless “prayer” meetings inside our little cloisters, then go out in the world and blend in, ashamed of the gospel. Paul fought this same issue in a world increasingly hostile to followers of The Way, and said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” (Romans 1:16) Note that political debate, man’s laws and government intervention aren’t mentioned by Paul as relevant options.
The ratchet keeps moving forward – never reversing. We will not stop its progress through man’s power. We have a “ratchet buster” that can reverse any of these. And it would be well for us all if we remembered this in the current morass of political debate and culture wars.
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging . . . “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:1-3, 10)
“Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” (Psalm 62:5-8).
This nation will not change by political debate or legislative intervention. We cannot focus on the symptoms. The root cause is a rebellion against our Creator God. We must be about our ministry of reconciliation. “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Jesus Christ), and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:19-22)
One final note. Many thousands of folks around this country have committed to pray for the US, the election process, our military personnel, the financial crisis, our governmental leaders (yes, that includes our President), and, of course, for REVIVAL, on a daily basis. It is a call to pray one minute in concert every day – at 9:00pm Eastern Standard Time (8:00pm central, etc, etc.). Of course, these prayers are ‘toothless’ without faith and trust in the One to whom we are praying, in full belief that He can change hearts. Please join this chorus of prayer, make the commitment to pray, and spread the word. God hears the prayers of a humble, contrite heart.
“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8