Friday, June 12, 2020

Phil Johnson

Phil Johnson has announced today on Facebook that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer as well. I will be praying for him as he battles this.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Was it Suicide?

I have seen a couple of social media posts where some have questioned whether or not Steve’s death was a form of suicide.  After all, the announcement we made included the fact: “He had cancer and heart disease. Both conditions were initially treatable, but he declined treatment.”  So that brings up the moral question: If you decline treatment for something, is that the same thing as committing suicide?

Before answering this broadly, we can first look at the specifics as it relates to Steve Hays.  If you read his memoir, A Backward Providence, you will see that when Steve was in his thirties, he was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia (p. 65).  At the bottom of that same page, he notes: “…I was thirty-five, which is a very different time of life. I had far more to live for. I underwent the full course of treatment.”

So Steve had already gone through the treatment he subsequently refused back when, as he pointed out, he had far more to live for.  There are a couple of ways you could parse that phrase, but included in it would definitely be the fact that at thirty-five you are much closer to your prime than when you are sixty years old.  You have more strength and vigor.  You don’t have as many aches and pains.  In addition, Steve was 35 years old in 1994. He still had both parents at that time (his father passed away in 1999, and Steve became the caretaker for his mother until she passed away in 2013).  When he was diagnosed with the recurrence, he had none of that remaining: no youthful strength, no family to take care of, and the long pain of Fibromyalgia, in addition to other health issues.

Knowing this will address a couple of other things raised by other individuals.  Since Steve was a Calvinist, some have questioned whether he had decided to “accept his fate.”  But Calvinism is not fatalism, so that’s already framing the issue incorrectly.  Steve clearly held to the belief that predestination included the means, not just the end, and “means” included the ability to use doctors for treatment of normal diseases.  So it was not due to a belief that God had predestined him to die that he refused treatment, for he would have held that God had predestined him to use doctors to fight against his disease had he wanted to fight the disease.

Somewhat ironically, another person speculated that perhaps Steve was trying to get God to heal him miraculously.  This is due to the fact that Steve was not a full cessationist and had argued against some cessationists in the past.  However, when you read A Backward Providence, it is very clear that Steve was ready to die.  He didn’t want God to heal him, although if God had done so Steve would have accepted it as God’s desire.  But as mentioned above, he had less to live for as he aged.  So, he prepared himself for his death, and he was ready to meet his Savior.

To add a bit of my own speculation (since Steve and I never talked about this point directly), I also think that since Steve went through the full treatment already, he knew what kind of toll it would have on his body.  And he also knew that “treatment” wasn’t the same thing as “cure” and there’s a good chance he would not have wanted to add another couple of years to his life just to have to go through the same painful treatment again and again until it finally killed him.  Add on the reality that treatment can be expensive, so those painfully extended years might have come at the cost of Steve being forced to live on the streets, unable to blog or to do anything he considered useful.

So those are some specifics in dealing with Steve’s death itself.  But while that may perhaps give us understanding for why Steve chose not to get treatment, it does not yet answer the question of whether it was morally licit for Steve to decline treatment.  So let us examine the moral question.

First is the question: what is suicide?  At a simple level, suicide is deliberately taking an action, the result of which will knowingly cause the end of one’s life.  But even this simple definition needs to be examined.  I can immediately think of a counter: if a soldier sees an enemy about to shoot his friend, and he leaps in front of the bullet and subsequently dies, he has deliberately taken an action that ended his own life.  Yet hardly anyone would view such a death to be suicide.  It was instead noble.  Indeed, Jesus Himself would declare such an action to be that of which there is no greater love (John 15:13).

There is also the fact that refusing to do something is not the same thing as deliberately taking an action.  That is, it was not Steve taking an action that resulted in his disease not being treated—it was the absence of an action that resulted in the disease not being treated.  So defining suicide as "deliberately taking an action that will end one's life" clearly would not apply.

So let us amend it slightly.  "Suicide is deliberately taking an action, or refusing to take an action, the result of which will knowingly end one's life." And that brings us to the crux.  If refusing to take an action to save one’s life results in one’s death, is that suicide or not? 

It's perhaps beneficial to look at the conundrum slightly differently.  When Terri Schiavo was being kept alive with a feeding tube, pro-life activists argued that removing the feeding tube would be murder.  Under the same logic, if one chose to remove one’s own feeding tube, would that be suicide?

The Terri Schiavo case helps us examine this philosophically.  Why was it that removing a feeding tube was considered tantamount to murder by the pro-life side?  After all, the opposition to the pro-life crowd pointed out:  “We’re not killing her.  We are just removing the feeding tube and letting nature take its course.”

But of course, if you keep anyone from food, then “nature’s course” is death.

This brought up the key distinction in the ethical debate.  Terri Schiavo was not on a ventilator or heart bypass machine.  She could breathe on her own, and her heart beat on its own.  What kept her from dying was the nutrition her feeding tube gave her.  Nutrition—the same thing that keeps all of us from dying.  The pro-life argument had been that there was no medical issue with refusing extra-ordinary treatment, but ordinary care that everyone needs for basic survivability could not be turned off without resulting in murder.  In other words, turning off a heart bypass machine resulting in the death of the patient would not constitute murder because hearts beat on their own naturally, but because everyone needs food to survive then depriving her of food was tantamount to murder because everyone needs food to survive.

This moral argument clearly made sense to a lot of pro-life adherents, myself included, and so using that same principal we can ask: is chemotherapy ordinary or extra-ordinary treatment?  Chemotherapy is poisonous.  The hope is that the cancer cells die before all the healthy cells die.  Given that, if you are healthy and you take chemotherapy, only bad things could possibly happen to you.  Clearly chemotherapy is not ordinary care, like food and water are.  This means that under the same principal that it is moral to turn off a heart bypass machine because of it being extra-ordinary care, so too one can refuse chemotherapy without it constituting suicide.

Of course one could still object that this is just a philosophy argument, not Biblical.  The Bible may still forbid one to refrain from doing anything possible to stay alive.  To that, I would respond: “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?”  These words from Jesus recorded in Matthew 26:53 show that Jesus could have done much to keep Himself from the crucifixion.  Does the fact that He did not act to save Himself, knowing full well that He would die if He did not act, mean that He committed suicide?  Clearly not!

So there is at least one example where not choosing to save one’s own life does not constitute suicide.  Indeed, I would suspect that no one could come up with an example where someone does nothing at all to save their life—while also not doing anything active to endanger it—where that would be classified as a suicide.  Regardless, the onus is on the person who says that refusing treatment for a disease is equivalent to suicide to prove that it is.

At the end of the day, I think it’s clear both from philosophy and theology that there is no rational basis to claim that there is a moral imperative to prolong one’s life using extra-ordinary means.  There’s no admonition against it either.  So when faced with two options, neither of which is sinful, then whichever option is chosen is, by definition, not sinful to take.

The Life Of Steve Hays

You can't say everything that should be said about Steve Hays in a single post, so I won't even try. This is just a beginning. I'll have more to say in the future.

Some of my earliest memories of Steve come from working with him on This Joyful Eastertide. It's an e-book he wrote in response to a book published in 2005 that argued against the historicity of Jesus' resurrection. I contributed to an appendix on Justin Martyr, but most of my work on the book consisted of editing. Almost all of the book, which is nearly 500 pages long, was written by Steve. He probably would have had it out much sooner if the editing, formatting, and such hadn't taken so long. The book is an illustration of so much of what defined Steve and his work. Not many Christians would read such a lengthy multi-author work against Jesus' resurrection written by such prominent skeptics. Fewer would do it so shortly after the book was published. And far fewer would be able and willing to write such a good and lengthy response so soon after the book came out. Because so few do that sort of work or even think much about it, not many people know what it costs to do it, in terms of time, effort, your reputation, and the unpredictability of who will respond to it and when, among other factors involved.

Steve wrote several other e-books, and I contributed to a couple of them. Working in his shadow was something I considered an advantage. I always wanted to write my contributions after his, since I knew he would say most of what needed to be said and would say it better. In the context of those books and in other contexts, he was an older brother you didn't resent, but admired and always wanted to have around.

I met Steve in 2005 and joined the staff of Triablogue in February of 2006. I couldn't calculate how much I've benefited from working with him and reading his material. I couldn't number or fully describe all of the articles and books I've read at his recommendation, all of the information and illustrations and arguments I've gotten from him, how he's shaped my thinking on so many issues. A lot of people are in a lot of debt to him, including many who considered him an enemy.

He was highly active in theology, apologetics, and other significant fields - the most important issues in life - until close to the day of his death. He did far more in those contexts while in poor health than the large majority of Americans, including the large majority of Evangelicals, are willing to do when their health is much better. His last post on Triablogue was written while he was weak and waiting to die in a hospice, about three days before his death. Much of the work he did, including in his last days, was done without public attention and in contexts in which few people would have faulted him for doing something less difficult instead.

To know more about him, you should read his memoir, A Backward Providence. He says a lot there about his childhood and relatives, especially his mother. He took care of her during the last several years of her life, until she died in 2013. He would often mention her in private correspondence.

He doesn't say much about Triablogue in his memoir, but he does mention that it "speaks for itself" (74). It does, and it will. The pace of posting he kept up over the years must have been partly a result of his knowing that he had significant health problems and that he wanted to build up a database while he had the opportunity to do it. People will be benefiting from that work for years to come.

He was active far beyond Triablogue. You can read his memoir for some examples. There were so many occasions when I saw him active on other people's web sites, when he was the only person there arguing for a Christian perspective or did more to advance Christianity than anybody else there or everybody else combined. There were many occasions outside of Triablogue when the Christian side of a dispute prevailed solely or largely because Steve was participating. He was frequently in contact with people from around the world in more private settings as well, such as through email and Facebook Messenger. He often took walks, and he would occasionally mention conversations he had with people in that context. Shortly before his death, he wrote in an email, "Cancer has providential fringe benefits. Because drivers notice me going for walks, and because my cancer is so visible, I get stopped by people who have questions. That's an opportunity to witness. Just this afternoon as I was walking home, a driver in a parking lot struck up a conversation with me. His adolescent son was in the passenger seat. Their wife/mother had died of cancer 5 years before. Father and son are Christian. Gave me an opportunity to have a theological discussion with them about life, death, and heaven."

Since his death, I've seen a lot of people quoting passages from his memoir. He was an unusually good communicator. I think that was partly because he had such wide interests and experiences and read so widely. He had so much to draw from, and he knew what to draw out and how to present it.

The extent to which he was an original thinker and willing to go against the crowd hasn't been appreciated as much as it ought to be. That's not just true of certain topics in fields like theology and apologetics. It's also true of his life more broadly. He lived in a culture that despises so much of the work he did. Even most Evangelicals would have advised him against giving so much of his life to work that was of such an intellectual nature, work they're so uninterested in. He lived a life that not only most non-Christians, but also most of the Christians of our day hold in low regard. If he'd spent his life doing things like telling jokes, landscaping his yard, posting photos of his relatives, and talking about sports, music, movies, cooking, housework, and such, he would have been much more loved and respected in most circles. He had qualities that would have gotten him a lot of money and more respect in fields other than where he chose to live and work. We need to keep in mind that whatever popularity Steve has comes from a tiny minority of the population. You have to give up a lot and go up against a lot to live the way he did.

One way to measure a person's life is by what you miss when he's gone. I miss his knowledge and wisdom on so many issues. I miss his work and his willingness to labor where so few are doing what needs done, doing work that meets with so much apathy and contempt even among Christians. I'll miss the updates to his bibliography. I'll miss being able to add his posts to my collections of Easter and Christmas resources every year. I miss his emails. I miss being able to come here and see new posts from him just about every day. I could go on. It's a tribute to him that the loss is so palpable.

Because of who he was and the nature of the work he did, something that always stood out to me was his presence. Whatever the time of year, whatever events were in the news, whatever the latest controversies were in one context or another, you knew he was either at work or about to be at work on the most important issues in life, researching them or writing about them. He was persistent. You could go to work in the morning and know that he would be at work, in a more important way, while you were gone. (And you'd often get back from work to find that he'd responded to your critics, sent you some useful resources in an email, or done something else to help you while you were away!) When I would bring up Triablogue on my computer in the morning, I'd see posts he'd put up the previous night, discussing God's providence, prayer, or some other issue, often making points I'd never thought of and using illustrations I'd never forget. I can't count how many times I went off to work, went to visit relatives at Christmastime, or some such thing and was encouraged by the thought that Steve was around, persistent in carrying out such important work that so few people are willing to do. Knowing that he was present was such a blessing for so many years. He's no longer there.

"Our beloved brother Charles Stanford has just been taken from us. I seem to be standing as one of a company of disciples, and my brethren are melting away. My brothers, my comrades, my delights are leaving me for the better land….The grief is to us who are left behind. What a gap is left where Hugh Stowell Brown stood! Who is to fill it? What a gap is left where Charles Stanford stood! Who is to fill it?...We stand like men amazed. Why this constant thinning of our ranks while the warfare is so stern? Why this removal of the very best when we so much need the noblest examples? I am bowed down and could best express myself in a flood of tears as I survey the line of graves so newly dug. The Master is gathering the ripest of his fruit, and well does he deserve them. His own dear hand is putting his apples of gold into his baskets of silver, and as we see that it is the Lord, we are bewildered no longer. His word, as it comes before us in the text, calms and quiets our spirits. It dries our tears and calls us to rejoicing as we hear our heavenly Bridegroom praying, 'Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory.' [John 17:24]" (Charles Spurgeon, in Randy Alcorn, ed., We Shall See God [Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2011], 8-9)

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Future Steve Hays ebooks


I think it would be wonderful if Steve's writings on various websites were consolidated into an actual, physical book - extremely lengthy though it would be. As it is, I'm grateful we have the legacy of his available thoughts and testimony.

Thanks, Ryan. Before his death, Steve asked us to put together some topical ebooks consisting of various posts from Triablogue (e.g. an ebook on Catholicism, an ebook on Calvinism, an ebook on theodicy, an ebook on practical theology). Most of the content will be the same as what's already on Triablogue. However, in several cases, he wrote introductions which haven't been published before. The ebooks aren't complete; they'll be forthcoming over several months.

Perhaps these ebooks can be turned into physical books someday. Any publishers out there willing to publish Steve's works? :-)

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

My Friend, Steve Hays

NOTE: The following is something I wrote on Facebook.  There may be typos, but I'm going to leave everything as it was. For the record, I tend to keep my Facebook settings private and only friend people I either know directly or through another friend.  Some of my friends already asked if they could repost my thoughts on their own Facebook pages, and I said they could since this was intended to be public anyway.

- - -

This is very difficult for me to write. When I think of who has shaped me most into the person I am today, the obvious first examples are God and then my parents, but immediately after them would be the various thinkers who I’ve read. I could easily list out famous names like Augustine and John Calvin, or Jonathan Edwards and Blaise Pascal. Even Aristotle and Plato fit in there. I could spend a long time talking about the authors who I’ve spent years reading and processing, agreeing and disagreeing with certain turns of a phrase. But I never interacted with any of those great minds.

Somewhere around 2007 or 2008, I don’t even know how it started but I stumbled onto a little blog called Triablogue. My first thoughts of it were that I could never remember how to spell the name. It had several authors, but the most prolific writer was a guy named Steve Hays. And I soon learned that it was really his blog, but that he had invited some other writers as well. The first thing I noticed was that Steve was incredibly intelligent. He had a gift at pulling apart an argument and exposing every unfounded premise or unforeseen consequence. Not only that, but he could build up his own position by reinforcing it with every logical argument needed to make it sound. I think most people who’ve interacted with him would agree that his intelligence was obvious.

Somewhere along the line, Steve also found me to be useful in the way that I thought and he invited me to be a writer on Triablogue too. It was astonishing to me, and I gladly took it up. There I met several friends who I still have to this day: John Bugay, Jason Engwer, Paul Manata, and above all Patrick Chan. While there was plenty that went on within the forum of Triablogue, there were endless emails behind the scenes where we would talk with Steve, bounce ideas off him, ask for prayers and encouragement, and the like.

That’s not to say we always agreed on subjects. I had numerous occasions to experience what it was like when Steve’s brilliant analytical mind was set against one of my own positions, and to feel the unbearable weight of trying to defend my own views against that onslaught. I didn’t always change my mind about what I thought, but after going a full round with Steve without crumpling I would know my argument was strong.

Which of course brings us to some of the controversy around Steve. Because Steve was sure of his positions and because he had intellectual weight behind them, those who found themselves opposed to his viewpoint would often feel that Steve’s tactics were too brutal and condescending. He did not put up with sloppy thinking and would point out every single logical error you made, even if it seemed trivial to you. Steve was concerned with the truth of the matter first; your feelings on it were a distant second. This led to many confrontations, to say the least, as a lot of people felt downright insulted by Steve. Throughout it Steve would maintain that perhaps he was not the best suited to being a representative for any particular viewpoint, but he was still needed for the edge cases where he applied.

My own view is that he was far more needed than even he realized. I never felt Steve’s “insults” toward me when we disagreed on a topic were actually insults at all once I examined them. For example, he once asked of me during a debate on a topic, “Are you being intentionally obtuse?” The question stung because at first it looks like he’s insulting my intelligence. But it really wasn’t. The question relied upon me being intelligent in the first place. It was predicated on the notion that he believed in my mental capacity and was frustrated that I couldn’t see the connection he was trying to draw. I took it as his way of saying, “I don’t understand why you can’t follow this.” But of course, I knew that was his intent because of the personal connection I had with him, and many people never got to see that side. They were left with the initial impression and the perceived insult.

For those who could see past their feelings on an issue, Steve’s reasoning was precise and on point. Indeed, many people who said they were insulted by Steve would return repeatedly. These were not masochists. They recognized that Steve was a worthy opponent to their views. And many of them were even convinced to change their minds via those interactions.

Because of all of that, what I’m about to say may strike you as being very odd. But the fact is that despite all of Steve’s vast intellect…he had a beautiful heart. When my wife left me and then divorced me, I was left in a very difficult spot, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I could talk to some extent with Christian coworkers and even did counseling—which I actually still do—to try to recover from the pain. But through it all, the person I could talk most freely to about what I was going through was Steve.

Steve and I agreed on a lot about the nature of God, the nature of good and evil, and our responsibilities to God. I couldn’t discuss my struggles freely with most of my Christian friends, and not any of the Christian counselors that I had, because most of them fundamentally disagreed on certain aspects of God’s sovereignty in particular. Steve and I shared those same views, so I was able to voice my complaint without having to argue against someone’s belief system just to get heard. The response back didn’t start with, “You’re wrong about this, therefore platitude.” Steve would instead respond, “Yes, that sucks. I feel the same way. But we know intellectually what the truth is. Even if it hurts, we can’t deny it.”

I found out over the past five years that my struggles are nearly identical to what Steve struggled with too. In him I felt a genuine kindred spirit because of that. We could be honest and open, and we knew the limits of our intellects and that there were certain things that just would never be resolved this side of heaven. And most of all, we understood the firm foundation of our shared faith in Jesus Christ—the one thing that made everything else intelligible, without which there was no truth or reality.

I’ve known now for about a year that Steve’s time was short. There were a handful of us who knew, and he swore us to secrecy. But as he prepared for his departure, he spent the time counseling us. Caring for us. So I’ll leave you with some words Steve wrote to me and other Tbloggers via email, except the last quote which is from his memoir.

“The more precious the thing you lose, the more you suffer the loss. But it's better to lose something worthwhile then never having anything worthwhile to lose in the first place. And it's better to suffer the loss of a greater good than to suffer the loss of a lesser good. Even though you suffer less or hardly at all, you miss out on the experience of having had the greater good. Many people lead wretched lives from start to finish. They never had the blessing of something precious to begin with.”

“There's a problem when we know all the right words, all the right answers, but it's like we're standing out in the cold, peering through a window to see a living room with a happy laughing family basking in the warm, cozy festive light of the fireplace. We hunger and shiver for what we need but we're sealed off by that pane of glass…. In the providence of God, I think some Christians are called upon to be buffers for other Christians. We take [the abuse] to shield them.”

"For Christians, a fatal disease is a gift. A friend. A doorknob out of this world into a better world. What is dreadful is not the prospect of death, but a world without a doorknob."