The news cycle is loud, but we need to hear those who can’t shout
On the face of it, no book focused primarily on the subject of dying holds high promise for becoming a bestseller. Death is hardly the most appealing of all possible topics. And unless the author has actually “been there, and done that,” the book-buying public has reason to be skeptical.
If I tell you as well that this book I want you to read was written by a philosophy and ethics professor at a small college, I realize you may already be turning the page.
So let me put it this way. Even if this were a bad book, I would still consider it an important topic for virtually every WORLD reader. But Bill Davis’ Departing in Peace: Biblical Decision-Making at the End of Life is both rigorous and charming. Read it, and you’ll be a more thoughtful Christian in every facet of your life. You’ll also understand why Davis has for years been among the most popular teachers at Covenant College.
Departing in Peace calls you to disciplined and selfless thinking. That stems from Davis’ unrelenting trust in the authority of the Bible, and his assumption that his readers share that trust. He is no shallow proof-texter. Instead, through the first half of the 300-page book, Davis constructs a thorough, coherent Biblical foundation for Christians who want valid tools for dealing properly with real end-of-life challenges.
Davis constructs a thorough, coherent Biblical foundation for Christians who want valid tools for dealing properly with real end-of-life challenges.
For example (and almost as a footnote), he takes the book of Proverbs literally when it tells God’s people not to make financial commitments they have no way to honor. That includes typically hefty end-of-life medical or funeral bills—even when someone’s life might be at stake.
But all that is Davis as a thoughtful professor. The value of this book comes through especially in its second half, where he applies the theory of the book’s first half. Davis tells us—in detail—six different real-life, hospital-based stories. Here you discover Davis the humble and devoted shepherd, gently but firmly helping his fellow believers grapple with the hard issues of the dying process. This has involved countless middle-of-the-night sessions in hospital rooms and corridors, as well as service on the professional ethics committees of large hospitals.
Typical is the story of Tammy, a little girl from Kazakhstan previously adopted by a Christian couple known to Davis. Tammy becomes the fifth of the couple’s five children, but along the way is discovered to have a badly defective heart. The challenges are many and nuanced. Surgery is called for, but with relatively low expectation of success. The surgery is costly—way beyond the couple’s resources. And the decision is urgent, leaving the parents little time for thought, prayer, and advice.
As is his style with each of the stories, Davis first offers three different choices available to the decision-makers. Then he evaluates each of the three choices on the basis of the Biblical principles developed in the book’s earlier chapters. Only then does Davis suggest his own preferred answer—sometimes humbly changing his mind right here in public. Readers may well differ with his answers—but never will they accuse Davis of cheap responses. Notably, Davis shows how the Bible forces him to hang onto his career-long commitment to the pro-life position.
The book’s last four chapters offer final proof of the author’s practical bent. First comes specific guidance for filling out “advance directive” documents, spelling out your preferences as the end of your own life approaches. Next is a frank chapter on money and end-of-life issues. Then comes a visit to a modern hospital and an introduction to the pertinent people, equipment, and procedures you’re likely to find there. And finally, Davis offers his readers a list of “things to do now.”
Scripture says that “it is appointed unto men once to die.” So it’s hard for me to think of a more universally applicable package of wisdom than what Bill Davis has put between the covers of this book. If you can’t find a copy of your own, borrow one. Or ask the deacons in your church to make one available to you and your friends.