Of deep-sea diving and butterflies

I have written before of the movie "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly." I consider it one of the most profoundly thought-provoking films I have seen. In a compelling true story, it raises questions about the quality and purpose of life.

Lately, I have been thinking - again - about the basic question it raises: What constitutes a quality life? It's not an easy question, but it's one I think is worth consideration now and again.

My initial response is negative, rather than a positive: What life is not a life of quality? My answer is that any life that is lived with self at the center, focused on satisfying my whims and wants, is, in the end, a life devoid of ultimate fulfillment and richness. In fact, selfishness is a mark of immaturity. Children are self-centered. Adults should not be.

On the positive side, I have long considered that any life lived in conversational relationship with God, knowing and serving him, was a good life. I have believed, further, that the length of one's life was not very important, because the quality of a life is measured by its depth, not its duration. It is not necessarily tragic when a young person dies. It is, however, tragic when a person of any age dies after a shallow, selfish life.

I still believe these things. Yet I have struggled for years with some questions, wondering about certain scenarios. What about Alzheimer's disease, for example, which seems to rob people of their very personhood. Is that a life worth living? The answer is not so easy. Nevertheless, I am still inclined to say yes, for two reasons: Because I can observe only from the outside, and have no knowledge of what God may be doing on the inside, and because I know the God to whom I have entrusted my life, and I have confidence in his love, grace and mercy. But my yes is not as easy as it once might have been.

I come from a family that is riddled with diabetes. Some families deal with heart problems, others with cancer, but we are diabetic. And if we have to have our own pet malady, I much prefer ours to most of the others I can think of.

About eight years back, I was diagnosed with diabetes. No big deal. I am nowhere near overweight, I live an active life, and I watch my diet. Diabetes has so far been a nuisance, and little more.

Then, on a recent Saturday morning - a week before Christmas - I got a message from my doctor: "Larry, call me at the office Monday morning. It's about your lab results." Sigh.

So I called.

Seems a long-standing problem that has been bothering me just found a name: The lab report says I likely have developed yet another problem, a chronic, incurable autoimmune disorder. And one that might be more than a minor nuisance.

Ah. The ease with which I say, "Yes, Lord. Anything you say, I will do," just got a little more difficult. "I love you, Lord, but...."

Add to this some other, non-physical matters, and I'm not certain what to think of this life of mine. Is it really one of quality?

A friend once told me of his belief that our task in life was to "live well and love well." That works for me, except that living and loving well is not clearly defined, and so I am left with most of the same questions.

Jesus said that he came that we might have a life of fullness, a life of depth and richness. So what is that? Can one have multiple chronic diseases and have a rich life? Can one be physically disabled - even paralyzed - and have a rich life?

I knew another person once who suffered kidney failure. He was told after a time that they had found a donor for a transplant, but that his life would have to change. No more desert motorcycle racing, for example. He said he would rather die. A life without racing was a life not worth living. The surgeon thought little of that perspective, and I agreed.

I am happy to say he changed his mind, received a transplant, and lived a rewarding life for some years after.

So, ultimately, what makes for a rich, God-honoring life?

I am convinced that one can have myriad and serious physical problems, and still have a "good" life. There are many examples through history. I am also convinced that one can have problems in relationships, and have a life that honors God, though I will concede that it's more difficult. Difficult or not, however, I cannot think of a situation where one cannot honor God in life.

In the movie I mentioned, a man who "has it all" suffers a massive stroke, and is left totally paralyzed, with control only of his left eye.

Does he have a real life? Does he have a life that carries some sort of fullness, some significance? These are not easy questions. In fact, if there is a quick and easy answer from someone, that person probably hasn't thought carefully.

In the end, the man deeply touched thousands of people, probably more than he would have otherwise.

I wonder if a good definition to a rich, rewarding life might not be that it is a life that leaves the world a little different, a little better, for our having lived.


I'm sorry but you are asking an impossible
question to answer. Their is no true way to
gauge the life of another and what life is worth
living. You especially can not do it with the
bible cause the bible is too black and white and
life is grey. I have know people to steal to
survive and support their family. They were some
of the greatest nicest people I have known. Yet
I know people who have lived by society and
biblical standards who are some of the worst
people I know. and as for your friend on the
motorcycle he had to sacrifice something he
loved and sometimes thats all life is about. Yes
he may live longer but he may not live as happy
as he was. I have a heart condition and growing
up I would have rather died playing sports and
enjoying things I couldn't because of what my
condition limited me too and I still to this day
feel that way. Like I said it is an impossible
question to answer cause everyone is different
everyone has there reason some lives were harder
than others some feel like a cage if their not
doing the thing they love. No one person can
decide whose life is more valuable than another's.

Hello, Brad. I think you are misunderstanding what I am saying. I am not interested in judging the life of another. I am very interested, however, in judging the life I live, and I can learn a great deal from the lives chosen by others.

The guy with the motorcycle was my brother, and he came to realize that there are many more important things to live for than racing. He learned that real life is about relationships, not toys or games. He shifted his priorities and lifestyle, and had a very pleasurable and rich life afterward, with no motorcycle.

You mention the Bible. I have to wonder if you have in fact read the Bible, since part of the problem we encounter there is that it is not at all "black and white" in many important matters.

The bottom line, however, is that many people have learned that the richest, most satisfying life is one invested in other people. I have chosen to be in the people business, with God as my senior partner. And it's a great life.

Anyone who states that the Bible is too black and white to be used as a guage to live by has little understanding of the word. A cursery or devotional reading of the Bible may lead one to see only black and white, but the Bible is the inspired word of God. He intends for it to be our foundation for living and more. He describes blessings for digging into the richness and depth of the word. I have been in some situations that would stop most others in their tracks as far as following Christ goes. I must admit I have never been afflicted with an illness or sufferred cancer or anything like that in my personal life, but just last year, someone invaded my home and murdered my 19 year old daughter whom I loved with all my heart. She was a devoted christian and loved the Lord. During this trial I cried out to God with a new perspective and force. I was confused, and in dispair that I cannot describe. Yet He has been faithfull to speak to me, comfort me, and even draw me closer to Him during this time. My whole family and our church has been experiencing depths in Christ we could never have imagined since this has happened. Gods word has come alive to me in all these "grey areas".
If we seek for Him and search for Him with our whole heart, He promises us that we will find Him.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. God's richest blessings and deepest comfort to you in your profoundly difficult loss.

Leave a comment

Loading tweets:

Follow us on Twitter!

  • Larry Baden said:
      Mark, Thanks for sharing your thoughts. God's richest blessings and de...
  • Mark said:
      Anyone who states that the Bible is too black and white to be used as ...
  • Larry Baden said:
      Hello, Brad. I think you are misunderstanding what I am saying. I am n...
  • Brad said:
      I'm sorry but you are asking an impossible question to answer. Their ...

home quodlibet journal theo blog sermons theology e-texts church history forum home