Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Biblical arguments against suicide

Suppose you were confronted with a Christian, a self-styled fundamentalist, who told you that he does not think suicide is wrong or that he thinks suicide may not be wrong. You know that this person will not accept any pure natural law arguments but only arguments directly from the Bible. What argument could you make?


William Luse said...

...and the second is like unto it - thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Suicide, murder of the self, is not an act of love, and therefore breaks the commandment.

Of course, the argument is mine, the words going beyond what the Bible actually says. Its style is not argumentation. Christ told stories to illustrate principles, and gave commands: render unto Caesar, repent for the Kingdom of Heaven, etc. I'm not a Bible memorizer, so probably the worst person to try to answer this. But wouldn't your hypothetical fundamentalist have to be okay with abortion too? You've got me curious as to whether this fundamentalist is a real life person with whom you are confronted.

It's been my experience, btw, that Christians who start trying to rationalize exceptions to immemorial prohibitions have already reached a conclusion. The Bible is no longer their teacher, but a proof text that needs interpreting for the purpose of confirming that conclusion. There's no end to it. They'll start with suicide and end up with a whole bagful of atrocities.

(There's a typo in your post needs afixin' because it's so un-Lydia like.)

Lydia McGrew said...

I feel terrible about the typo but have just re-read the post three times without finding it. I don't know if I should blame the new glasses or what (though I'm supposed to be used to them now). Actually, I make a lot of typos. I just try to catch them all in main posts. They show up in comboxes, though.

More on the substance of your comment later.

Amy said...

The only person that I could think of mentioned in the Bible that committed suicide is Judas, and most Christians would certainly not want to align themselves with him, by action or word.

I googled "suicide in the bible" - I was shocked that over 5.8 million others had googled the same thing! The sites I read that gave even some support of it don't seem to remember that God is the author of life (Gen 1-2), which means it is up to Him to decide who lives and for how long. The angel of death seen at Passover was sent by God as well.

Lydia McGrew said...

I think actually that Bill's comment suggests perhaps a rather different argument from the one that he intended. Something like this: "If suicide is not wrong, then, by the Golden Rule, it is morally legitimate to help someone else commit suicide, up to and including administering the drugs to a paralyzed person who asks you to do so because he's unable to do so himself. But this is clearly murder and a violation of the commandment to do no murder. Therefore, suicide is wrong."

The best shot I've heard of so far is, "Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy are not your own, for ye are bought with a price." This clearly teaches that our bodies belong to God, not to ourselves. So when one is harming one's own body, one is vandalizing God's property. Interestingly, the sort of person I have in mind in the main post understands this very well when it comes to matters like doing drugs and other physically harmful behaviors, and will cite this verse against those behaviors. So the same reasoning certainly ought to apply to _destroying_ God's property--your body.

I still can't see the typo. Please, put me out of my misery and tell me what it is, Bill.

Amy said...

It took me several readings to see the typo - my eyes skipped right over it!

You typed "the" instead of "he" here: "not think suicide is wrong or that the thinks suicide"

Lydia McGrew said...

Thank you, Amy. Fixed.

TS said...

Catholics seem to view suicide as far more sinful than Protestants, which might suggest not only that the biblical data on the subject is weak but perhaps the influence of Gnosticism in Protestantism such that the body is viewed as less important.

Lydia McGrew said...

But on the other hand, fundamentalist Protestants are far more likely than Catholics to view smoking and drinking as sinful, on the grounds that you are harming your body. I can't really see that that squares with a permissive view on suicide.

Kevin J. Jones said...

Is there any reason this hypothetical fundamentalist could think himself exempt from "Thou shalt not kill" and "whoever sheds man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed?


"You shall not put the Lord your God to the test..."

Matthew 4. Has some relevance, since Satan's the one encouraging a "suicidal" act.

Oh, and there's that other pro-life standby, "Choose life, that you and your seed may live." Deut. 30:24.

If he somehow thinks the Book of Wisdom is canonical, there's also

Wisdom 1:12:
Court not death by your erring way of life, nor draw to yourselves destruction by the works of your hands.
Because God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.
For he fashioned all things that they might have being...

Also could work:
"I came that they might have life and have it abundantly."

Don't some schools of Judaism justify suicide on the grounds that Samson did it?

Lydia McGrew said...

The Wisdom quotation is a good one, but unfortunately wouldn't cut any ice with a fundamentalist.

I myself do consider "Thou shalt do no murder" to be directly relevant here, but you'd be surprised how many people take it that murder by definition can refer only to someone other than oneself. I think at that point one can argue like this: "If you were old and ill and in the sort of situation where you think you might like a doctor to prescribe you a lethal dose, and someone else came along and, even out of pity, bumped you off, can we agree that that would be a violation of the command not to do murder? But that depends on the status of the victim, right? An innocent victim who has committed no crime worthy of death. But that's just the same if you do it to yourself, right?" This is more or less sneaking in the natural law reaosning to define 'murder' for purposes of interpreting the commandment.

William Luse said...

If your hypothetical fundy's interest in suicide stems from a desire to end suffering, it might be pointed out to him how anti-Christian (if taken to a murderous extreme) this apparently compassionate motive is. It is a denial of the value of the cross, which we have been commanded to take up. Nothing is more scriptural than the cross. If such killing is permissible, could not someone have administered Christ a lethal injection before "It is finished" was uttered?

Maybe you could slip natural law in through the back door, by pointing out that "Thou shalt do no murder" is not (as some wag put it) one of the Ten Suggestions, as though it were a good rule to follow until circumstances make it unbearable.

Really like Kevin's cite from Wisdom. Need to sock that away somewhere, and maybe read that book more often. The Bible, that is.

Lydia McGrew said...

I do definitely think the similarity between committing suicide oneself and euthanasia is absolutely correct. And that's why where suicide is approved people are usually also pushing for those who can't take the pills themselves to be "helped." We don't know if that's happened in Oregon or not, because there is little or no oversight.

I agree with you about the cross and about pain. The trouble is that it makes sense in this context only if one already believes that suicide is wrong. Otherwise it would _sound_ like a claim that would make any form of pain relief medication wrong as well, "We mustn't avoid pain, we must take up our cross" obviously doesn't make it wrong to have some pain medication or to heal a painful condition, so that just takes us back to the question of which ways of relieving suffering are licit and which are wrong.

TS said...

There are some strong lines in the bible against excessive drinking, such as Paul's warning about drunkards not entering the Kingdom. But it's true I can't think of any on smoking...

Mary Fuller said...

This might be a bit long, Lydia, but I hope it is helpful.

First, I really and truly think that when a person is tending toward affirmation of suicide, it is because they see it as an option to end their own suffering. To try to reach this person logically about suicide is fruitless. I think it is much better to look at the underlying cause of this thought process and start there. "Rationalization" is such a funny word, because truly, when we rationalize something, we step out of the realm of the rational into the realm of the emotional. But, that's another dicsussion. So, the help I'm putting below deals more with discouragement/encouragement -- the strenghtening of a believer who is totally depleted of the strength it takes to endure.

First, what happened when Elijah despaired of his life? First of all, God gave him REST. He let Elijah, who was emotionally and physically exhausted, take a break and get some good sleep. Next, God fed him, and Angels ministered to him. Then God got him alone in a cave, and asked him, "Elijah, why are you here?" -- not so much in the cave, but in this emotional state. Elijah's answer was "I've worked really hard for you, but for what? Everyone in Israel has rejected your covenant, and I'm the only one left who loves you." So God showed Elijah his power, AND his compassion. God was in the whisper. And God told ?Elijah, "I'm not done with you yet. Here are some things I want you to do. Go do them, and when I'm ready, I'll bring you home."

I think the person who is in this place really is in need of seeing the purpose of suffering, the purpose of living honorably rather than dying easy.

Jesus is a great example, too. He knew the kind of death he would die, how horrible, how painful it would be, but He endured it for our sakes. He could have called legions of angels to His rescue, but "for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross."

Below are a few passages that encourage the believer to endure. I think this is where one should head rather than a "logical arguement". More likely we are dealing with fear, loneliness, and depression. The best way to combat them is through empathy and encouragement.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many. (2 Cor. 1:3-11)

Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs--he wants to please his commanding officer. Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor's crown unless he competes according to the rules. (2 Tim 2:3-5)

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:21-25)

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. (Col. 1:9-12)

Our job is to live well, to endure as Jesus did, so that we when we die, we may die with honor and in our deaths give praise and glory to God our Maker.

If the person who despairs of life sees the purpose of endurance, gets a glimpse of hope, it will give them courage to endure, don't you think?


Lydia McGrew said...

I think what you're saying, Mary, is that believers know, deep down, that they should not kill themselves, but are just feeling like "checking out" in the popular phrase, for some other reason. I think that may well be true. It's very hard to know with a given person, especially when the subject comes up in the abstract, as it were, and the person does not relate it to his personal situation. Especially if the person is _not right now_ suffering terribly, we may be right to think that the ambivalence about suicide is because the person fears _later_ suffering, but that's very hard to show. In all likelihood, the person won't admit it to himself and hence might not see that sheer encouragement to keep on in the Lord is relevant. But if you're right that believers know that suicide is wrong and are just trying to dodge that knowledge, then if there is a way to give encouragement with "no strings attached," as it were, that might be the most helpful thing, as you say.

Richard D said...

I think the question is not one that lends itself to proof-texting. Other than "You shall not murder," which Lydia referred to, there are not any suicide specific texts that I am aware of. And as Lydia has pointed out, it may be argued that "murder" does not encompass suicide. I believe that suicide is self-murder, but I don't think that is a strong enough apologetic against the act.

I think Mary's foundational theology/philosophy is the appropriate way to approach this topic. The idea of suicide is not something that is easily dealt with at the time that a person is contemplating taking his own life--that is unless that theological/philosophical foundations have already been established.

In my view, the Bible clearly teaches that God has ordained all things. These things were ordained to bring glory to God and for the betterment of the believing ones. So then, this world with all its evils is the best of all possible worlds--but only if we have the view of God himself. That view is absolutely necessary to understanding and surviving evil in this world.

God created the world for his glory and scripture tells us that his prescriptive will is always accomplished. So the events and situations that drive a person to contemplate suicide have been ordained of God and will accomplish one thing specifically and potentially two things.

These events will definitely bring glory to God. There is no question about that. So if the despairing person is concerned about the glory of God above his own comfort or discomfort, then he may find reassurance in that aspect of God's promise.

The other potential surety is that if the person is a Christian, these events were placed in the despairing person's life for his (or her) betterment. "All things work together for good to those who love God."

Add to these two areas of surety the concept of the Perseverance of the Saints. True believers--those who have been chosen, called, brought to repentance, and are undergoing sanctification--will persevere in the faith. The act of suicide is murder which cannot be repented of. Some have argued from this concept that no true believer will ever commit suicide because that would place them in the presence of the Holy God at the moment of their commission of a very great sin. If a true believer cannot, then, commit suicide, the deeply despairing person must contemplate first the fact that all things do not work together for good for those who are outside of the family of God.

That brings the despairing fundamentalist to the place of considering his soul. No one can be dogmatic about whether or not a Christian can commit so great a sin as suicide. But the flip side of that coin is that no one can be sure that they are truly saved if they are able to go through with the act.

So the despairing fundamentalist needs to consider whether or not he is focusing primarily on the glory of God, who may have brought these terrible events about in his life in order to draw him back into the arms of Christ. Or perhaps these things have been placed in his life to make him realize that he is in danger of hell and must turn to Christ before it is too late.

Charles Hodge said: "It is conceivable that men who do not believe in God or in a future state of existence, should think it allowable to take refuge in annihilation from the miseries of this life. But it is unaccountable, except on the assumption of temporary or permanent insanity, that any man should rush uncalled into the retributions of eternity.

Suicide, therefore, is most frequent among those who have lost all faith in religion. It is a very complicated crime; our life is not our own; we have no more right to destroy our life than we have to destroy the life of a fellow-man.

Suicide is ... the desertion of the post which God has assigned us; it is a deliberate refusal to submit to his will; it is a crime which admits of no repentance, and consequently involves the loss of the soul.

Lydia McGrew said...

The Hodge quotation is excellent, Rich. The phrase about "deserting one's post" is the same concept that (of all people) the poet Edmund Spenser uses in Book I of the Faerie Queene when the Redcrosse Knight is considering suicide. (His lady talks him out of it.)

One problem that I think we face in the secular world is that suicide is not linked any longer in people's minds with despair, much less with fighting against God. Instead it is glorified in the media as an act of "responsibility" and the like, as something that normal, rational, good people do as a response to suffering or even as a response to the loss of independence, just as normal, rational, good people might take a Tylenol for a headache. If Christians accept this view, it can be very hard to get them out of it.

And Christians may also think to themselves that suicide is okay because they "do not fear death" and are "going to heaven." Obviously, though, if this is *not the sort of thing a true Christian does*, then the assumption of "going to heaven" is not a foregone conclusion, as you point out, Rich.

What do you think, Rich, of the use I made of the I Corinthians 6 passage about the body as the temple of the Holy Ghost and about our bodies' belonging to God? I realize that it may seem like just more isolated proof-texting, but I always felt growing up as a Baptist, and feel now as well, that the notion that our bodies belong to God is one of those "big ideas" that has many ramifications, especially in our present culture where the assumption is exactly the opposite--that our bodies belong to ourselves, and that we can do whatever we choose with them.

Richard D said...

Lydia - I agree with view of our bodies being the temple of the Holy Ghost. And many of the other scripture passages that have been used in this discussion. I think all of these should be used when we discuss this with others. And I think preemption is the way to go on all issues such as this. In other words, we must prepare people for these situations before they cross that bridge so that when the time comes for them to make a decision about "death with dignity" or euthanasia, they are not swayed by the clever arguments made by our culture.

When Paul asked God to remove his "thorn in the flesh" multiple times, God's answer was: "My grace is sufficient for you." So when dealing with health issues--even those that give us great pain--we should accept that God has given us this burden for a reason and seek the ways that we may glorify him through our situation.

And we must not allow the lives of our elderly to become unbearable. We need to let them know that we love them and that we love to be with them. Our culture is trying to get the elderly to view themselves as a burden to their offspring. We need to let them know that they are not a burden and that we love them. In this way, they will hopefully not fall for society's line that they should gracefully bow out so as not to be a burden to the young folks.

For those who reach times of great despair, we need to make sure that they understand the nature of God--his sovereignty over all events, and his ultimate goal for the world. If they understand that God is greatly glorified when he rescues us from seemingly desperate situations, they may be able to hold up better when they go through such things--always looking to the hope of God's providence. Christian hope being not a wish, but a certainty.