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Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Suicide and Assisted Suicide in the Bible

The Bible doesn't specifically address the actions of suicide and assisted suicide, so when ever it is discussed people divide their opinion on whether it is murder, and if the act is unforgivable. On one hand, there are those who say it is murder, because a person is taking a human life, even though it is the person's own. While on the other, there are those people who say murder only really applies to when an innocent life is taken that is not a person's own. Additionally, those folks who see it as murder claim it could very well be an unforgivable sin, because the person is no longer alive to ask God to forgive him of the sin of murder.

I just recently finished the book of First Samuel as a devotional series for my volunteers. When I was studying the death of Saul in the last chapter, I found myself looking at the few instances of suicide and assisted suicide as recorded in scripture. Though the act of suicide is not specifically addressed in scripture, I believe there is enough information for us to make some conclusions. Let me recount all of the instances of suicide and then draw some application.

Abimelech - Judges 9:53-54

An OT saga of epic proportions. Gideon was a womanizer who had up to 70 sons by wives and concubines. Abimelech was Gideon's son by a concubine woman of Shechem. After Gideon died, Abimelech stirred up his kinfolks on his mother's side in Shechem to kill his 70 half-brothers and make him king. Jothan, Gideon's youngest son who hid himself from the murderous slaughter by Abimelech and his thuggish Shechem relatives, pronounces God's curse upon both Abimelech and the people of Shechem for their crime.

Sure to his word, God moves by sending a "spirit of ill will" between the phony king Abimelech and the people of Shechem. The events which follow are an amazing illustration of being given over to one's own sin. Read the entire chapter, but in short, Abimelech's men kill the people of Shechem and specifically burns alive in the temple of their false god the men and their families who had helped in killing his half-brothers. But, when Abimelech attacks another Shechem town, a woman drops a millstone from a wall that crushes his skull. Abimelech then has one of his men kill him so he won't die at the hands of a woman.

Saul and his armor bearer - 1 Samuel 31:4-6

Saul, who was the first king of Israel, led a monarchy that was filled with disobedience to God. On one specific occasion, after Saul directly disobeyed a command from God (1 Samuel 15), the prophet Samuel pronounces a final judgment upon Saul: God would remove him from being king and give his kingdom to a man who will serve Him with his whole heart.

The closing days of Saul were truly sad as he became more and more isolated from God Who gave him over to his own personal madness and paranoia. During a pending attack by Israel's enemies, the Philistines, the silence of God with a divine word of direction brought Saul to a place where he foolishly consulted a witch to conjure up the then deceased Samuel so as to find
out what he should do. Samuel (I believe it was the real Samuel) reminds Saul of the judgment God had already pronounced upon him and that he and his sons would die within a day.

The next day, during a fevered battle with the Philistines, Saul witnessed the death of his sons, including the faithful Jonathan, and he was left mortally wounded. Fearing the encroaching Philistine soldiers would viciously torture him to death, Saul asked his armor bearer to kill him. He refused. Saul then threw himself on his own sword, as did his own armor bearer.

Ahithophel - 2 Samuel 17:23

Ahithophel was the grandfather of Bathsheba and a counselor in David's government. His advice was considered to be so good that he was regarded as if he were a genuine "Oracle of God" (2 Sam. 16:23). When David's son Absalom set in motion a treasonous rebellion against David, Ahithophel sided with Absalom. Later, as David fled with his loyal subjects, Hushai the Archite was sent back as an inside "mole" to counter any advice Ahithophel may give to Absalom. One interesting side note is the passing comment by the author of 2 Samuel, For the LORD had purposed to defeat the good advice of Ahithophel, to the intent that the LORD might bring disaster upon Absalom (2 Sam. 17:14).

During a key moment of decision as whether to chase David and kill him immediately or to wait until later, Absalom decided to take Hushai's advice of waiting over Ahithophel's advice of immediate action. Once Ahithophel knew his counsel was rejected, he went home, put his "house in order," and then hanged himself from a tree.

Zimri - 1 Kings 16:18

After the death of Solomon, the kingdom of Israel was divided into two: the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. The northern kingdom writhed and seethed in all sorts of turmoil politically and religiously. The northern kingdom was particularly wicked in that idolatry was tolerated and practiced.

Zimri was the chariot commander under king Elah, the son of Baasha. He conspired against Elah and killed him during one of his drinking parties. Zimri then made himself king and killed all of Baasha's remaining family, children and grandchildren. He reigned in Tirzah for just seven days, for the people received word of his treacherous acts against Elah, made Omri, an army commander king, and went to Tirzah to execute Zimri. Upon learning that he was a wanted man, he went into the king's house and burned it down upon himself.

Judas Iscariot - The four Gospels

Judas is fairly self-explanatory. He betrayed the Lord Jesus to the Jews and Romans so as to be crucified. Feeling the mighty weight of guilt, he went out and hanged himself. Acts 1:18, 19 records he burst asunder in a field, but I think that is just a prophetic way of saying he received his just desserts, as it were.

As a footnote, some may say Samson's death was a suicide, and in a manner of speaking it was, but his death was much different than the ones listed here. First, God did not have to provide the miraculous strength for him to push down the Philistine temple, and second, by his death, God's enemies were destroyed and judged.

I have known an acquaintance or two who has committed suicide. I certainly have friends who had family and acquaintances who committed suicide. Practically speaking for those who are left to fit the pieces together as to why a person would do such a thing, the tendency is to mark the action as being caused by an emotionally troubled soul, or a person depressed for one reason or another. External factors the person could not control and was causing undo pressure upon his or her otherwise normal life which the person could not handle personally.

Though I don't wish to be callus in the wake of such a personal tragedy, I think it would be mistaken to ignore the circumstances surrounding these biblical examples. If we learn from these biblical warnings, it would help us to frame the act of suicide in a biblical perspective, as well as provide a help with helping one who may be counseling a suicidal person.

There are a couple of observations I note from the suicides of these six individuals. First, suicide seems to result from individuals troubled by unrepentant sin and willful disobedience to God. Saul is probably the most revealing example because he acted during his entire reign as king in unrepentant and willful, high-handed disobedience to God. A person driven to suicide often times is wrecked with guilt and shame for sinful conduct, and refuses to deal with it according to God's means of redemption in Christ.

Next, suicide seems to be born from a defiant, arrogant mindset. A selfish, bitter autonomy which seeks to control its own destiny and refuses to submit to one's creator. For example Abimelech refusing to allow a woman to take credit with killing him, and Zimri escaping the hands of his enemies by burning himself alive in his own house.

Now that is not to say all suicide falls under these two observations from these stories, but I would imagine a good deal of those who commit suicide have at the source these sin issues. If anything, when counseling a suicidal person, it is wise to draw them to considering a theologically correct understanding of who God is and who we are as his creatures. Truly that is their only hope. For I believe much of our emotional problems as people, in whatever way they may manifest themselves, stem from severely muddle headed ways of understanding who God is and who we are as sinful men in need of a savior. When we come to this place of understanding these profound truths, that is when a person will often have his sin revealed so as to be dealt with in an appropriate manner.

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7 Comments:

Blogger Roland said...

Ending one's own life was never punished in either the Old or New Testaments. In fact it only became a sin when St. Augustine declared it so sometime in the 5th Century.

Around that time in Northern Africa the newly formed Christian sect of Circumcellions held the passionate belief in the obligation to openly resist persecution, which often included goading and even forcing the authorities into killing them. To die a "martyr" ensured a place in Heaven.

Members of this lively sect would show up at Pagan festivals to offer themselves as human sacrifices, often announcing their willing participation well in advance so they would be treated royally and fattened for the slaughter.

The Roman edict forbidding Christian churches or its scriptures gave the Circumcellions yet another avenue for bringing about their own deaths. Claiming to possess copies of the “now” forbidden scriptures, they were arrested and then put to death when they failed to surrender documents that they very often never had to begin with.

The Circumcillians also engaged in a practice referred to as “self-precipitation”, essentially mass suicides where the devout jumped to their deaths shortly after absolution thus entering Heaven free of sin.

St. Augustine, alarmed that if these practices continued the future growth of the Christian faith would be in jeopardy, declared such acts heresy. Unfortunately his edict came a bit too late for the Circumcillians who by that time had literally died out.

Thus while Augustine’s beliefs opposing suicide became incorporated into the various laws and catechisms of the Catholic Church and suicide officially became a sin in the eyes of the Church, there is nothing condemning the practice in the Bible.

Interestingly (for those who own a Catholic Bible) the Book of Sirach tells us: “before man lie life and death, and whichever he prefers is his.” And, "Death is better than a miserable life, and eternal rest than chronic sickness."

May it be so.

12:31 PM, September 30, 2008  
Blogger John Weaver said...

Suicide is not a sin though it definitely should be discouraged. As an advocate for the mentally ill, particularly those affected by biblical counseling (see blog) I am constantly amazed at how often this line is repeated to suffering evangelicals, when it is in reality the last thing they need to hear.

John Weaver

4:34 PM, September 30, 2008  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Roland,

From the historical information I have in my personally library, the Circumcillians were a cultic ascetic group. Their philosophy of Christian spiritualism was not only unbiblical, but extremely dangerous. In my mind, Augustine was correct in arguing against them and exposing their error.

You seem to suggest with your last comment that any suffering, physical sickness specifically, is a bad thing. But the entire book of Job is written to exhort God's people to endure physical suffering under the sovereign hand of God. If we take the book of Sirach's exhortation, then Job should have killed himself with assisted suicide and from what we have revealed in scripture of his record, such would be giving into Satan's challenge to God's persevering grace in Job's life.

John

I believe the biblical examples I listed here are good illustrations that suicide is a bad thing. If anything, it reveals, as I noted in my article, that suicidal tendencies stem from a life of turmoil against God in rebellion and sin.

Whether or not suicide is forgivable is another issue, and I believe it is because forgiveness of sin before God is grounded in the final work of Christ on the cross. Still, that does not give warrant to a troubled person to seek suicide as a solution to their problems.

I would be curious to hear your take on my thoughts about suicide stemming from unrepentant sin in people's lives. What has been your observation as to the connection of suicidal tendencies and unconfessed sin?

Fred

6:30 PM, September 30, 2008  
Blogger Daniel said...

God did not have to provide the miraculous strength for [Samson] to push down the Philistine temple

Judges 16:28-29 says, "Then Samson called to the LORD and said, 'O Lord GOD, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes.' And Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and he leaned his weight against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other."

Did you mean to say that God did not answer Samson's prayer and that samson in his own strength pulled down these pillars?

5:29 AM, October 01, 2008  
Blogger Daniel said...

Addendum: Did you only mean that God was not obligated?

5:30 AM, October 01, 2008  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

I meant to say that God was not obligated to answer Samson's prayer. In other words, his sin had gotten him were he was and though he prayed, God could have left him in his position.

Thanks for the clarification. I may go back an add your addendum to my post.

Fred

5:36 AM, October 01, 2008  
Blogger Daniel said...

On a less syntactic note...

I agree with your conclusion re: counseling suicidal persons. There is a necessity of articulating the impact of impenitence (sin) on one's emotional state, if we are to have hope of leading someone to deliverance in Christ.

9:07 AM, October 01, 2008  

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