Reviewed by Dr. Moira McQueen,LLB, MDiv, PhD, DSL (Hon.),
Through sharing some of his own intensely felt experiences, Francis Etheredge leads the reader to reflect on some current bioethical and social challenges such as euthanasia and anorexia. He is concerned that feelings of alienation and worthlessness, as well as fear of being a burden to others, perhaps lead some to consider suicide or, in countries where the practice is legal, euthanasia.
Etheredge shows the essential difference between loneliness and aloneness: the first, in extreme forms, can lead people to want to end their lives, while the second is necessary for mature psychological and spiritual growth, both personally and in our capacity for relationships. He strongly encourages us to allow the Word of God into our lives as the true source of sanity and healing, the Word of a God ever open to loving us into the recognition of our innate dignity and worth, which we do not always ‘see.’ He tells us we have to be humble, admitting our weaknesses and asking for help, and here the author recounts the many, futile paths he trod before God’s Word became a ‘lamp to his feet,’ guiding him to an acceptance of the realities of life and leading him into a loving relationship.
Etheredge’s psychological and spiritual journey clearly influences his pastoral response to current life-challenging questions in bioethics, including a consideration of the criteria for brain death. His bioethical critique is valuable, but this reader sees as even more valuable the honest portrayal of himself as a ‘lost soul,’ who in time came to see that, “… wrongdoing had its own dynamic and kept a person prisoner.”(P. 75) He admits to experiencing desperate loneliness until eventually released, in effect ‘resurrected,’ by the power of the Word of God. While psychological help is, of course, important, his main message is to be open to that ‘Word,’ trusting in the God who forgives unconditionally, who sets sinners free and, most of all, loves us back into life when we invite him to enter ‘under our roof.’
Etheredge’s conversion shows that when God penetrates hearts, the meaning of both life and death become clearer, and his journey will speak to many people of our day who sadly experience similar life-threatening loneliness and feelings of worthlessness, as well as to those who minister to them. The truth of God’s love for His people lies, to me, at the heart of pastoral bioethics, and is my main ‘take away’ from this wonderfully succinct book.
Reaching for the Resurrection: A Pastoral Bioethics, by Francis Etheredge: