C.S. Lewis once warned about the danger of appending the words “and…” to “Jesus”. That is, phrases like ‘Jesus and socialism’, ‘Jesus and liberalism’, etc, were all to be studiously avoided. By this he meant that Jesus and the gospel can never be tied down to any one ideology, political party, agenda or cause.
Yet over the years I have heard all sorts of people claiming to be Christians doing just that. Plenty of examples can be mentioned. I have more than once debated believers who have assured me that Jesus would be in favour of heroin injecting rooms!
Another recent example has come to my attention. There is a ‘Christian’ group which is convinced that Jesus is in favour of euthanasia. They seem to think that when someone is suffering, the “What would Jesus do?” approach should be to kill the sufferer.
The new group formed in South Australia is called “Christians Supporting Choice for Voluntary Euthanasia”. Its February 19th press release reads just like any other pro-death tract, without a hint of anything remotely biblical about it. It uses all the usual buzz words: compassion, dignity, choice, and so on.
These guys are convinced that this is what Jesus would do. Euthanasia, we are informed, is “consistent with Jesus’ message of love and compassion”. Hmmm, evidently it is a very Christlike thing to do, according to these folks. Sorry, but not in my books. It always strikes me as a particularly bizarre and callous sort of compassion that insists on snuffing out the sufferer, or allowing him to do it himself.
As I recall in reading the gospels, when Jesus found someone suffering, he usually healed the sufferer. He never once killed the sufferer, or told the sufferer to bump himself off, or seek out some doctor-assisted suicide kit. He came, in fact, to bring life, and clearly told us that it was the enemy who came to bring death.
The group’s secular reasoning is no better. Consider this doozey: “There is absolutely no evidence in reports from Netherlands and Oregon to support the ‘slippery slope’ and ‘playing God’, fear-mongering reasons put forward by opponents of change to voluntary euthanasia law.” Oh yeah?
The truth of the matter is this: The Remmelink Report, an official Dutch government survey of euthanasia practices, found that more than one thousand patients are involuntarily euthanised each year. As one leading Oxford philosopher put it, the Dutch experience clearly shows that “even with stringent safeguards, once voluntary euthanasia is legalised the descent down the slippery slope is inevitable”.
What about closer to home? In South Australia, where voluntary euthanasia is illegal, a recent survey of doctors who had taken active steps to end a patient’s life found that 49 per cent of them had never received a request from the patient to do so. A more recent survey of nearly 1000 Australian surgeons found that more than one third had intentionally hastened the death of a patient by administering more medication than was necessary to treat the patient’s symptoms. Of this group, more than half said they did so without an explicit request from the patient.
But since this group is trying to pass itself off as being Christian, let’s get back to that angle. As mentioned, their press release does not offer one iota of biblical support for their stance. All we get is the usually sentimental sap and sloppy thinking of the pro-death camp. So let me fill in some of the biblical picture here.
Scripture of course does not directly speak to many modern controversies, including that of assisted-suicide and the like. But there are plenty of general principles to appeal to, including the sanctity of human life. More specifically, the Bible does mention suicide on a number of occasions. And whenever it does so, it is quite clear that it is very much frowned upon.
All up there are six recorded examples. The first case is that of Abimelech, who is depicted as a wicked ruler (Judges 9:50-56). The next case involves Ahithophel, a counsellor to David, who turned traitor by joining the conspirators with Absalom. (2 Sam 17:23). A third case involves Zimri, an evil king (1 Kin. 16:15-20).
(Another possible case of suicide – in biblical order – might be that of Samson as mentioned in Judges 16:30. But it is certainly not clear that he intended to end his life. This seems to have been an unintended consequence of wreaking revenge on his – God’s – enemies.)
The fourth clear case, one that is often appealed to by believers, is that of Saul. The story is described in 1 Samuel 31, and 2 Samuel 1. The interesting thing to note about Saul is that God had departed from him in dramatic fashion (1 Sam 16:14). Indeed, Samuel later asks him “Why do you consult me, now that the LORD has turned away from you and become your enemy?” (1 Sam 28:16-20). Thus all of his actions after God left him were not examples to be emulated, but signs of a man out of God’s will and favour.
The story of Saul’s end is a very sad tale indeed. God had abandoned him because of his disobedience and rebellion, and his life is a tragic example of one being judged by God. As such, there is no biblical commendation of Saul’s suicide to be found in all of scripture. Indeed, there is no commendation of suicide anywhere in scripture.
A fifth Old Testament case might be mentioned, but it really goes in tandem with the death of Saul: his armour-bearer also fell on his sword – 1 Samuel 31:5. The final case is that of Judas in the New Testament. He of course took his life after betraying Jesus, and very few will argue that we should follow his example.
Thus there are no Scriptural passages which can be appealed to in support of suicide. Interestingly, the Christian church, with very few exceptions, has seen suicide as sinful, from the earliest times through to today. Augustine for example said that suicide was worse than murder, because at least the murderer can turn around and repent, whereas the one who commits suicide cannot.
Aquinas offered three reasons why suicide was sinful: it is contrary to nature, being a sin against self; it is contrary to our social makeup, being a sin against our neighbour; and it is contrary to God, since God alone has the right to decide who should live and who should die. Said Aquinas: “To bring death upon oneself in order to escape the other afflictions of this life is to adopt a greater evil in order to avoid a lesser. . . . Suicide is the most fatal of sins because it cannot be repented of.”
Even non-Christians have decried suicide over the centuries. For example, the pre-Christian Hippocratic Oath condemns not only suicide but euthanasia as well. And still today secular ethicists and writers condemn suicide. One thinks of the powerful critique of the suicide and euthanasia lobbies penned by Rita Marker for example (Deadly Compassion, HarperCollins, 1993).
We expect secularists, atheists and others to push the pro-death cause. After all, as God himself has said, “all who hate me love death” (Proverbs 8:36). But to have professed followers of Jesus pushing this agenda is as ironic as it is sad. Yet Jesus warned that all sorts of people would come in his name, promoting all sorts of ungodly agendas. This is just one more example of this.