A couple years ago, Atlantic published an unsettling article by Ezekiel Emmanuel, titled “Why I Hope To Die At 75”. I used the article in a class I was teaching about the ‘core values’ that drive us.
Core values refer to the deep, foundational beliefs that we hold, which drive us to act and think as we do. Everyone has them. Every business, church, government and organization has them. Most of the time, core values operate unseen in us, just below the surface. To live life well, it is essential that we identify the primary values that we live by. Recognizing our core values is an important tool for living purposefully, resolving conflict, and managing change.
As Christians, we are called by Christ to live our lives by a unique set of values that often diverge wildly from the values held by those who don’t follow Christ. Jesus couldn’t have put it any more bluntly than when he said, “What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight” (Luke 16:15). Someone once called Christianity the upside-down kingdom because in countless ways, the principles of Christianity are precisely the opposite of what you get from the world around us.
- He who would be first must be last.
- He who would be great must be servant of all.
- He who wants to find his life must lose it.
- Don’t store up treasure on earth, but treasure in heaven.
All of these are core values statements.
Now back to the article. This overly long article can be effectively summarized by a key paragraph early on.
Emmanuel writes, “Doubtless, death is a loss…It deprives us of all the things we value. But…living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining…It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.”
Emmanuel (who by-the-way, comes from a left-leaning, politically connected family and was a major architect of the Affordable Care Act) breaks out these arguments in detail in his article, then concludes that once he reaches 75, he will refuse most medical treatments, stop getting his flu shots, and let life and death have its way with him without putting up a fight. (Another of his arguments is that improvements in 21st-century health care have not slowed the aging process but slowed the dying process.)
As you read these thoughts (and I encourage you to read the fuller article), I want to challenge you to see if you can identify the core values imbedded in Emmanuel’s thought. Learning how to share our hope in Christ with a Christ-less culture has to be more than shouting people down, telling them they’re idiots, waving our fists. “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders,” Paul wrote. “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt” (Col.4:5-6). So I challenge you to do two things: identity Emmanuel’s core values. Then secondly, see if you can break out three to five biblical core values that point to a Christian way of thinking about aging and dying.