Him Before All: Wisdom to Inform Bioethical Conversation

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There is but one good; that is God. Everything else is good when it looks to Him and bad when it turns from Him.” C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce[1]

The movie Me Before You has garnered attention by several contributors on Intersections. See the posts by Joni Eareckson Tada and Will Honeycutt. In what follows I offer my voice to this conversation in two posts. In this first post, I explore this question for those who treasure the Triune God of Christianity: Are the vivid moral questions asked by our culture generating conversations in our faith communities? In a second post, I return to Me Before You and offer further reflections on the specific issues raised there.

Bioethical dilemmas are being explored everywhere. Moral questions embedded in the application of medical technology are not reserved for elite medical roundtables. Rather, ethical decisions are the prevailing substance of entertainment. Stories do touch our souls.

Me Before You: Entertainment and Bioethics

I was reminded of this through an honest mistake. My wife and I were bone tired. What better evening entertainment option could there be than to light a fire in the fireplace, crash on the couch, and take in a light, romantic comedy? Our naïve selection was a recent release with striking English scenery, an intriguing plot, and the promise of a therapeutic transformation.

How did we miss that this film emerged from one of the most highly discussed novels at book clubs during the past year? Several disability organizations, so alarmed by the subplot of this outwardly transparent love story, boldly proposed a boycott. Eight million copies in print and box office success would suggest that such protest did nothing to deter widespread public interest. After all, the story is so endearing and tender.

The 2016 motion picture Me Before You brings to the screen the New York Times bestselling fictional story by English novelist Jojo Moyes.[2] The teaser sells the storyline of an eccentric small town girl who, out of desperation for employment, becomes companion and inspiration for a recently-paralyzed man. The real drama beneath the budding romance between caretaker and client takes viewers into deep existential territory regarding quality of life, dependency, identity, the meaning of suffering, the boundaries of autonomy, and ultimate questions on the morality of physician-assisted suicide.

In this movie I was confronted with my own assumption that entertainment is just about telling a worthy story. But it is in this way that our culture spins its myths and we absorb them sitting on the couch.

Him Before All

Ethical decisions, embedded in stories, are certainly the prevailing substance of entertainment. The underlying choices—what’s good or bad—are pervasive themes in on-line blogs, breaking news, and hot exchanges in ordinary living rooms. The big question for those who treasure the Triune God of Christianity is, “Are the vivid moral questions asked by our culture generating conversations in our faith communities?" Formative dialogue on compelling case studies demands that our Christian imagination be fully engaged. Moral questions need to be confronted with a robust awareness of our theological legacy and eschatological destiny.

Fortunately, there are good resources such as this web forum, Intersections, where matters such as euthanasia and medical aid in dying are explored with sensitivity, awareness, and a robust allegiance to biblical authority.

For example, in her post on “Dying with Dignity,” bioethicist Megan Best reminds Christian readers to sort out the nuances regarding what it means to face a noble death and answer the challenging questions raised by contemporary scenarios. Best writes, “It is dangerous to think that some lives are not worth living, and to forget that we are all made in the image of God and therefore to be treated with respect regardless of physical condition.”[3] According to Scripture, human beings are uniquely positioned in creation to remarkably reflect our Creator (Gen 1:26–28). Further, each human being who is redeemed and “in Christ Jesus” is a crucial part of the living, holy temple of the Lord (Eph 2:19–22; 1 Cor 3:16). Human beings, in covenant relationship, together portray the presence of our Lord on earth.[4]

Having conviction about humanity’s stewardship role on earth confirms the urge of our hearts to recognize the sacredness of human life. This theological premise must become entrenched deep in our own spiritual narrative so that it is less probable that our moral conscience will be washed away amidst an enticing romantic journey. A theological grasp of the imago Dei enables us to recognize and humbly reject any claim to a presumed autonomous “right” to choose life or death.

I was naïve when I settled on the sofa searching for a way to refresh and relax. I admit, the emotional intensity of a drama with bioethical shock waves did touch my soul. A simple story can disarm our theological imagination. Stories stir emotion, engage our minds, and shape perspectives. This post is my way of getting off the couch and provoking further conversation. The enticing magic of a theater can bring an important life issue into focus. It could also awaken compassionate reflection within our faith communities. Christians need to recognize the raw power of cultural arguments that promote absolute autonomy (self-rule). It is our place to look to God, the source of goodness, and imagine how he would have us identify, think, speak, and act as image bearers in an age where autonomy is the idol of the day. Christians are called to place Him before all.

And so I invite your answer to the following question in the comments below, Are the vivid moral questions asked by our culture generating conversations in our faith communities?


[1] C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (New York: Macmillan, 1946), 72.

[2] Jojo Moyes, Me Before You (New York: Penguin Books, 2013).

[3] Megan Best, “Dying with Dignity,” Intersections, December 6, 2016, www.cbhd.org/intersections/dying-with-dignity (accessed March 2, 2017).

[4] See John F. Kilner, Dignity and Destiny: Humanity in the Image of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015).