Suicide and Assisted Suicide

Read:  I Samuel 31:1-13, Psalms 94:17, 139:15-16; Jeremiah 10:23; James 5:10-11

Reviewing my journal, I discovered that 1997 was filled with many interesting landmarks.  I am not talking about milestones like the completion of my doctor of ministry degree or moving to a new church.  I am referring to individuals who have called my office, in search of a sympathetic ear, because they were severely depressed and contemplating suicide.  Five individuals – none from my church – had come to the conclusion in 1997 that the only solution to the turmoil in their life was suicide.

What caused such chaos in their lives that they would consider such a permanent resolution to their pain?  Were they trying to escape from some long-term and painfully debilitating disease?  No!  Were they victims of a terminal illness, prompting them to find a way to die with dignity?  No!  Their rationales for suicide, in my opinion, were far less traumatic.  Two were facing serious financial obstacles due to the loss of their careers.  Two were depressed because long-term relationships with their mates had come to an end.  One had simply run into a streak of bad luck on all fronts.  All, however, felt that the stress and difficulties in their lives made suicide a viable solution to their misery.

National headlines have reported on the activities of a physician who has argued that when a person in terminally ill, physician-assisted suicide provides a means for people to take control of their lives and to die with dignity.  I would argue that for the masses of those who contemplate suicide, terminal illness and/or imminent death are not at issue.  They are more like those who have called my office over the past year.  They are upset because they lost their job, became divorced or have simply  had a string of bad luck.  For people like this, suicide cannot be portrayed by the media as the chivalrous act of a person seeking dignity in the last moments of life.  Instead, most attempts at suicide are simply the cowardly acts of individuals seeking to escape from the grind, the difficulties and responsibilities of life.

Unlike issues like abortion and cloning, suicide is not new on the human front.  In fact, it has been common throughout human history.  It is even portrayed in several different biblical narratives.  The following are included among the biblical cases of suicide:  Abimelech (Judges 9:54); Samson (Judges 16:29-20), Saul and his armor-bearer (I Samuel 31:4-5); Ahithohpel (II Samuel 17:23); Zimri (I Kings 16:18); and, Judas (Matthew 27:5).  These stories portray suicide as the tragic and desperate acts of troubled persons seeking escape from the adverse circumstances of their lives – most of which had  occurred because of their own irresponsibility.

Is suicide ever justified?  The Bible does not offer a clearly identifiable statement in this regard.  Nevertheless, the bible does offer meaningful principles that should serve as a framework when dealing with this issue.  The biblical passages for this lesson offer us some of these principles.

The first principle to be considered is that life belongs to God (Ps. 139:15-16; Jer. 10:23).  God created and sustains all life.  To act as judge over the value or worth of any human life (including one’s own) is to supplant God’s sovereignty.  We need to practice and teach that all life (no matter how desperate, inconvenient or even evil it may appear) belongs to God.  Only God gives life.  Only God has the authority to take it away.

The second important principle is to remember that desperate times call for perseverance (James 5:10-11).  The successful and faithful role models of the faith were individuals who persevered despite obstacles.  They were examples of resilience.  They never quit.  According to James, a prime example of this trait is seen in the testimony of Job.

The next important principle is that God gives help and support (Ps. 94:17-19).  Human beings ought not look at their difficulties and give up – instead they should look up and trust God.

Like the psalmist, when we feel that our foot is slipping, we can say by faith:  “Your love, O Lord, supported me.  When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.”  (Psalm 94:18-19).

4 Responses to “Suicide and Assisted Suicide”

  1. Laura e says:

    What about the mentally ill who have bouts of suicidal depression not due to any circumstances?

    • billnieporte says:

      Laura – as a person who has had my dealing with clinical depression, I understand.

      My blog really didn’t say anything to pass judgment on anyone who contemplates suicide. Nor did it delve into the medical issues of depression. I do not feel qualified to speak to that. I would venture to say that people of faith (and those without a faith confession) ought to view the chemical imbalance of the brain with the same compassion that is afforded those who are told they have cancer.

      The point of my blog was simply to address, in broad terms, some basic principles that I have personally found helpful in my own dealing with this issue. I carefully avoided any note of judgment – cause I don’t feel that is appropriate.

  2. Laura e says:

    Bill, didn’t feel as if you were being judgmental at all.I was just curious to know if the bible made any such references.It is an issue that has been pervasive in my life.Again I should not be so preoccupied and study for myself.

  3. Bill says:

    😀 Thanks. I got a lot of response. Some thought I was being a bit insensitive to those who have genuine mental illness. Upon reflection – I think they are correct.

    I wasn’t aiming at insensitivity. I just know chemical imbalance and clinical depression can do a number on a person. Illness like this should be treated with the same compassion as cancer.

    Thanks for your thoughts and imput

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