Brittany Maynard ended her own life last Saturday at her home in Portland, Oregon. She was 29 years old. She left this message on Facebook:
“Goodbye to all my dear friends and family that I love. Today is the day I have chosen to pass away with dignity in the face of my terminal illness, this terrible brain cancer that has taken so much from me . . . but would have taken so much more. The world is a beautiful place, travel has been my greatest teacher, my close friends and folks are the greatest givers. I even have a ring of support around my bed as I type. . . . Goodbye world. Spread good energy. Pay it forward!”
I responded to Brittany’s tragic story when it first became public, and have written essays on euthanasia and suicide in biblical perspective. My purpose is not to repeat what I’ve said in those articles, but to consider this question: where is Brittany Maynard today? And why is the question so relevant to you and to our culture?
Is she in heaven?
It would be hard to find a person who lived a more active life than Brittany did. She traveled to Nepal, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, Thailand, and Tanzania. She climbed Kilimanjaro a month before her wedding, took ice climbing courses in Ecuador and was an avid scuba diver. She taught in orphanages in Kathmandu, Nepal and spent a summer working in Costa Rica. She loved her two dogs and volunteered regularly at a local animal rescue organization.
However, I can find nothing online about her religious beliefs. In describing her decision to end her life, she invited those who love her to “come say goodbye as I pass into whatever’s next.” It’s hard to know what she believed about Jesus or salvation by his grace through faith.
Nonetheless, I would guess that most in our culture think Brittany is in heaven today, since our culture is convinced that all good people go there. Eighty-nine percent of Americans believe in heaven; 85 percent of them believe they’ll go there. Three in four, including two-thirds of Protestants, do not believe that access to heaven is limited to Christians.
But opinion doesn’t change reality. What earthbound humans think about heaven and hell is mere speculation unless our beliefs are based on something besides belief. Here’s why I am convinced that Brittany Maynard is in heaven only if she asked Jesus to forgive her sins and make her the child of God.
How do we go to heaven?
Jesus claimed to have come to earth from heaven: “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). If that’s true, he would obviously have knowledge of heaven unavailable to anyone who has not been there. I can be convinced that there is or is not life on Jupiter, but if you’ve been to Jupiter, your opinion is more valid than mine.
Of course, claiming something doesn’t make it so. I can claim to have come from heaven to earth, and so can you. But the Bible records three facts about Jesus that substantiate his claim. First, he lived a sinless life (Hebrews 4:15), evidence for his divine status. Second, he performed remarkable miracles, further evidence for his divine nature. Third, he promised to rise from the dead and then fulfilled his promise, proving that his word is true and he is the Son of God.
But I can hear someone objecting: that’s just what the Bible says. The Qur’an claims that Muhammad was the prophet of God; The Iliad and The Odyssey claim that the gods of Mt. Olympus were real; The Book of Mormon claims that Jesus visited America and Joseph Smith was his prophet. Once again, claiming something doesn’t make it so.
The difference between Jesus and all other religious authorities is the resurrection. As I’ve written elsewhere, there is abundant evidence outside the Bible that Jesus Christ lived, was condemned and crucified by the Romans, and was seen alive by his followers and worshiped as Lord. Apart from the resurrection there is no compelling explanation for his empty tomb, the changed lives of his disciples, or the impact of his movement on the Roman Empire. Every time I have questioned my faith over the years, the resurrection has always brought me back to Jesus and his word.
If he is raised from the dead, he must be God. If he is God, his word must be true. And he clearly states in his word, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Peter agreed: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Only those who make Christ their Lord are in the “book of life.” At the end of history, “if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).
Why does this issue matter?
I worry about the apparent loss of evangelistic passion among many in Western Christianity today. There was a day when evangelism courses were popular; books equipping Christians to share their faith were best-sellers; Tuesday night visitation (where church members visited those who had come to church the previous Sunday) was common. Today it’s hard to find a church that is growing primarily through evangelism. Most of what constitutes church growth is biological (our children joining our church) and transfers from other churches and denominations.
Not surprisingly, Tobin Grant, a political science professor at Southern Illinois University, claims that “religiosity in the United States is in the midst of what might be called ‘The Great Decline.’ . . . Over the past 15 years, the drop in religiosity has been twice as great as the decline of the 1960s and 1970s.” What’s more, “there could be a lot more drop to come,” he says.
I’m convinced that one reason for our lack of evangelistic effectiveness is that many of us have lost sight of hell. We’ve adopted our culture’s distaste for eternal perdition, ignoring or even rejecting the biblical facts about those who reject our Lord. But Jesus said more about hell than about heaven. He warned us that “the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction” (Matthew 7:13). Paul risked his life to bring his own people as well as the Gentiles to salvation, lest they miss heaven (Romans 9:1-3). His fellow apostles paid the ultimate price to get the only hope of salvation to their dying world.
It seems so unkind to even consider the possibility that a beautiful, suffering young woman like Brittany Maynard might be in hell. I deeply and sincerely hope she is in heaven with our Lord. However, there’s nothing I can do to influence her commitment to Jesus today. But every person I meet this day is another Brittany Maynard. We are all dying. And we have only today to be ready for eternity.
William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, once took a group of volunteers through an extensive evangelism training course lasting many weeks. When it was done he said to them, “I’m sorry our training took so long. If I could take you to hell for five minutes, none of what I’ve taught you would be necessary.”
Who is your Brittany Maynard today?