Skip to content ↓

Between Life and Death

Between Life and Death

We’ve all heard the witticisms about death and taxes as the world’s only inevitabilities and about humanity’s mortality rate continuing to stick stubbornly at exactly one hundred percent. We all know we are going to die and that we ought to prepare ourselves accordingly. But what’s equally inevitable and perhaps even more painful, is that people we love are going to die. Harder still, is that we may need to guide them or even make decisions for them in those difficult days that come between life and death.

End-of-life medical care is the subject of Kathryn Butler’s excellent new book. She writes from the perspective of an experienced trauma surgeon who is board certified in surgical critical care. She has seen death up-close and has seen the excruciating decisions it necessitates. At the same time, she has seen both the benefits and the drawbacks of the new technologies that sometimes serve to prolong life and sometimes serve to prolong death. “To honor God in the bleak setting of the ICU, we must clarify the expanse between life and death that our medical advances have blurred. The shift of dying from the home to the hospital challenges us to acknowledge the capabilities and limitations of the technology upon which we lean, and to embrace it in a fashion that keeps the gospel in focus. Compassionate, gospel-centered guidance in end-of-life care requires a consideration of medical technology through the lens of heaven. We must unravel the jargon and appraise them against the clarifying light of the Word.”

Put simply, dying has gotten far more complicated than it used to be, and we desperately need clarity, and this is what Butler so aptly provides. “My hope is that through this book, Christian believers grappling with decisions about life-prolonging measures can confront their situation with peace and discernment.” While medical professionals may benefit from her work, she’s written it especially for patients and loved ones as they face difficult decisions.

Between Life and Death is divided into three parts. The first and shortest frames the issue by discussing some of the new realities of death and dying, then looking to the Bible as our trusted source of wisdom and discernment. The second part takes a detailed look at the various organ-supporting measures that are common today—resuscitation, intensive care, mechanical ventilation, cardiovascular support, artificially administered nutrition, and so on. Each one gets a chapter-length treatment. The third part turns to issues of discernment at life’s end, and here Butler covers issues like hospice care, physician-assisted suicide, advance-care planning, and surrogate decision making.

The book has many strengths, the foremost of which is its deeply biblical foundation. Butler wishes to provide a guide that looks at these issues through the lens of Scripture, and she succeeds well. This is, in every way, a distinctly Christian book. Additionally, she writes about even complicated issues using language that is understandable even for those who, like myself, have little knowledge of medicine or biology. That makes this the kind of book pastors may wish to read and then keep on-hand for reference as they help others through dark valleys. It makes this the kind of book we will all benefit from reading as we get closer to death or as we prepare to help loved ones in their approach.

It is inevitable that at some point, each one of us will face difficult or even heartbreaking medical decisions. We may have to make decisions related to our own care or, even tougher, the care of someone we love. To prepare ourselves to make such decisions in a distinctly Christian way, we won’t do better than to read Between Life and Death. It will inform, encourage, strengthen, and equip us all to act in ways that honor our humanity while bringing glory to our God.


  • A La Carte Collection cover image

    A La Carte (April 16)

    A La Carte: Why I went cold turkey on political theology / Courage for those with unfatherly fathers / What to expect when a loved one enters hospice / Five things to know about panic attacks / Lessons learned from a wolf attack / Kindle deals / and more.

  • The Night Is Far Gone

    The Night Is Far Gone

    There are few things in life more shameful than sleeping when you ought to be working, or slacking off when you ought to be diligent. When your calling is to be active, it is inappropriate and even sinful to remain passive. This is especially true when it comes to contexts that are of the highest…

  • A La Carte Collection cover image

    A La Carte (April 15)

    A La Carte: Personal reflections on the 2024 eclipse / New earth books / 7 questions that teens need to answer / Was there really no death before the fall? / How to be humble instead of looking humble / Kindle deals / and more.

  • Exactly the Purpose God Intended

    Exactly the Purpose God Intended

    General revelation serves exactly the purpose God intended for it—it reveals his power and divine nature. But, its message, while important, is insufficient—insufficient by design. Though general revelation tells us about the existence of God, it does not tell us about how to be reconciled to God.

  • A La Carte Collection cover image

    Weekend A La Carte (April 13)

    A La Carte: The pain of being single; the love that holds me fast / The Christian response to cultural catastrophe / The reduction of public Bible reading / All Things (a new song) / Why should I go to church? / and more.

  • Free Stuff Fridays (Moody Publishers)

    This giveaway is sponsored by Moody Publishers, who also sponsored the blog last week with Overflowing Mercies. Attention all Bible scholars, believers in the power of faith, and lovers of the Word! Learn about God’s divine mercy and compassion with our exclusive Bible Study Giveaway. Win the ultimate bible study library including Overflowing Mercies by…